Stop the land banditry now

By Raffique Shah
April 04, 2022

Raffique ShahMy telephone mysteriously morphed into a Catholic church-type confessional after my column of last Sunday hit the streets, or given the dominance of the Internet in disseminating news, fake and real, likelier after Sunday Express’ online version was read by people who make it a point to stay ahead on the information highway.

I was still groggy with sleep, or lack thereof, when the phone rang. I answered with my Covid- cultivated tone, which signalled I expected the unexpected: Yallow! The shaky, one might even say frightened, female at the other end, oozing suspicion, not even making an effort to give me some kind of reassurance that I won’t hear the sound of gunfire erupt from my yard. “Mr Shah?” Pause. “Mr Shah, you okay?” “Do you expect me to not be?” I queried. She muttered: “Well, I don’t know… you are messing with some mean men… and women. These people have millions of dollars at stake.” “What are you talking about, M’aam?” I all but shouted. And my tone was anything but friendly.

Pleading that she was not “the enemy” I was making her out to be, she proceeded to talk “in parables” about the devious characters who had swooped down on “the Caroni lands thing you wrote on today” (Ah! So that was what this call was all about.) “who would do anything, stop at nothing” to hold on to the lands they had grabbed. I should be very careful, she warned, and she would “pray to God” to protect me, etc, etc.

I thanked the caring soul, and might have forgotten about all of this “Caroni-land-grab” affair if I did not hear some chilling stories from others I knew who had worked with the one-time State-owned sugar company, yet others unconnected, but who had learnt of the undisguised banditry. Within days, from the information I gathered, most of it unsolicited, I realised that what we were faced with is a version of organised crime that involves non-professional criminals who are professional in their respective fields, men and women (yes, women) who would think nothing of paying a thousand dollars to eliminate any human obstacle in their way.

I learnt, too, that the cost of a human life in a society like ours, where we have more guns than gunmen, costs no more than $1,000. Often, we read or hear about people who have no connections with criminal activities but who are gunned down and reduced to statistics of crime “under investigation” or just crime committed and forgotten.

In the “great Caroni land-grab”, the vast majority of people are trying to lay their hands, somehow legally, on lands awarded to the ex-sugar workers by investing significant sums of money to make huge profits off the one commodity that never decreases in value.

Few ex-sugar workers are involved in land speculation or any kind of business activity. Mostly, they educate their children who become professionals or run small business enterprises and operate within the law. The vultures who have swooped down on the potential billions of dollars to be made off Caroni lands are unscrupulous. They will stop at nothing in their pursuit of wealth. They come from all ethnic groups and can be found just about anywhere locally.

Often they are coached by devious-minded seniors; the lawyers are the worst of the lot. They collaborate to scrutinise the laws governing land transactions and find loopholes that allow for the “lawful” transfer of State lands into private hands where such practice is, in most cases, not legal. Such deviants conduct their banditry quite openly because they know that rare is the case where one or two members of their fraternity are disciplined by their associations or charged by their counterparts in general practice.

In the “Caroni land-grab” out of some 7,000 residential lots, sugar workers who were separated by the company in 2003-2007 own the smallest fraction of the communities that evolved from them. The biggest scam is taking place under our noses as the near ­defunct Caroni distributes two-acre plots that were intended to stimulate diversification of the economy into agriculture. I state boldly, and without verification, that less than five per cent of such lands are under any kind of farming or cultivation.

Bona fide farmers across the country squat on State and private lands to uplift farming and agriculture. Millions of dollars change hands—or accounts—as the very wealthy pay lawyers to bend and twist the laws governing land transfer every-which-way to get hold of the two-acre plots on which billion-dollar businesses will magically sprout.

That is wrong! In any language, that is banditry. Someone, somewhere must have the backbone to stop it.

3 thoughts on “Stop the land banditry now”

  1. [The biggest scam is taking place under our noses as the near ­defunct Caroni distributes two-acre plots that were intended to stimulate diversification of the economy into agriculture. I state boldly, and without verification, that less than five per cent of such lands are under any kind of farming or cultivation.]

