A progressive government, serious about genuine economic transformation, could do no better than embark on a major intellectual and physical campaign to transform our rural architecture: transform the quality and capacity of our rural primary schools, health facilities, farms, sport arenas, road system, local government bureaus, information systems, indigenous businesses, commons, wastelands, waterways and forestry. It would generate wealth from rural lands, peoples and communities without diminishing the viability and source of this wealth. Instead our government has launched a campaign of disinformation to pursue the destructive highway proposed for the rural communities between Debe to Mon Desir. Let us look at these items of disinformation.
First: "We will build the highway…" "The Point Fortin Highway must continue…" "The highway will bring in…"
This insistence on using the word "highway", or "Point Fortin Highway" is a calculated attempt to suggest that the Re-route Movement is against the highway. It is not. It is absolutely for the Point Fortin to San Fernando Highway. The Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) has constantly lobbied the government, and encouraged the people of Point Fortin and the south-west peninsula, to build the Point to San Fernando Highway.
Yet today, no construction work has begun on this essential highway. The HRM is against the supplementary or by-pass Debe to Mon Desir highway which runs for most of its path across the Oropouche Lagoon, across 13 communities, and which does not stand in the way of the Point to San Fernando Highway.
Second: "The highway will bring development to the area…"
Which area? The Debe to Mon Desir? Again, Debe to Mon Desir is lumped in with the general highway system. Point to San Fernando could bring lucrative returns; but it depends on what is at the end of this highway. Gold, timber, smelter, a petrochemical facility? For half the term of this government, despite promises, there has been nothing added to the abandoned smelter site to make use of the new power plant there.
But, would Debe to Mon Desir bring development? The slicing of a 9.1 mile highway through 13 economically viable communities? The disconnecting of each of these communities, one half from the other? The creation of urban sprawl across a peaceful wetland area, which should be devoted in the first place to food production? The building of an eight to ten foot embankment across lagoon communities already prone to flooding?
The demolition of 13 businesses, three of them indigenous multi-million dollar enterprises? The acquisition or splitting into parts 179 land holdings, some with estates, orchards, farms, each between one lot and 25 acres? The demolition of hundreds of family homes, on properties measuring from one lot to tens of acres, and a stable system of land inheritance? The demolition of mosque, temple, church, school, and perhaps an orphanage?
The destruction of an already existing road grid of 20 to 30 streets to which connectivity could be added, using a whole range of connector roads? The destruction of hundreds of areas of commons, lands where the people fish, recreate, grow food, un-owned but viable community inheritances? The disruption of the rural architecture of a major district which has empowered itself through communal and personal sweat, and relies little on state handouts?
The fact is that this is simply a bad place to pass this four-lane highway with its five interchanges, its loops, ramps, embankments. The HRM has proposed two alternatives: a route east of the state's Eastern Alignment; and a Debe to Mosquito Creek link, with improvements to the existing grid using a longer time frame of expenditure—this would be much cheaper.
Third: "The highway will bring billions of dollars in economic returns…"
To whom? To the people? Or to the contractocracy? To the insurance company, bank, the real estate broker, the land speculator, the warehouse owner and merchant? When land prices spiral in a rural community whom does this benefit? When crime flourishes in urban sprawls, who benefits? When there are more motor cars on the highway, rather than a viable, versatile system of road transport, who flourishes? Who flourishes when there is more pollution, more metals dug up from the earth, more greenhouse gases? Who flourishes from these quick-fix mega projects?
And when there is no cost-benefit analysis for this mega-project, and no procurement legislation, who flourishes? For this project there was just one tender. The IDB would refuse a loan for this project because of reservations about the tender process. Debe to Mon Desir, because most of it would be built over a lagoon, would use 180,000 truckloads of aggregate. What are the economic costs of this on the citizens of the East West Corridor, the valleys of our ranges, the nation?
And finally, does the nation know how much the Debe to Mon Desir portion of the highway would cost? No. This segment, the most expensive part, with its nine bridges, five interchanges, loops, ramps, culverts, compensation, relocation, capping of oil wells, extra lagoon buttressing, would take the total cost of the highway to over $10 billion; one business leader says $15 billion. The fact is that the proverbial fat of the rural lands, peoples and communities of Debe to Mon Desir would be squeezed into the pockets of pardners. This is the economics of Debe to Mon Desir.
Fourth: "There are just a few people affected…"
Well, we shall all be negatively affected.
• Wayne Kublalsingh
Highway Re-route Movement