By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 25, 2017
A wry smile came over Dr Capildeo’s face as Dr Williams bemoaned his party’s betrayal in acquiescing to the massive giveway of the Chaguaramas lands. Dr Capildeo could not help but remember a similar land giveaway that had taken place under Dr Williams’s eyes even though Dr Capildeo did not live to see the long-term effects of that deal.
Dr Williams hemmed and hawed, scratched his head, trying to figure out where Dr Capildeo was coming from.
“You remember the Orange Grove lands in Tacarigua?”
“Yes,” Dr Williams said hesitatingly.
“You remember what happened to those lands?”
Dr Williams couldn’t recall what Dr Capildeo was talking about. However, the story of those lands stood as an omen of what the lease arrangements of the Chaguaramas lands would mean for the original inhabitants. Since Dr Capildeo died in 1970 it was left to this wizen geezer to tell the story.
The Orange Grove (OG) story went back to the 1820s when William Hardin Burnley, the richest nonresident slave owner in the West Indies, owned and controlled 14 sugar estates in Trinidad of which OG was the largest. It consisted of 2,600 acres and was serviced by 200 enslaved persons.
After Burnley died in 1850 these lands changed owners eventually ending up in the hands of the Trinidad Sugar Estates whose headquarters was in London. In the 1850s there were several sugar estates in the area: El Dorado, Paradise, Laurel Hill, Macoya and Garden City. By the 1950s they had all ceased to operate. OG remained the central sugar estate around which all life turned.
Things took a nosedive at OG in the 1960s. The London office sent David Fairclough, an efficiency expert, to examine the financial viability of OG. In 1965 Billy Howard, the manager of the estate, informed his staff that “the company’s financial position in respect of the SUGAR TRADING END OF THE BUSINESS is in the most precarious position”.
To cope with this crisis, the estate built houses on part of its estate (Trincity) to stem its losses. It also began to sell plots of lands to the long-term residents of the estate. In 1968 the Trinidad government, using taxpayers’ monies, bought the “cane-sharing interest” from the Trinidad Sugar Estates for $4.5 million. It left the bulk of the property in the hands of the English owners who, in 1961, formed a real estate business called International Property Development (IPD).
In 1975 IPD sold its holding to a group of local entrepreneurs operating under the name Home Construction Limited (HCL), directed by Tajmool Hosein and Ameer Ali Edoo for the sum of $15,016,800. Mervyn DeSouza who worked in Dr Williams’s office was the go-between. HCL paid $780,000 in cash and a loan from Barclays Bank to complete the transaction. Within five years of this transaction (1976–1981) HCL made $13,598,101 in profits.
Eventually, HCL sold those lands to CLICO. Today those lands are worth billions of dollars. The company made billions in profits in the process.
My family’s rental of the Orange Grove land goes back to the 1930s when my father rented the land from the Trinidad Sugar Estates, the deed being dated July 11, 1854. When we bought our plot in 1965, it cost approximately $2,000, a lot of money in those days. Last year that same plot of land was valued at close to $1 million.
This brings me to the problem of the inhabitants who had lived on the Chaguaramas land before it was unceremoniously confiscated by the British and given to the United States in exchange for 50 overage destroyers. Tony Fraser noted that before “World War II, the area consisted of a number of villages in which families of Afro-Trini and an admixture of typical families lived” (Trinidad Guardian, October 16, 2016).
To accommodate the US, “the Guave Road farmers and others who were cultivating portions of that land for decades were unceremoniously evicted and ridiculed as unreasonable squatters.” Today, they remain without leases and so can be evicted at any time.
Not so for the 11 tenants who received leases for the Chaguaramas land at rates “which range from $1 to $3,400… for the span of 30 years” (Express, April 7, 2017). Aboud’s Chaguaramas Parking, one of the fortunate few, “would pay $1 in rent a year for 1.62 hectares of land.”
I wonder if the groundnuts vendor or the Shouter Baptist who was at Woodford Square that memorable April day in 1960 could be so fortunate? All they knew, the subliminal sign attached to the advertisement for those leases read: “Blacks need not apply.”
Yet, the government says, “Dey fighting for we.”
Sooner rather than later the Guave Road farmers shall be thrown off the land. Poor families, whatever their hue, shall not be able to even rent those lands. As the increased value of our simple plot of land in Tacarigua shows, the poor will always be deceived by those who pretend to be their friends.
Maybe the psalmist was correct: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.”
The jamming continues.