Thursday, February 22, 2018

Watch for blowback in Point Highway agitation

Express editorial logo362

Mark Fraser

 It was probably only a matter of time before the aggressive and sensationalist tactics adopted by the Highway Re-route Movement would have provoked resistance in kind. Headline attention and prime-time space had till now been all but monopolised by members of the Re-route Movement.

Everyone has accordingly been made aware that they are opposed to the Debe-Mon Desir segment of the Point Fortin Highway. Less well understood and less capable of gaining public sympathy are their reasons for such implacable opposition to what looks like a nationally beneficial infrastructural and transport improvement.

It now appears that the passion animating non-stop resistance to the Debe-Mon Desir segment of the Highway to Point Fortin seems set to arouse more active resentment among people who support the project. By contrast, in late 2012, while Re-route Movement leader Wayne Kublalsingh was still engaged in a hunger strike outside the Prime Minister’s Office, supporters of the project held a silent protest outside the Hall of Justice.

Inside the courts, and on the streets, and on the terrain being prepared for the highway, a struggle continues to be waged. As of last week, it appeared that the court matter, proceeding with all usual slowness, was set to stagnate even more. 

Meanwhile, in yet another move designed to escalate tensions and capture media attention, Dr Kublalsingh personally sought to impede road works progress by clambering aboard a tractor to hang his now-notorious “tyre of shame”.  As calculated, he was removed by police, arrested, and charged once again.

Going nowhere fast in court, the question of if, how, and when to build the Debe-Mon Desir segment remains hopelessly politicised. Showing it is not itself without capacity to make self-serving news, and with hope to win friends and influence people, the People’s Partnership administration stage-managed distribution of 79 lots of land to squatters due to be displaced by the highway.  Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar also voiced the Government’s unshaken determination “to build the highway to Point Fortin that was promised for 50 years”.

The stage is thus set for a pattern of street protest and counter-protest, a development that may even appear inevitable. Such an eventuality will require renewed vigilance by possibly overtaxed police, with the possibility that frustrations felt all round could make things turn ugly. 

Hunger strike; hanging the junk “tyre of shame” at the Twin Towers, at the Prime Minister’s private residence, and elsewhere; occupying of equipment and blockading of construction terrain: these, plus other behaviours clearly inviting repeated arrest, and fostering images of martyrdom, are certain to escalate counter-actions and inflame attitudes.

As the courts give eventual effect to the rule of law, out on the streets, the authorities must insist on adherence to law by all sides and the preservation of order.