Duke storms HDC office, stages sit-in as East Port of Spain residents protest relocation

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PDP political leader Watson Duke, second from right, speaks to media with East Port of Spain residents Neisha Mendoza, second from left, and Colleen Mendoza before staging a sit-in protest at HDC’s offices on South Quay, on Friday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

PROGRESSIVE Democratic Patriots (PDP) leader Watson Duke’s two-hour sit-in protest at the Housing Development Corporation to halt the relocation of residents at the housing development at Old St Joseph Road Port of Spain East, on Friday morning, has been dismissed as a mockery.

Duke and a group of disgruntled residents marched into HDC’s downtown Port of Spain head office demanding to speak to the corporation’s chairman, Noel Garcia, and managing director Jayselle McFarlane.

Duke repeatedly accused the corporation of gentrification and unfair treatment while seated in the reception area.

Moments later, two teams of police officers went into the building and customers were left waiting outside. As the officers walked past, Duke led the group in a chant: “We want justice – right now.”

A man peeps in the doorway of HDC’s South Quay office, as police enter through the side entrance after being summoned by HDC security as PDP leader Watson Duke staged a sit-in protest inside, on Friday morning. – Photo by Roger Jacob

No one else was allowed to enter the building.

At 11am, those outside were told the cashier was closed and they were asked to return at 2 pm.

Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, speaking to the media as she made her way into the building from the back entrance, said the operations of her ministry would not be obstructed or disrupted by Duke.

Duke was still inside the building at that time.

She accused Duke of mischief and said her ministry would ignore Duke’s attempts to remain in the spotlight.

“Mr Duke is just making a mockery of himself. We are not doing anything the residents of the area aren’t fully aware of and in full agreement with. So he is looking for another platform to try and make mischief.

“That is not the problem of the ministry or of HDC because we are operating in a way where we have been talking to the residents. They are aware of what is happening, we are building better housing for them and they are in full agreement.”

“It’s a process….We did promise we would start in Port of Spain because that is where we feel the revitalisation should take place – we have done that. I am of the firm view that Mr Duke is looking for a platform.

“He said he wants to be the mayor of Port of Spain, he also said he wants to be the prime minister, so this is probably one of his stepping stones. But I think he has a lot more things to think about than what he’s doing.”

She said some of the residents would be relocated at another development in Port of Spain and others would be accommodated further away.

“Wherever we have units available we would relocate people there. So we have not been doing anything that the lawful residents aren’t aware of.”

However, at the protest, residents Cooleen Mendoza and Neisha Laurence told media the ministry treated them unfairly.

Mendoza said, “HDC came to us three years ago and said they going to build up Piccadilly Street and then they going to move up and put us there. Now, in less than a month’s time HDC just come and said we have to move. They are sending some of us San Fernando, Princes Town, Sangre Grande, all about.”

Laurence claimed some residents in large families were told to find accommodation elsewhere as the homes being offered could not house extended families.

“That is not right. People working and children going to school in the area. How could they spread us out like that?”

The residents said they would not leave, even though the deadline for residents who’ve received keys to their new apartments had passed.

Disgruntled members of the public hoping to do business with the HDC, wait outside the company’s offices on South Quay, Port of Spain, on Friday as PDP leader Watson Duke staged a sit-in protest inside. – Photo by Roger Jacob

When contacted for a comment, HDC chairman Noel Garcia said he wasn’t interested in commenting on the matter or giving Duke attention.

He asked Newsday, “Why are you giving this man a platform?

“Why was Duke looking for me, what business I have with Duke? HDC doesn’t operate in Tobago and as far as I am aware, Watson Duke is an assemblyman in the Tobago House of Assembly.”

He said he was disappointed that the police didn’t escort him out of the building and management allowed him to disrupt HDC’s services.