At least ten families in Rincon Village, Las Cuevas face the possibility of spending Christmas Day on the streets, as the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) moves to evict them through its subsidiary Rincon Development Limited.
For almost 20 years, there have been talks between the company and residents for the sale of the land in the area. Residents say Udecott is trying to sell them the land that they have occupied for decades at high prices, which they say they can’t afford.
Guardian Media visited the quiet rural community yesterday. Our team met a group of disgruntled residents gathered at a parlor. There were no preparations for Christmas in this community as most residents sat around with dazed looks on their faces, anxiously awaiting a Christmas miracle.
Dennis Thomas, who is now 65, has been living in Rincon for over 35 years. He occupied five acres of land, making his living by rearing animals and planting crops on the land.
He said he has been sent numerous threatening letters from attorneys representing Udecott over the years.
While he admitted the negotiations have been ongoing since 2001, he said many residents were misled by a committee that was acting on their behalf.
“The people on that committee were outsiders, they didn’t use this land for agriculture, they were just blocking spots for houses. I feel like I was never represented in this whole transaction,” Thomas said.
He said earlier this year, he started getting letters, one after the other, that called on him to pay for the five acres.
“Today, after 31 years, and occupying five acres of land, I start to get nine letters, where they divide up the land and they want me to pay nine different sets of money,” he said.
Thomas said he is not sure of the exact amount he will be required to pay but he knows he cannot afford the exorbitant prices he said he is being charged.
Philip Constantine, 68, said he was one of the first residents to settle in Rincon Las Cuevas.
“I cut bamboo down and clear land so people could pass and I could plant my garden to take care of my family,” Constantine said.
He too occupied five acres of land but said Udecott has reclaimed all but four lots.
“They took and took and took until I have nowhere left to plant anything…they left with me four lots because I have four children that born and grow up here and now they are seizing one lot from that too,” he said.
Issac Manley, who is now 34, was just ten years old when his father took him out of primary school and put him to work in his garden in Rincon.
It’s the only way of life the father of two knows and after his father died, he continued planting the land.
He built his own home on the same plot of land his father occupied.
“I was ten years old and cutting bamboo patch down like a big man, I give my life to this land and now they want me to pay $20 a square foot for this same land. We is poor people, at the end of the day, is fishermen and gardeners ( living here), I cannot afford to pay $20 a square foot,” he said.
Mother of two, Kimone Kirk has also been given a notice to quit the land she has lived on for the past 14 years with her common-law husband.
She sent out an appeal to Udecott to treat the residents fairly, saying, “We are willing to pay but the price of the land is too expensive, seeing that we are living here so long, some of us we born and grow here. It is just too expensive if you can give us a payment plan to pay for the land, that would be very good.”
When contacted for comment, Udecott chairman Noel Garcia accused the residents of ‘cleverly distorting’ the truth.
“If they don’t meet their commitments they will be evicted! There is a long history and Udecott has exercised a lot of patience and extreme forbearance,” Garcia said via text message.
He said he was in Tobago for the weekend and would give more information about the Rincon development on Monday.