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Greed at a base level

September 16, 2001
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

AS A teenager, when I played cricket for the Tacarigua EC Ex Pupils, our ground lay south of the train line (now the Priority Bus Route). The Railway Station served as our pavilion. To the west of us was Orange Grove ground where the managers and overseers of the estate indulged in their English pastime. El Dorado occupied the ground west of Orange Grove Road whereas Tacarigua Youth Organisation of Paradise occupied Holy Ground. Dinsley owned the ground east of Tacarigua EC Ex Pupils whereas the younger folks played on the fringes of all of these grounds. Although we were colonials we understood there had to be room for all and we made the necessary accommodation. No one had to tell us that. Villagers (or districkers, as Ox would say) organised their business in such a way that there was no discernable conflict. This was self-governance in action.

Even before I was born, the naturally beautiful Tacarigua Savannah possessed its own romance and mystery. The silk cotton tree on the southern part of the El Dorado Ground was always the subject of speculation. Villagers swore they saw people dealing under that tree at nights and a white man on a white horse always appeared at the stroke of midnight. Nestling softly beneath the Northern Range, the Orange Grove Savannah was the second largest natural Savannah in Trinidad. Only Queen's Park Savannah was bigger and appeared more prominently in the island's history. In 1849, Michele Cazabon captured part of its beauty in a magnificent landscape he painted for William Burnley, the biggest slave owner of the island.

In its heyday, the Savannah presented a magnificent sight as its grassy plain unfolded before one's eyes. Standing on the Eastern Main Road, one saw the sweeping, expansive beauty of undulating land, carpeted by the soft layers of grasses stretching out to meet the Churchill- Roosevelt Highway. Interspersed with samaan trees, large shady trees under which cattle grazed, this tropical Eden seemed uncorrupted. On the southwestern tip of the Savannah, there was a lilied pond. Many young men and young women received their first kisses on the banks of that pond. On Sundays, folks came from all parts of the island to enjoy the beauty of this small piece of heaven tucked away in the eastern party of our island.

In the fifties, the Trinidad Sugar Estates got into financial trouble and the despoilment of our Eden began. They began to plant houses on the southwestern tip of the Savannah then pushed eastward. Before one knew it, houses populated the entire southern end of the Savannah. Then, one morning, without any notice, a tractor began to plough the El Dorado Ground and it became the headquarters of an architectural firm. A few months ago, Home Construction completed the process by adding a crematorium to augment the natural beauty of these lands. In fact, when the Government began to build the Priority Bus Route, they too, cut down some of the magnificent trees that graced our Savannah. When they tried to cut down the samaan tree on Holy Ground, the symbol of strength and vitality of our village life, only the bravery of Churan (Cecil Roberts), Coach (Junior Reyes), Tots (Kelvin Philips) and some others (yours truly included) prevented them from doing so.

Through slavery, colonialism and early independence, residents of Tacarigua and the surrounding areas enjoyed the untrammeled use of the savannah. The residents understood it to be a community facility for the benefit of all. In the process, we worked out a modus operandi for the use of the grounds. Even Burnley, major slave owner, and the colonial-capitalists of the Trinidad Sugar Estates understood that although they exploited the sugarcane lands, the Savannah belonged to the people. It was/is a place where we gather to share our grief, our joys, our blessings and our leisure. Even today, it is a joy to see residents, young and old, in the morning and evening, enjoying the benefits of the savannah.

Now, in the first year of the 21st century, an unenlightened man decides to carve out a piece of this savannah for his own use. About a month ago, without any warning, a resident placed a fence around one of the grounds (the one on which I played cricket as a teenager) for the exclusive use of his layers. Not only did they plant a wire fence around the ground, they dug up the field and placed concrete in the ground to hold up their fence. When, I expressed my concerns to this gentleman, I received some of the sweetest expletives one can utter. When residents of Dinsley raised the matter with him, they too, were subjected to similar treatment.

Three weeks ago, I reported the matter to the Arouca Police Station. They told me they could not help and suggested I report the matter to Jerry Narace, chairman of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation. He, too, has not been of much assistance. Desmond Simmons, a resident, also raised the matter with the Ministry of Sports. Nothing has been done. Earlier this week, on behalf of the NAEAP, I wrote a letter to the Attorney General asking him to look into this matter. I hope he can help.

This fence cannot be allowed to stand. A public savannah belongs to all of its citizens. No matter how well intentioned, an individual cannot arbitrarily fence around a piece of a public savannah for his use. It is almost as sacrilegious as if an individual fenced a portion of the Queen's Park Savannah for her private use. The people of Tacarigua and Dinsley are angry and frustrated. They will take this matter into their hands if the officials do not resolve it.

I plead with the relevant officials to remove this fence forthwith. It is the worse symbol of corporate greed at the expense of poor people. No enlightened citizen can or should allow this matter to go unheeded. Is anyone listening?

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