Under pressure after negative reactions to their protest actions this week, the farmers for the first time backed down from their stance of refusing to relocate from the lands which they currently illegally occupy at Pineapple Smith, D’Abadie, and at Egypt Village, Chaguanas.

After yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, which saw Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar insist to ministers that the State was not backing down, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath and Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar met with the farmers, led by Shiraz Khan, president of the Sheep and Goat Farmers Association.

While last week the farmers had rejected outright the Government’s suggestion that they relocate, by the end of yesterday’s talks they had climbed down from this position and for the first time indicated that they will consider the offer of alternative sites.

The Estate Management and Business Development Company Limited (EMBDC) had last week put on the table a total of 420 acres of lands at St Helena and Warrenville to be offered to the farmers. Newsday understands, however, that the Government decided against offering these lands to the farmers as Cabinet determined to remain firm over the issue of having lands for the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to pursue its housing agenda at Pineapple Smith and the contested land at Egypt Village.

EMBD board members, including Stephen Broadbridge, attended yesterday’s meeting.

Government sources last night indicated that the offer that is now on the table for farmers to consider is fundamentally one of relocation. As such it is clear that the farmers will not be offered the option of remaining on their current sites.

The ministers and the farmers met yesterday at the offices of the Ministry of Food Production at St Clair Circle, Port-of-Spain from 4 pm. The meeting ended at 6.05 pm when farmers exited the talks.

At a briefing after the end of talks, Khan said the farmers will consider the Government’s offer and officials would tour the proposed lands today and tomorrow.

“After a long meeting with the ministers we have decided that we will go back to our farmers and discuss the packages that have been placed before us,” Khan said. “The land offered has the requisite acreage and it is not too far.”

“We are not looking for confrontation but that does not mean to say that we are going to give up easily,” he said. At the same time, he said there had been “substantial” progress in the talks.

“We are happy in terms of the discussion and consultations going ahead,” he said. He however maintained that the farmers still want a meeting with the Prime Minister, who had attended another function in Couva at the same time as yesterday’s talks. Khan also said the farmers are still calling for an apology and the resignation of Moonilal.

It is understood that farmers voiced some concerns about the suitability of the lands, prompting the tour of the areas.

Bharath, speaking at the same briefing, described the meeting as “extremely cordial” and noted that the aim of the talks was to achieve the “best possible outcome.”

Moonilal said there had been “enormous progress” in the talks and said that the Government was “very optimistic that we will be arriving at a win win situation.”

Ramadhar explained that he was present at the meeting to deal with any legal aspects that arose.

Sources said that the Legal Affairs Minister had been specifically mandated by Persad-Bissessar at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting to attend the talks.

Some sources reported yesterday that Cabinet took a firm decision not to allow farmers at Pineapple Smith, D’Abadie and Egypt Village, Chaguanas to have their way and stay on those lands because of their unruly behaviour, unreasonable demands and the security risk they posed to the Prime Minister on Wednesday outside the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), South Quay, Port-of-Spain. That protest is understood to have galavanised the Government’s views on the matter and to trigger fears among the farmers that they have been attracting too much negative publicity.



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