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Squatters in fiery protest

The trinidad Guardian / Some 15 squatters’ houses were demolished by a crew of police and soldiers at Pine Avenue, Valencia, early yesterday.

The houses, some reportedly valued at between $91,000 and $800,000, were torn down despite appeals from their owners, some of whom begged the crew to hold their hands. Some homes were also destroyed in the absence of owners who had left for work.

In fact, the only homes spared were those in which mothers were caring for babies. Also untouched were properties belonging to members of the national security arm, including police and soldiers.

However, after the crew was forced to stop the exercise by angry residents who formed a human barricade, they informed them they will be coming back to continue the exercise.

Residents are now calling for answers on who gave the instructions to demolish the houses and why they were not served with notices so they could have taken some kind of action. They called on Minister of Housing Randall Mitchell and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to intervene and be the caring Government they preached about during their election campaign.

According to reports, around 5 am police, soldiers and an excavator and driver arrived in the community and began the demolition process.

Stunned home owners not only appealed for them to stop but asked if they would allow those not present to at least return home. The crew reportedly told the home owners they were operating on instructions and could not “accept any excuses, or hear anybody at this time.”

Resident Richard Nottingham said he had a mentally challenged daughter in his $91,000 two-bedroom house. He said what hurt him the most was that the authorities waited until they completed their properties “to come like thieves in the night to break down our houses.”

He claimed he applied for a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) house about 35 years ago and was still waiting for one. Nottingham, an electrician by trade who works at the University of the West Indies, claimed he was told he could pay bribe to get his HDC application fast-tracked, but instead decided to occupy a piece of land at Pine Avenue.

As tensions rose, some residents decided to form a human barricade, forcing the demolition team to abandon their exercise for the day. However, police told residents they will return, leaving some of them fearful they will be next in line for demolition.

“We want this matter to be addressed immediately,” angry residents told the T&T Guardian, noting they have not yet been told why their homes were being demolished.

Councillor Simone Gill also came under fire when she arrived on the scene. She was overwhelmed by residents seeking answers but could offer none. After several phone calls to people in which she herself sought answers, Gill eventually left the community.

Angered by the earlier demolition and lack on answers, residents later responded by felling trees, placing them across the roadway and lighting them along with other debris along the Valencia Stretch, bringing all traffic to standstill around 1.15 pm. Some motorists used the Guaico Tamana Road to get out and into Sangre Grande, but either not aware of this route or of the action were stuck in traffic for hours as police and fire officers fought to clear the debris.

Angry residents said the protests will continue until they get the assurance no more homes will be bulldozed.

This is the second time demolition took place in the community. In April, some 35 houses were demolished and again residents noted that not one resident employed within the Ministry of National Security House were targeted.

“The last time we were told it was a mistake to demolish the 35 homes. What will the excuse be this time? Are they going to compensate the house owners?” one resident asked.

MINISTRY: STRUCTURES UNOCCUPIED

In response to a text message on the issue last evening, Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat directed our questions to his acting Permanent Secretary Claudelle Mc Kellar.

Mc Kellar confirmed that a demolition exercise had taken place in a squatting settlement in Valencia that resulted in “nine concrete structures” being destroyed, but noted the structures appeared to be “unfinished and unoccupied.”

He said the demolition was carried out by an Engineer Division contingent from Camp Cumuto with support from the T&T Police Service, which was supervised by an assistant inspector of state lands.

Told that residents of Pine Avenue alleged that the homes of members of the national security forces, including Air Guards, police and soldiers, who were also squatting on the land were left untouched during the demolition, Mc Kellar said he could not comment on the issue since he did not have the facts.

​RALPH BANWARIE and SHALIZA HASSANALI

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