MP for Lopinot/Bon Air West Dr Lincoln Douglas says farmers should be able to return to their livelihoods at the San Jose Estate in Lopinot, once the security issues have been resolved.He made this comment yesterday morning during a protest led by president of the Lopinot Village Council Donna Mora and farmers from Lopinot and D'Ababie at his constituency office. The farmers complained vehemently that for three months they had not been able to plant the land nor reap their crops.On February 15, they were chased off the land by cutlass-wielding thugs who proceeded to planasse a group of farmers including the late farmers' activist Norris Deonarine.Douglas also registered his full support for the protestors by joining in with a placard which read Lopinot Farmers Need Protection, Need To Be On The Land.
Douglas said: "The farmers have a legitimate concern. They need to get back to plant the land. That is critical. I think we should figure out a way to get the farmers back on their land."He admitted there were challenges like the farmers' protection. He produced a letter he had written to the National Security Minister John Sandy.Douglas added: "Suffice it to say, it is not an easy process."We have been liaising with the Asst Supt. I have written to the Minister of National Security asking them for assistance to help the farmers on the land.
"Up to last night, I have written to the Minister of National Security asking them for support to help the farmers get back on their land."Douglas said: "I have been supporting the farmers and trying to go through the legal process. I understand their concerns but if it helps to bring their cause forward that is what it takes. "We have to prepare a way to get the farmers back into their land...a stronger law enforcement process."Quizzed on whether the farmers would get compensation, Douglas said it would be left to Agriculture Minister Vasant Bharath.
Help coming soon
Douglas was accompanied by his communications specialist Jonathan Stone who said he was optimistic within "the next 48 hours we would be able to go up to the land." He said that they met with the police and the Assistant Supt of Police.Stone said: "We would be able to go up there and inform the gentlemen with police present that they ought not to hit or mingle or run the farmers off the land. That would be made clear. We would want them to give assistance to get the matter resolved."Stone said along with the police, Douglas and his entourage would "inform the men that they have to leave the farmers alone because it is determined at this juncture that they are not the farmers of the land. They have to leave the farmers alone."
Ownership of the land
In a previous interview (April 10) Bharath said they cannot make an intervention until a "legal search is done."Yesterday, Douglas said they have been able to determine 712 acres of land were owned by the government; another owned by one person and another owned by a swami "but even those lands you can't determine who owns it because it is not a contiguous piece of land."He said the legal document entailed thousands of pages dating back to 1904.
Another issue that the farmers protested over was the distribution of food cards. Mora claimed that only "seven of the 52 farmers had received food cards."Commenting on the distribution, Douglas said: "When we negiotated with them, we felt there were 11 people who negotiated with them. We took those names and we got seven of them food cards. The other four are complicated. We have been trying to create a stop gap measure."
Chanting "Douglas must go," T&T Cocoa and Coffee Industry board member Terrance Haywood and president of the Lopinot/La Pastora Farmers' Group Cyril Cooper joined the protest.Haywood said they would continue to keep up the struggle by "fighting for land tenure for farmers in Lopinot and all around.He called upon government to establish an Education and Research Department in memory of Deonarine.Cooper said one of the so-called owners "cuff down a man by the river and even set up a garage on its banks."Mora called upon Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to recall Douglas.She said: "Three months now the farmers have not been able to go into their land. They are hungry. They need to go into their lands to feed their families."Douglas knew about the situation before the plannassing and he did not do anything to help us. He has not helped us, and he needs to go."