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If Activists Were Prime Ministers, the Hunger Strike Over the Highway in Trinidad Would Be Over

Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, YouTube screen capture, November 28, 2012, video by Miquel Galofré.

Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, YouTube screen capture, November 28, 2012, video by Miquel Galofré.

Twenty-four days into his second hunger strike against the construction of a highway in south Trinidad, Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh remains stoically committed to the cause. He and other supporters of the Highway Re-Route Movement continue to protest the plans for one section of a new bypass, hoping that Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister will abide by the findings of an independent audit on the proposed development and at least consider the suggested alternative route.

Unfortunately for demonstrators, the government has chosen to hold its ground and abandon a promise to consider the recommendations of the Armstrong Report. In a clever satirical response, university lecturer and activist Dr. Gabrielle Hosein, who helped organise last week's gathering in support of the women of the Highway Re-Route Movement, posted the latest installment in the video series “If I Was Prime Minister”.

In the clip, a puppet bearing an uncanny resemblance to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar attempts to make an “official speech” to placate the public over the Debe-Mon Desir highway extension:

Describing the video, Hosein says it is an “uncut edition of the PM's Official Address to the Nation, [which] gives the facts and shows government's commitment to truth vs. spin”.

The video begins with an electric guitar rendition of Trinidad and Tobago's national anthem, which blends into an instrumental version of Celine Dion's “A New Day Has Come“, the tune that was the campaign song for Persad-Bissessar's 2010 election bid, which now seems quite ironic  to many.

Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh on hunger strike last week, surrounded by the women of the Highway Re-Route Movement. Dr. Gabrielle Hosein sits to his left. The HRM's plan for an alternate route is illustrated by the map in the foreground. Photo by Abigail Hadeed, used with permission.

Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh on hunger strike last week, surrounded by the women of the Highway Re-Route Movement. Dr. Gabrielle Hosein sits to his left. The HRM's plan for an alternate route is illustrated by the map in the foreground. Photo by Abigail Hadeed, used with permission.

The video's voiceover does its best to mimic the prime minister's linguistic style, but the real jabs are in the content of the puppet's speech. The introduction addresses the Highway Re-Route Movement's contention that Persad-Bissessar and other ministers of her government reneged on assurances that the highway would not displace the community in question:

As your Prime Minister, I wish to explain how I could have protested against the highway extension from Debe to Mon Desir and then imposed it on the very citizens who trusted that I would not betray them…

An off-screen voice, acting as an advisor, immediately yells, “Cut! You can't say that!” And so it goes for the entire video. The “Prime Minister” goes on to reveal all the sticking points upon which the Highway Re-Route Movement has hinged its campaign: that the billion-dollar project was never put out to tender; that no social or environmental impact studies were conducted; and, in short, that officials failed to follow proper procedures to keep the process transparent.

The puppet soon comes up with a possible approach: simply “tell everybody ‘don't worry, we know what we doing'”, mirroring the government's modus operandi with Section 34, which attempted to sneak in legislation that could have exonerated the ruling party's financiers, who are facing corruption charges.

Suddenly, a cell phone is heard in the background; it is the “Attorney General” offering a bit of advice: take the line that the government cannot interfere because the case is now before the courts. The “Prime Minister” goes along with it, saying:

I would like to remind the public that this case remains before the court for adjudication; the Highway Re-Route Movement should therefore respect the rule of law and allow due process to take its course. Yes, construction has continued the whole time undermining the legal process, so by the time the courts decide, all them houses done bulldoze already…

The speech also addresses the Highway Re-Route Movement's concerns about the possible environmental impact of “1.4 million aggregate coming from the Northern Range to fill up the Oropuche Lagoon”. But the “Prime Minister” brushes aside these concerns, saying “ecosystems can be destroyed and massive quarrying can take place with no effect on anything whatsoever”.

Near the end of the monologue, the puppet assures her public that the “experts” have it all under control — a dig at patriarchal politics, which politicians frequently use to sideline the voices of civil society.

Finally, the skit addresses the government's position on Dr. Kublalsingh's hunger strike, when the “Prime Minister” says:

We will not be held to ransom. We ask, ‘Do not harm yourself as a form of protest’ when we can harm you by talking about our proud history of dialogue and conciliation while not actually engaging in truth about this issue.

According to reports yesterday, Dr. Kublalsingh's organs are beginning to shut down. His doctor, who says she cannot watch him deteriorate further, is calling for urgent mediation between the Highway Re-Route Movement and the government, in an effort to put an end to the hunger strike.

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