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Stop frustrating ex-Caroni workers

IN a blast from the past that should call attention and stir action on a matter in danger of being forgotten, the All Trinidad General Workers Union reminded the country of the plight of the thousands who lost their livelihoods with the closure of Caroni (1975) Limited.

Addressing the union's 75th anniversary commemoration, the union's president-general Nirvan Maharaj reviewed the sad lack of progress in keeping promises made ten years ago by the State.

"If, after ten years, 25 per cent of the provisions of the VSEP with respect to land development and distribution have taken place, then that is plenty," he said in remarks that should disturb the national conscience.

Mr Maharaj is referring to widely-held expectations that the former Caroni Limited lands, once properly prepared and distributed to willing hands, could have been turned into the national bread basket.

Thanks to bureaucratic bungling, that bright hope didn't materialise, assuming it was ever a realistic hope. But the All Trinidad Union and its stakeholders now look askance at the People's Partnership Government's plans to explore agricultural collaboration with Guyana.

Certainly, the Guyana plan is worth serious consideration. But this should not be at the cost of treating with Caroni's land and its former workers.

These people should have been long established on their own property, playing their part in reducing the food import bill and at the same time supporting themselves and their families.

Instead, the government that finalised the shutting-down of Caroni fiddled and diddled with the procedure of allocating the two-acre plots to the former employees and they were left to their own devices, some suffering through unemployment and displacement, while others had to quickly adapt and learn a new trade to feed their loved ones.

They must have all been eagerly awaiting the day when a political party nurtured in the cane fields would form the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Then, surely, they would get their just reward and return to the land where their forefathers toiled, this time with the property in their own name and thus reaping the profits of whatever they grew and took to market.

That shift in the corridors of power came to pass more than two years ago. But instead of the dawn of a new day for the one-time Caroni workers, they have continued to be frustrated in their efforts to enjoy the right to their own piece of real estate, and the nation struggles to feed itself.

Sure, the Guyana initiative is a good idea, but it is far more feasible to have several hundred T&T workers, who are already agriculturally inclined, growing short-term crops right here at home.

A two-acre plot can grow a lot of tomatoes, or sweet peppers, or melongene, or hot peppers, and many other nutritious vegetables, but the grand plan to allocate these lands to the Caroni ex-employees must be put in motion, or speeded up, immediately.

Do it now before those to whom it is due grow old and frustrated and can no longer enjoy the fruits of their labour.

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