T&T environmentalist on sixth day of hunger strike over highway

(Trinidad Express) Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar did not meet with Dr Wayne Kublalsingh yesterday but she issued a statement saying she shared a deep concern for his health and welfare.

The statement read: “I share a deep concern for the health and welfare of Dr Kublalsingh. It is most unfortunate that he has chosen to pursue such an action and I regard this matter as I would anyone who puts themselves in harm’s way.

“I have asked the Minister of the People, Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, to have trained members of staff from Social Services visit Dr Kublalsingh in the hope that in his own interest he can be reasoned with and given some measure of solace.

“I have also requested that Minister of Health, Dr Fuad Khan, who is also a medical doctor, to pay Dr Kublalsingh a visit and to place an ambulance on standby if ever necessary at any time.”

Earlier yesterday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran had called on Persad-Bissessar to speak to Kublalsingh and end a “difficult” situation.

“I was told the situation is getting difficult. He should be given a hearing,” Dookeran said in telephone interview.

Dookeran said Kublalsingh, head of the Highway Re-Route Movement, who enters day six of his hunger strike today, should also be given the appropriate medical attention for someone who has not eaten or drunk anything for five days.

While other Government officials have spoken on the situation, Kublalsingh is yet to hear from the Prime Minister, the only person who he says can end his hunger strike over the building of the highway from Debe to Mon Desir.

“We haven’t heard from the Prime Minister, but we have heard that she is aware of what is going on,” he said yesterday.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure issued a press release stating that because the group had filed a lawsuit against the government, it would have been “inadvisable, if not inappropriate” to meet with them.

Kublalsingh has refused to acknowledge any information given concerning the Debe to Mon Desir route unless that information came from Persad-Bissessar herself.

A visibly frail Kublalsingh remained seated in front of Persad-Bissessar’s office in St Clair yesterday, undeterred even by the heavy midday rains.

On Saturday, he had sat under a tree near the Prime Minister’s Phillipine residence.

“I am hoping the Prime Minister responds but I haven’t heard anything but scurrilous statements from (Housing Minister Dr Roodal) Moonilal and (National Security Minister Jack) Warner but they’re very irrelevant to this issue right now,” he said.

Kublalsingh said while he still loved Persad-Bissessar, she must keep her word and review the Government’s plan for the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway.

Ever so often yesterday, Kublalsingh would stand and call his team closer.

“What do we want?” he would shouted.

“A review!” they would respond, referring to a revision of the Government’s plans for the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway to Point Fortin to bypass the wetlands.

“Do we hate the Prime Minister?” he would call out.

“No!” they would respond.

“But what do we want?”

“A review!” they would respond again.

The group sang religious songs from various faiths, including Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

By 2 p.m., Fr Clyde Harvey had visited the group. He greeted Kublalsingh with a handshake and a kiss to the forehead. He spoke with Kublalsingh for a few minutes and led the group in the slightly improvised version of “Kumbaya” and “Never get weary yet”, calling for victory for Kublalsingh.

He prayed for “enlightenment” of those in power and “guidance” for Kublalsingh.

“He has taken on the mantle and sometimes stands alone,” Harvey said.

After five days without food or water, Kublalsingh’s eyes are sunken, his face is gaunt and moving seems painful but his spirit seemed to be buoyed by a few visitors and the steady support from his Highway Re-Route team.

Many of the team did not share his resolve and proceeded to eat doughnuts, chocolates and other food items while at the makeshift hunger strike camp.

In quiet moments with his eyes closed, Kublalsingh seemed to be sleeping, but responded to whispered questions from male nurse Shazim Kham, a member of the Re-Route team who kept a close eye on the environmental activist.

Early yesterday morning, trade union leader Vincent Cabrera spent an hour speaking with Kublalsingh. Soon after, former chairman of the Congress of the People (COP) attorney Vernon de Lima visited him as well.

Just after 1 p.m, as the rains abated, Kublalsingh told the gathering buses would be available to take them back home, but they refused, saying they had come a long way from Debe and would remain to support him.

Kublalsingh remained outside the office until 4 p.m. following which he said he would go to a friend’s house, “where they can monitor me throughout the night”.

Kublalsingh began a hunger strike last Thursday in a bid to highlight what he said was a broken promise by Persad-Bissessar.

Ambulance

Meanwhile, Health Minister Khan, the only Government official to meet with the group since Kublalsingh began his hunger strike, was told to “get to f— out of here” when he offered to leave an ambulance on standby for Kublalsingh.

Khan arrived just before 4 p.m and pulled a chair close to face Kublalsingh. He explained the dangers of starvation on the body, but Kublalsingh would have none of it.

“This is the response by your Government? I will not use that ambulance, I will not, not, not use that f—— ambulance so get the f— out of here,” Kublalsingh told Khan.

“Leave please. Leave now. Don’t come and mamaguy us with ambulance. Why you mamaguying us with an ambulance? You are ill- treating our people and you want to come and mamaguy us with an ambulance? Get out of here,” he said.

Kublalsingh told Khan if he wanted to offer help to anyone, save it for the people of Mon Desir and Debe.

“There are people there who are suffering trauma, exhaustion because it’s been years of long struggle. Their camp has been mashed up by the Government.

“They have sent guard dogs against us, they have bulldozed people’s houses, they have come with laws that are very draconian and terrorise people emotionally, especially the older people, and they suffer from all kind of symptoms and our movement is physically exhausted, people are traumatised and I think that ought to be a concern of the Minister of Health,” he said.

Khan did not respond to Kublalsingh’s outburst other than to say no food and water could trigger that type of anger.

Khan said he had visited on his own accord, but had also spoken to the Prime Minister who gave instructions to leave the ambulance parked nearby.

He said he bore no malice for Kublalsingh, despite the outburst which he blamed on a lack of food and water.

“When one does not get enough water and the brain does not get enough water, you end up with mental confusion sometimes and you say and do things that you won’t really say and do if you were not dehydrated, so that is what it is,” he said.



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