Trinidad & Tobago: Hunger Strike was Never a Lost Cause

As noted in this post, environmentalist and activist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh ended his 21-day hunger strike on December 5,2012 after the government, the Highway Re-route Movement and various civil society groups agreed to an independent study:

After consultation with the government and the Highway Re-Route Movement, the JCC and its Civil Society Kindred Associations – Federation of Independent Trades Unions and NGOs (FITUN), Trinidad & Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) and Women Working for Social Progress (Working Women) – are pleased to confirm that we have appointed an independent working group to examine the several matters of concern on the disputed Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Solomon Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin.

Rhoda Bharath saw similarities between the highway issue and the recent Section 34 controversy:

Many of the issues of the Debe to Mon Desir Highway are quite similar to Section 34, in a general sense. Both issues showed us a government unwilling to act responsibly and transparently, and undertaking a project for the benefit of their financiers. Accountability, Transparency and Party Finance Reform. Kamla and them promising this since 2010, not so? And a man had was to almost kill heself to remind them and us of this!

Jamela Khan predicted that this protest could very well turn out to be historic:

History will show that a tipping point was reached in terms of the necessity for all governments to be transparent about the development path on which they embark. WE may or not support the highway but, surely, we support the right to know what is being done in our names. The previous PNM regime learnt a bitter lesson about failure to be accountable to citizens, about non-disclosure of relevant studies relating to large scale projects. We understood our rights then. So did the activists, including Wayne but not only him, who struggled against a massive state machinery. And, WON, 5 times!!! The Rule of Law prevailed. Why, because we have the right to know what is being done in our names and to reject that which is dubious or ineffectual. Comprehensive cost benefits analyses are critical to our acceptance of projects. And, sometimes, the good of a few does have to be sacrificed for the good of the majority. But, we must still understand the rationale and how negatives will be mitigated.

UWI professor Gabrielle Hosein hoped that university community would not lose interest in this issue because the strike was over:

Folks, especially UWI folks, faculty and students…now what? We know that information to be provided has to be processed and analysed, and we know that additional information and analyses have to be done. Is UWI going to contribute anything? Gathering and analysing data of national importance is our skill and our business. Are we going to put it to national use? Step up if you are interested and let's all talk about what we can do.


An anonymous activist from Barbados sent a note of solidarity :

I, along with others, fought a battle similar to your own to try to stop the national landfill being re-sited in a fragile, erosion-prone area in a designated national park zone.

I know the feeling of frustration burning a hole in your belly, convinced you are right but unable to sway the powers that be.

In our case, the Chief Agricultural Officer, the Chief Town Planner, the Head of the Soil Conservation Unit and several experienced experts, local and overseas, opposed the proposed landfill. Local residents were up in arms. The MP for the area, a member of the ruling party, called it “environmental madness”. The minister responsible admitted after she left office that she was always against it.

Nevertheless, the landfill was constructed at a cost over Bds$50 million. Several years later, not a pound of garbage has gone there. The government changed and the new guys declared it would never be used.

The note ended, however, with a plea for Kublalsingh to end the hunger strike:

In conclusion, I am begging you to discontinue your hunger strike. Your country and this region needs people who will stand up, not like opposition politicians who oppose for opposing sake, but as independent thinkers. You will win some battles, you will lose some. But if you lose your life over this issue, there will be one less soldier to fight other, and maybe more crucial, issues. You have done your part. Back off and let the chips fall where they may.

The Laughing Gull thanked all those who played a part in resolving the situation but he also let the Prime Minister know that her legacy is at stake:

A problem remains and if our PM still dreams of leaving a legacy that will be praised and remembered with gratitude, it will not be as a result of constructing highways but of laying the foundations for another sort of infrastructure, one based on transparency and accountability that will invite, accept, process, include and respond to citizen participation in the running of our affairs. No one should ever again have to resort to a hunger strike to get the attention of his countrymen and his government.

Brendon Jeremy O’Brien wrote an open letter to activist Ishmael Samad in response to Samad's attempted citizen's arrest of Kubablalsingh for “attempting suicide”:

I still remember standing in the hot sun with you and your twenty-something anti-death penalty posters. It was only five of us in the party, marching up and down Woodford Square opposite the Red House, getting cuss from passersby and run from police officers.

Was that a lost cause? Yeah, in the greatest sense. All we had to show for it was a few pictures from a journalist and each other’s own friendship. It’s been more than a year since then, and nothing’s changed where the death penalty is concerned. But those Christmas days where you stood outside the jail on your own were not impeded by the idea of a lost cause. The idea that you could hold maybe the most infamous ‘ole thief’ in T&T’s history was not impeded by the idea that if the government wasn’t holding him, you sure as hell couldn’t. That was a lost cause. But it was a cause you were willing to win, at costs that no one could expect. But you paid those costs and then some…

O'Brien refused to accept that standing for what one considers to be right could ever be a lost cause:

I never want to think I fight a lost cause. Not for the rights of all sexualities, or to bring an end to life-changing pandemics, or to end cruel and inhumane punishments. It does not phase me that the road is long and painful. I can see my future – I could very well get a fine like you, and one day might get so mad I sit in Parliament with a noose for a tie around my neck. And I could see myself right where Wayne was, so hungry for the civil right and privilege he’s owed that he couldn’t eat anything else.

All photos in this post are by Jo Sinanan, used with permission. Visit Jo's photoblog to see more of her work.


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