An environmental activist on a hunger strike against a proposed highway met with Trinidad’s prime minister after he collapsed and was admitted to the hospital — but their half-hour bedside talk failed to result in a compromise to end the month-long impasse.
According to a statement from Wayne Kublalsingh’s supporters, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar expressed her concerns for the protester’s health, but refused during their Sunday evening meeting to consider halting the construction of a controversial nine-mile stretch of highway.
Kublalsingh, who was released from the hospital Monday morning after receiving intravenous fluids, vowed to continue his hunger strike until the prime minister yielded to protesters’ concerns.
Kublalsingh, 55, began his hunger strike on Sept. 17, part of an effort to protest the planned construction of a stretch of a highway that he argues will threaten the environment and rupture more than a dozen communities. Since then, he has camped out on the sidewalk in front of the prime minister’s office almost every weekday morning, buoyed by family members, supporters and residents of communities that would likely be relocated because of the highway.
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This is his second hunger strike; his first attempt, in 2012, lasted 21 days and resulted in an agreement for an independent organization to review the highway proposal.
Government officials have remained adamant that the project, estimated to cost more than $1 billion, is necessary to ease traffic woes and promote economic growth.
In recent weeks, Kublalsingh had requested a meeting with the prime minister, but she had declined — until Sunday.
As word spread that Kublalsingh was in the hospital, hundreds gathered outside to show support, holding up signs and singing, “We Shall Overcome.” When Persad-Bissessar arrived at the hospital, people in the crowd hissed and jeered. One woman yelled, “Do the right thing, prime minister!”
A statement from the Highway Re-Route Movement, the organization supporting Kublalsingh’s hunger strike, said Persad-Bissessar stayed with Kublalsingh in his hospital room for about 30 minutes and expressed her sympathies for Kublalsingh’s health.
According to the statement, Persad-Bissessar agreed to provide an official government response to criticism laid out by the Armstrong Report, the independent review that raised multiple concerns and suggested the proposal needed further scrutiny. But she refused to pause the construction work on the controversial section of highway.
That wasn’t enough for Kublalsingh. Family members said he planned to continue refusing food and water when he left the hospital, and he intended to return to his post outside the prime minister’s office Wednesday morning.
Faith Mootoo, Kublalsingh’s sister, said the family was gravely concerned for the activist’s health, but encouraged by the fact that he accepted IV fluids in the hospital — a blow to opponents, she said, who have painted the former university lecturer as suicidal or insane.
“He did promise us that once his body relented he would take the required treatment and so far he stuck to the deal,” Mootoo said, “so I am happy for that.”