This newspaper’s lead story yesterday gave another side, indeed food for thought, of the now highly publicised bulldozing of acres under food production in D’Abadie and other places which so incensed the public.
The head of the Housing Development Corporation Jearlean John and the Minister of Housing Roodal Moonilal have been at the receiving end of highly charged emotionalism that last week painted the picture of poor unfortunate farmers whose crops were so wickedly destroyed by the Government. Now we learn that far from being poor, a small group of four farmers have been virtually living off the fat of the land, using lands they did not own but which they farmed and made money — a lot of money as has been reported.
According to our report yesterday four farmers had control of over 70 acres of land in one instance. These are not poor small farmers, if we are to judge by the expensive tractors and other equipment paraded through the streets of Port-of-Spain on Friday.
Notices served on these farmers to quit were ignored and despite the notices, they continued to plant crop after crop. According to our report, the minute they received a quit notice they would ask for time to reap the crops in the ground. Such time would be granted. But immediately the crop was reaped new crops were planted, and so it has gone on for years.
When the crops were finally bulldozed last Monday, the first response of the farmers was to threaten the public with increased food prices. We would be forgiven for questioning their so called commitment to feed the nation. There is something else. The farmers knew about the planned bulldozing for days before it happened so the question must be asked. Why did the farmers not reap their crops? Why did they wait three or more days? Why was the time spent mobilising protest action and notifying the media well in advance so that they got the maximum publicity? Where was their priority?
We would have thought that farmers would have mobilised to save their food crops for which they are now demanding compensation. To pretend that the bulldozers came like thieves in the night is to be disingenuous and to stretch public sympathy.
These farmers have been squatting on large chunks of State lands and making lots of money. They have now gained widespread sympathy from a public which understandably was outraged at the destruction of food. The time has come to pull down the veil and see the whole picture.
The Government must stand firm against widespread squatting on hundreds of acres in this country. The lawlessness must stop and proper planning of land use must be instituted. The Prime Minister who returned from Brazil yesterday must stand firm and not be taken in by the well orchestrated behaviour of a few men and women who clearly planned to play on her well known sympathy for the underdog. For once let us not be afraid to do the right thing.