Guest post by Angelique V. Nixon
On Thursday 2 October, people from across Trinidad came together in solidarity to support the women of the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM), outside the Office of the Prime Minister. We joined with representatives from women’s organisations and other civil society organisations to make our voices heard about social justice, environmental degradation, and government accountability.
At high noon, armed with banners, signs, and our voices, we gathered on the street facing the PM’s office and offered up our presence in solidarity with the goals and principles of the HRM. We called out for justice and sang together in support of the HRM and in particular the women of the movement, who bear the brunt of so much of the issues at hand.
We were blessed with the powerful performance of Cecilia Salazar evoking the spirit of Trinidad’s own rebel, public servant, and whistle blower Gene Miles, who fought against corruption in the 1960s. This served as a much needed reminder that all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have a right to expect and demand government accountability, transparency, and responsibility. The warrior woman Gene Miles brought alive through Salazar encouraged us to be as fierce and defiant as she was, and I believe helped us to stand taller, be braver, and shout even louder.
Social Justice. The Power of Principle. Highway Re-Route. We chanted. We sang. We shouted.
The tone was a mixture of reflection, somber defiance, and passionate response. Some of us prayed. Some of us shared in quiet moments. Some of us spoke. Some of us were just learning about the movement. Some of us had been involved for a long time. Elders. Youth. And all the ages in between. Students. Activists. Artists. Teachers. Leaders. Concerned People. We were all there to show our solidarity with the movement, to support all those who have been working on this for years.
As the press release for the gathering explains:
“For eight years, the women of the HRM have petitioned and protested peacefully against the proposed destruction of an entire community, which has been living in harmony with the land going back three generations. Despite the tremendous odds stacked against them, these women continue to ask that the recommendations of the Armstrong Report, commissioned and paid for by the Government, be considered. The report concluded that work should be halted on the disputed Debe-Mon Desir section of the San Fernando-Point Fortin highway until the proper social, economic and environmental assessments are done, and the correct procedures followed, including the cost-benefit analysis of alternative routes.”
Environmental activist and leader of the HRM, Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh is on his second hunger strike calling for the PM to do what she promised two years ago – to abide by the Armstrong Report – and to stop the construction of the proposed highway immediately. Thursday was Day 16 of his hunger strike, and he was surrounded by supporters and members of the movement. His determination is incredible, and the power of his principle feels boundless.
Activist and main organiser of the gathering Gabrielle Hosein offered these important reflections in her column on Thursday: “Does it really take this much time and sacrifice to successfully secure accountable government? People are critical of Kublalsingh’s choice of strategy, but the alternative is lifelong commitment to disallowing corruption or lack of transparency in whatever form. None of us may choose to die, but how many of us make this other choice instead?”
Coinciding with the gathering, the HRM delivered a letter with 29 civil society organisations’ signatures to the Office of the Prime Minister. This letter supports the HRM and calls on the PM to seriously address the concerns laid out in the Armstrong Report and consider the HRM’s new proposal – the optimum connectivity proposal.
This new proposal will be way more cost effective, will utilise existing roads, and prevent the destruction of the environment and communities along the proposed route. This new proposal reflects the concerns of the people, the environment, and needed development. As Gabrielle Hosein argues: “We want development, but development that is more than concretization. Development includes a right to information, truth and the best plan possible for future generations, not just the partial truths and wasteful plans that governments choose. After all, who bears the costs? We do.”
Since the demonstration, good media coverage of the event and some international press has raised even more awareness about the seriousness and urgency of the issue. The latest press release from HRM indicates that there has been a response from the governement, and the new initiatives are being organised by leaders and civil society organisations who have signed on to the petition calling for support of the new proposal. The situation is dire and the stakes remain high. The calls for social and environment justice, accountability, and respect continue. Let us all maintain the vigil and be even more defiant in our demands.