Thu | Jan 21, 2021

Protesters stop bulldozers in their tracks - Highway construction in Red Berry stalled as homes, graves threatened

Published:Saturday | August 1, 2020 | 12:00 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
David McLarty, a resident of Red Berry, near Porus, Manchester, points to areas where workmen constructing the highway from May Pen to Willliamsfield have destroyed agricultural fields and graves. The residents claim that contractors started working without consultation.
Jacqueline Danverce-Henry, a resident of Red Berry, Manchester, shows letters that she got soliciting the sale of her home to construct a highway from May Pen in Clarendon to Williamsfield in Manchester. She said she was contacted by a government representative and reached an agreement but claimed that those commitments were reversed.

After four days of clearing lands for a section of the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000, a fierce protest by residents in Red Berry, Manchester, has halted China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC).

The order, which was revealed on Friday during an impromptu meeting with residents, arose out of complaints about unauthorised work that threatened the demolition of homes and the disturbing of graves.

Vaulton Simpson, health, safety and environmental engineer manager of CHEC, sought to placate the enraged crowd by describing the road clearing as “a breach of your rights”.

“I have issued an instruction for the work to stop, so the work has stopped. Therefore, we will have to do what we should do with respect to the notification and we are coming to talk to you before the work can resume.”

Residents had for days complained that the alignment of the highway would change their lives and livelihoods forever.

But Simpson sought to excuse CHEC from culpability for the alignment, insisting that it was the Jamaican Government and the National Road Operating and Constructing Company (NROCC) that bore responsiblity.

“The company with such responsibility is NROCC, and they are in dialogue with the family members, so they will not leave the family members out of it,” he told the protesters.

“Those graves will be relocated to a place agreed by that family member.”

The residents also expressed concerns that one of the disrupted gravesites might have been the burial place for a malaria patient.

One protester with whom The Gleaner spoke said that the residents were exasperated at they had been ignored for days.

“It have to take us to stop the work for you guys to even show up. As far as I am concerned, everybody is giving us a runaround,” the resident, who requested anonymity, said.

“You hear say CHEC response fi this, NROCC response fi this, the Government response for this, and when we talk to the separate entity, them a send we back round inna circle again.”

Language barrier

At least one resident referenced the language barrier between homeowners and the Chinese contractors.

“When the Chiney come and a talk to you, dem a say “&**%%” We can’t understand that. Dem nuh come with no interpreter. Nothing!” the resident said.

“How we a go understand them and dem understand we?”

Simpson sided with the residents that their demonstration was the right course of action.

“What you have done today, you have done the right thing. You have the power to do it,” said Simpson.

“This is your community. And if they come in here, they must treat you with respect,” he added.