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posted 29 Jul 2014, 11:46 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 29 Jul 2014, 12:01 ]

Cecil Paul

Augustine Noel, the relentless Chaguaramas land rights activist, has died. Noel fought for over fifty years for the land rights of farmers and fishermen who originally lived in the North West Chaguaramas peninsular.

These landowners were evicted and resettled in the hilly and infertile Carenage area during the Second World War (1939-1945) to make way for an American naval base. The Chaguaramas base was one of several United States military bases and garrison camps set up in our country. Two others were the Waller Field base in Arima and Carlsen Field in Chaguanas.


Historians claim that the agreement between the Colonial British and Imperial United States governments was in exchange for battleships urgently needed by the British military that were receiving a battering from the German war machine and were on the brink of defeat.


The other reasons given were to protect the essential petroleum supplies of our country from getting into the hands of the Nazis from a possible German invasion and secure our oil supplies for use by the Americans and British war machines. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt, who shortly thereafter paid a visit to Trinidad and Tobago, signed the military pact. The authorities displayed a total lack of concern for Augustine Noel’s family and the other displaced landowners.


Local people were debarred from entering these military sites (owned by the Noels and other families) except for workers at the bases during their working hours. The roads the Americans built to facilitate their operations between bases (e.g. Churchill-Roosevelt Highway) were known as Military Police (MP) roads and were out of bounds to our vehicles. Concrete and steel sentry gates were erected at the entrances to the bases. The relics of theses gates are still present at the sites.


Local business people sometimes with the help of US officers set up entertainment areas close to the bases. In the West, from Bayshore/Point Cumana down to Carenage and up to St. James, hotels, bars and entertainment centres were established for the soldiers’ entertainment and recreation with local women. These facilities were also established in Arima and Chaguanas.  Lord Invader’s Rum and Coca Cola and Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah sing to the issue of the Yankee occupation of our country.


The military officers, it is said, brought with them US racketeering and encouraged bobolism with some of our contractors and gangsters like the infamous Boysie Singh, a night-club owner, and with another who was a famous politician and religious leader. Many of these local contractors and night club owners became millionaires through Yankee corruption while Augustine Noel and the land owners of Chaguaramas lost their lands and livelihood of farming and fishing on their ancestral property and were relocated to barren lands at Carenage.

 Some books have also been written on the issue (Caliban and the Yankees is one such publication) but I have not read any that addresses the pain and suffering of the dispossessed people like Augustine Noel nor the families that were broken up and destroyed by the US soldiers who occupied our country for some twenty odd years.


The advantage taken of our women and our workers employed at these bases, the cultural immorality, the fatherless children and the decadent lifestyle that came with the Americans were adopted by some of our people. The legacy of these towns still exists with us today.


Augustine Noel sought the help and solidarity of the Trade Union Movement in his struggle to regain the Chaguaramas lands to the original occupants. He became a part of most demonstrations and protest actions of workers and enjoined his land issue to those of the Trade Unions. 


He was part of the recent JTUM demonstration in Port of Spain. In return, the unions will assisted in printing pamphlets and supporting his struggle some of which took place at the site of the injustice in the North West Peninsular. Once he sought to erase the American sign to the sentry gate at Chaguaramas. Augustine Noel fought his battle on many fronts (including legal battles) and sought the assistance of anyone interested in justice and fair play.


In some of the conversations and visits to Chaguaramas, Noel showed us the plot of land his grandfather’s house was built upon and where he (Noel) was born. This plot is near the Convention Centre and as any valuator will agree they are among the most valuable lands in the country with a seafront and arable soil. He would take us to the streets which today still bear the names of the original landowners. Augustine showed us the church where he as a child and his ancestors worshipped together with the other families and the cemetery where his ancestors are buried.


In one of our discussions Augustine Noel told us that one of the happiest moments of his life was when Trinidad and Tobago gained political independence from the British and our first Prime Minister Eric Williams launched a campaign for the return to our country of the Chaguaramas lands.


The land grab continues
He marched and agitated for the cause, thinking that the forcibly taken lands by the British and Americans would be returned. But he was in for a shock; instead of meeting with the landowners and negotiating a return of their lands, the government of the day laid claim to the lands as state property and set up two military camps at Staubles and Scotland Bays as well as a statutory authority to manage the Chaguaramas area. Even then he thought that the original landowners had a better chance of justice with their own government than with the British and Americans.


Despite a negative response from all governments since independence Augustine Noel fought on until his death a few weeks ago. Many of us who interacted with him were unaware of his passing until we saw Verna St. Rose’s post on Face Book. This champion of working people’s rights was unceremoniously buried. Despite his struggles, farmers growing food on the stolen lands at Chaguaramas were recently evicted and their crops destroyed by the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA)


Some conglomerates and favoured businessmen were given leases for the stolen lands in Chaguaramas. The mad scramble and corruption is ongoing and will intensify as the politicians and the ruling elite continue their land grab for the properties the British and Americans stole from Augustine Noel and the original land owners of the North West Peninsular. All our governments have adopted and continued the Chaguaramas land stealing banditry of the Colonial British and the Imperial American governments.


Rest In Peace Brother Augustine Noel. You have left Working People a legacy of Permanent Struggle for what is Just and Right. Farewell Comrade.