By Tony Fraser
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PORT-OF-SPAIN _ An environmental activist on the 58th day of a hunger strike to protest a Trinidad highway project on Friday rebuffed a government offer of dialogue as his health deteriorates.
Activist Wayne Kublalsingh said he would only suspend the strike if the government agrees to mediation that includes an independent expert along with opponents of the project.
Kublalsingh wants the government of Trinidad and Tobago to change the route of a 9-mile (14-kilometre) stretch of the Port Fortin highway extension project to protect an area of wetlands and remote villages.
“We have been having dialogue for 10 years, exchanging letters without sincerity on the part of governments,” said Kublalsingh, one of the country’s most prominent environmental activists
The increasingly gaunt activist said he would only completely end the protest if a “mutually acceptable” solution is reached in the dispute.
In December 2012, Kublalsingh went on a hunger strike for 21 days to protest the project, breaking it only when the government agreed to an independent review.
The review did find that there had been inadequate analysis of the possible environmental harm to the Oropouche Lagoon and social impacts to 12 rural communities in the area but the government refused to re-route the highway and a court declined to block the project.
Works and Infrastructure Minister Suruj Rambachan said Friday that the government hopes to still persuade Kublasingh to end his protest of a $1.1 billion project that will ease traffic congestion and link southern Trinidad with the capital.
“Through dialogue we hope to persuade Dr. Kublalsingh and the Highway Re-route Movement (HRM) that the adopted route of the San Fernando to Point Fortin highway makes good economic sense,” Rambachan said.
Kublalsingh appears extremely frail. He says he has taken no nourishment with the exception of intravenous fluids administered in a hospital after he recently collapsed from weakness. “I expect my body will eventually give in,” he said. “But I have decided to wage this moral war against degradation of the environment, to make government accountable.”