    I am more confused about this article than all previous articles. If the government is giving ex Caroni workers a paltry 2 acres of land for years of baking in the hot Sun, how is that a scam? Not all Ex Caroni farmers are getting the land, and it has been almost 20 years with many of these workers dying off. And the younger generation are like the boys in Laventille not eager to work in the hot Sun. Rather they want the soft life. So they are not bothering about the land.

    The biggest scam is indeed happening that this writer completely ignores and that is PNMites with no affinity to the land are grabbing and grabbing so much so the Agriculture minister resign or step down. Every Monday morning there are request for a piece of land one minister in particular is grabbing as much as he can with no accounting to anyone. At least Ram have a conscience and decided not to be party to these excesses and mischief. It is the same set of people who get government housing for all their family whilst others are 25 years on the waiting list.

    The land grab is not unusual, government has to formulate a strict policy on land use. But hitting at the poor exCaroni workers especially from a former leader is shameless and self serving aka singing for his supper. Those people deserve the land from 1845 their ancestors were brutalized and given nothing of substance from their 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. labour. It was slavery to put it bluntly. There was a time when Trinidad economy was sugar base. The article does not show any respect for these ex Caroni workers.

    When OWTU employees were dismissed from Petrotrin, part of the settlement was to give these ex workers land. Petrotrin and Caroni possessed most of the land in the country. As well these workers deserve what they got, so why is it that poor ExCaroni workers have to march and protest for their ancestral patrimony? Shouldn’t we all support the fair distribution of land for them also? Is the land being given to ex Petrotrin workers coming with conditions?

    My mother and father were cane farmers, I saw them get up early in the morning eat a little food and during harvest time took the cutlass to the sugar cane field. I saw the “corn” on their hands as they went day after day to work in the hot Sun from morning till evening. It was hard work. I help but did not like it. It was too much for me. During the planting season it was hard work also, we had to use a “pick axe” to dig and put the cane joint in with the “eye” facing up. We did that in 2 acreas of land and it was quite challenging. As the cane saplings grew we had to take bags of salt (amonia, 50 lbs bags) on our backs rip it open and scatter the salt amongst the long forrows. We had to do the “salting” twice. When the cane grew we had to take our cutlass or hoe and mold or cut the grass.
    You could not get rich from such hard labour, rather the beating Sun made sure your loss your beauty and aged you much faster.

    I can’t think of any people more deserving than these workers and I hope the P.M. would expedite the land distribution process before the thieves in his administration steal all of it…. It is an agreement that should be honoured or rather should have been honoured 10 years ago. Blessings.

  2. It took me some time to understand the concept of parasitic oligarchy that was espoused by Basdeo Panday until I saw with my own eyes what took place at Caroni in the 80’s. Mr. Panday did his best for the average worker at Caroni to bring them on par with living standards at that time. The technology thrust – marketing syndrome of the paper, I wrote on the technology thrust and the plan from Mr. Rampersad employing the marketing aspect mainly sugar and the ramifications of legal bindings such as the Lome convention. My paper also introduced the human aspect of the pride of the cane cutter seeing their sons/daughters aspiring to heights in managing those potential satellite industries. e.g., Pulp, animal feeds, yeast, liquers and a spate of cottage industries etc.

    Behind the scenes a sudden recruitment of ‘strange’ people were recruited by an external recruitment agency (director of the company) on behalf of HR department of Caroni not to cut canes but becoming understudy in certain areas and at the same time executive management doing everything in their power not to relinquish their power in establishing separate cost centers for the company. What a confusing picture of events for a non- aspiring politician?

  3. “That is wrong! In any language, that is banditry. Someone, somewhere must have the backbone to stop it.”

    Yes, Mr. Shah, you are correct!
    Why not make a direct call to your favorite PM and government ? Corrupt practices are dominating the everyday lives of the citizens and have become instilled into the very nature of the people of T&T, from the top to the bottom. Hopeless!

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