Tempers flared in Duncans Bay, Trelawny, Jamaica, Sunday when former Member of Parliament for North Trelawny, land developer Keith Russell, demolished two illegal unfinished structures on his 800- acre property.
The buildings, a wooden and a concrete structure, form part of the Kettering Hall settlement that has been a source of contention between the owner of the land, Russell, and the squatters.
Hundreds of protesters, who blocked the Duncans main road from around 6 a.m. under the watchful eyes of a heavy detachment of police, downed trees and used stones as well as old appliances to erect blockades in four areas.
“The structures destroyed this morning belonged to squatters that recently came on the land and are not part of the 19 families who had been on the land for a long time.” Russell explained. He said that although he has eviction orders to remove all, he is still exploring the possibility of the others being relocated to other parcels of land he owns. He stressed that the new squatters who are now coming on to the land will not be tolerated.
Doreen Brown, whose two-apartment board house was flattened in the demolition exercise, was still visibly in shock when The Sunday Gleaner spoke to her. “Mi get a call around three inna the morning that dem a bruk down mi house and by the time mi reach, it done mash up,” she lamented, adding that she started construction about eight months ago after eyeing the spot for 15 years.
Ironically, Brown is also the overseer for the other demolished building, which is owned by her sister in England.
Brown said she was not served notice, neither was she aware of the possibility of eviction although for the past several months the tug-o-war between the owner and the squatters was played out in the media.
Reports are that about 4:30 yesterday morning, two men wearing ski-masks, accompanied by police personnel, entered the premises and used sledge hammers to destroy the buildings.
In September 1988, after Hurri-cane Gilbert destroyed the homes of several persons, Russell, the then Jamaica Labour Party MP, made representation for them in Parliament to occupy the property.
An article published in The Gleaner of October 18, 1988, pointed to over 400 families from Spicy Hill, Refuge, Kraal, Cary Park, Samuel Prospect and Braco who would be settled on 100 acres of the Duncans Bay property in northern Trelawny.
This commitment was reportedly given to the people by Russell at the request of then Minister of Construction, Bruce Golding.
The article further stated that Russell informed the citizens that Golding had accepted his proposal for the Duncans Bay project to form part of the constituency’s Expand-A-Village Programme.
A section of the Duncans Bay property would be reserved for commercial and industrial use, as well as for tourism development, the report also revealed. But the court issued eviction notices between 1994 and 1995 on behalf of Ocean Points Limited, of which Mr. Russell is managing director. This action was met with strong resistance from the dwellers who had refused alternative relocation sites by the land developer.
Duncans Bay is approximately 11 kilometres east of the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium and the proposed development of Harmony Cove, which is projected to generate about US$1.3 billion in investments.
Some 96 affected families on the 800-acre property have expressed interest in legally acquiring the property they occupy. The squatters have the support of the Community Organisation for Management and Sustainable Development, a non-government organisation with experience in community advocacy, particularly as it relates to the security of land tenure.
COMMAND, which is registered as a legal entity under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, has secured the services of an attorney-at-law to represent the occupants.
Meantime, Member of Parliament for North Trelawny, Dr. Patrick Harris, who was at the scene of the demonstration, said a meeting will be held today which he hopes will bring closure to this ongoing issue.
Russell served as a parliamentarian between 1980 and 1989, before following Bruce Golding to the National Democratic Movement in 1995.