By Raffique Shah
February 24th 2008
ABOUT two weeks ago, a downright dangerous incident occurred offshore Claxton Bay, not far from where I live. Peter Vine, a UWI lecturer and environmental activist, was among a group of fishermen and nearby residents, protesting preliminary works being conducted by agents of the NEC in preparation for the reclamation of some 255 hectares of coastal land for the establishment of an industrial port.
NEC’s agents, some working on a barge a few hundred metres off the fishing depot, were conducting what appeared to be a survey of the area. Vine, who is known for dramatising his protests, had a fishing vessel take him close to a barge being used by the surveyors. He then jumped off the pirogue, swam to the barge, and was actually helped aboard by one employee (video footage would show this). Once on-deck, he appeared to be pleading with the eight-or-so men on board, to abandon their work.
From what was shown on several television stations, the activist did not lift a finger against any of the workers or operators. Suddenly, one goon grabbed Vine in a most vicious manner. Clearly a bigger man than the activist, he shoved, pushed and finally threw Vine overboard the tug. The goon continued his tirade even as Vine was able to tread water, having been thrown into the sea. I imagine Vine finally swam back to the pirogue and to safety.
What that goon did was assault Vine, not only with battery (as the law would say), but with anger that oozed from his quivering frame. To date, although the brutal assault was captured on video, no action has been taken by the police against the perpetrator. Indeed, we do not know if this excuse-for-a-human-being is a national of this country or a foreigner. One can assume that he is solid between the ears, therefore could not even understand what Vine was politely telling the crew.
As a veteran protestor in my day, I know one runs the risk of being physically abused by the police, security guards or hired goons. It’s considered par for the protest-course. But the way that goon manhandled Vine he could have killed the environmentalist, or caused him to drown. I cannot believe the police, more so Commissioner Trevor Paul, saw this violent incident captured “alive” on television and failed to lay charges.
We like to talk so much about law and order: what law, or what order, gave the goon the right to physically attack Vine? None.
If the activist committed an offence by boarding the tug, it was for some lawful authority-the police or Coast Guard-to arrest and charge him. He did not obstruct the workers. He did not abuse them. He did not assault them. He committed no crime. The police and the Government need to understand that people have a legitimate right to protest, as happens ever so often in communities where people are denied decent roads, potable water and other basics.
In this battle in Claxton Bay, Vine and Wayne Kublalsingh have taken the lead, as they did when the Alcoa plant was proposed for Cap-de-Ville. Here, they are protesting the construction of the Essar steel plant, and now a huge swath of coastline and mangrove due to be consigned to history to make way for yet another big industrial port. On this latter score, the Government needs to state why it deems it necessary for this small country to have three major ports-Port of Spain, Point Lisas, and now Claxton Bay.
When one adds the numerous smaller, dedicated ports, we probably have more berths per coastline-kilometre than any other country in the world.
That aside, there are many reasons why Essar is facing a wave of human protest, the main one being the stinking, deadly record of the Mittal mill in Point Lisas. For decades Mittal’s plant has been spewing corrosive dust in the faces of everyone, from the estate managers to the steel plant’s own employees, not to add hundreds of others who work at nearby plants. And no one-not the EMA, not government-has the backbone to read the riot act to this Indian tycoon. Workers are coughing up blood! Steel equipment in nearby plants is ‘pitted’ by DRI dust. One can only imagine what it does to human lungs and other organs.
Essar claims its mill is far cleaner than Mittal’s, and maybe it will be. But people won’t trust Essar’s owners, not until someone in Government has the balls to shut down Mittal’s operations, and tell the richest Indian in the world where to shove his rupees. Ten, twenty years down the road, when PM Manning and I are no longer around, think of the number of people who will die from the deleterious effects of that dust-bowl of a plant.
I am waiting, though, to see who in the Police Service has the guts to arrest and charge that goon who almost killed Vine. If they don’t, and someone else “outs his light”, I trust they will maintain their hands-off attitude.