THE EDITOR: We all recall that in September 2014, Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, a former lecturer at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, had embarked on a hunger strike, which was perhaps the longest hunger strike in global history, reported to be nine months, with a man still standing. That was no easy stroke of biological will.
Kublalsingh undertook his strike after claiming that the then People’s Partnership government had refused to review the extension of the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Solomon Hochoy Highway. He branded his strikers and dietitians the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM). But later on it appeared that his environmental consciousness had given way to political intent.
It was reported in one newspaper that “one day before he ended his nine-month hunger strike, he has vowed to use all his strength to ensure the People’s Partnership loses the general election.” But where is Kublalsingh now given the fact that a new highway being proposed is allegedly passing through the Aripo Savannas Scientific Reserve, a prohibited area so designated under the Forests Act.
The Aripo Savannas, located in east-central Trinidad, is regarded as the largest remaining natural savanna ecosystem with widespread flora in our country.
One article suggests that “it is also an outstanding representation of a naturally occurring marsh formation consisting of marsh forest, palm-marsh and savannas which provide a habitat for a number of the country’s rare and threatened species of plants and animals.”
The article went on to state that the then administration, in association with Brazilian construction firm OAS, in 1980 had developed a plan of national parks and other protected areas.
In this proposal, the Aripo Savannas was recognised as an area to be “designated as a scientific reserve, as it was the major remaining natural savannas in the country.”
History suggests, too, that under Legal Notice #113 of 1987, it was confirmed as a prohibited area so designated under the Forests Act.
The area was also subject to a process of being declared as an environmentally sensitive area by the EMA in 2004, a declaration which was finally pronounced in June 2007. All of this meant that Aripo was to be considered “a strict nature reserve because it is one of the areas in TT with high scientific value, as it is the best remaining example of the types of ecosystems found within its boundaries.”
With such a unique label the area is subject to distinctive legal shield under the laws of TT.
There are reports that the protected area is being bulldozed in preparation for construction works on the extension of the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway from Cumuto to Sangre Grande. Indeed, this is before the courts so I make no pronouncement on the legalities of a matter that is sub judice.
Instead, my questions are for Kublalsingh. Firstly is whether we can now expect an intervention from you on the protection of the Aripo Savannas? Secondly, are you going to vow to use all your strength to ensure the PNM loses the next general election? Are you going to extend a helping hand to the people of Aripo? Or are you going to provide a supporting arm? You can trademark any action the citizenry awaits from you as ARM — the Aripo Re-route Movement.
These days you need permission to “wine” but you don’t require consent to go on another hunger strike.
ASHVANI MAHABIR, Cunupia