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Arima farmer: HDC chased me off my land
For the last two years Michael Norea has been roaming the streets and begging for lodging by friends, since, he claims, he was displaced by the Housing Development Company (HDC). Norea, who visited the T&T Guardian in an attempt to get some assistance, said he was once a successful farmer when he cultivated land at Leroy Calliste Avenue, Phase Seven, La Horquetta.
“I had corn, ochro, sorrel, cassava, coconuts and oranges. All these things I used to plant on the land with other farmers,” he said. Norea said he lived by himself and he planted crops on the land for more than 30 years before his whole world changed in 2009. That’s when he said the HDC sent surveyors on the land to begin construction of houses. But he believes he has a strong claim to the land.
“I rejected them. I don’t know how they wanted to build on flooded land. The land is right by a river. The next thing I see they grade down most of the land and destroy my crops and leave me with one acre of land,” he said. Since that time Norea claims he has been scared to return to the land, which has been taken over by the HDC.
Norea said he was forced to abandon the land when he was chased by HDC security officials. “Those guys run me from my land and while I running I end up face-to-face with the police. The HDC workers have guns and the police have guns. I can’t fight with them,” he said.
The 53-year-old farmer said he believed he was suffering because he stood for what is right. Norea produced correspondence that he received in 2010 from the office of the Ombudsman which states: “Investigations into this complaint have revealed that on June 26th, 2009 the Town and Country Planning Division refused planning permission for the Housing Development Corporation’s Greenvale Development, La Horquetta, Arima.”
In spite of this, Norea said, the construction has continued on the land he once farmed to make a living. He said the HDC has offered him compensation but to date he has not received anything. He said he has sent letters to the office of the Police Commissioner and maintains he was right to refuse the HDC entry to his land in the first place. Norea says he is paying a heavy price for his sense of justice as the only other skill he has is furniture building. But because he does not have a place of his own land, he can’t pursue this profession.
“I trying to develop my craft now. I trying to build recliners and other furniture but I have nowhere to store these things. Farming used to take care of me. When I was a farmer I could pay my light bill and all my other bills. Now I on the streets. I can’t even sell my plant baskets because I have nowhere to do stock-keeping,” a distressed Norea said.
He said he is pleading with the HDC to intervene so that he can return to what he loves doing. He said he has already lost about $40,000 in goods and tools and really needs help from anyone in authority for assistance. Jearlean John, managing director of the HDC, said they were still in negotiations with Norea about the land he had formerly occupied. She said if the HDC process failed, an external party would step in to help with the issue of compensation, or relocation, if it was needed.
John added there was a process to be followed. “HDC has not put out anyone like that. There is a major housing development under construction, and we have tried to help out those people who were squatting. We have paid everyone properly,” she said.
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