Thursday, 07 February 2013 02:30
By Desiree George
Antigua St. John's - "If I move this house it will fall apart before it reaches its destination,” said Alberto Antonio Jarvis, a resident of the Perry Bay area where squatting has been the “norm” since 1990.
The squatters in this area have now been told that they must move voluntarily, or they will be moved by February 15.
Jarvis, who came to Antigua in 1989, said a friend told him about a place where he could live.
When he first visited the Perry Bay area, there was only one house and one resident.
By 1990, he could no longer afford to pay rent, and decided to build a small shack just next door to his friend, becoming the second resident in that area.
Little by little, the bushes were cut back and the community grew from two to over 200 men, women, and children.
Entrance to this community, known as Spanish Town, is via a bridge built from plywood. On either side, stagnant water can be seen in a drain that runs out to the sea. Garbage is floating in the water on both sides, and I was just in time to see a pail of what looked like faeces being emptied through an open window into the drain.
The houses are so close together, and school-aged children and younger ones roam through the small byroads.
One mother with two children in tow, pregnant with a third, said she did not know what to do, and that she had been raised in Antigua, attended school here, and had lived in the area all her life.
She said, "The prime minister said he was going to help us so long, but look what happening now. I voted for him so things would be better, but lookey here. Many children have been born in these houses here in Antigua, that live here in this Perry Bay community, so it is a lie to say that most of us do not have any time in Antigua. My father was an Antiguan, and I am an Antiguan citizen.”
As I headed through the area, the arrival of a group of APUA and government vehicles drew attention.
I was seated in the home of one of the squatters, Alberto Jarvis, who was watching television with a fan was circulating air through the living room.
He said he had electricity since 1991, and showed me his recent and previous bills.
When asked how he received electricity, he replied that he was connected legally through APUA.
Just then, an APUA employee knocked on the open door and asked him his name. He said they were doing an investigation of how it was possible that some of the residents were getting APUA utilities without going through the right channels.
He asked not to be named.
The DCA has to be notified before a property is built, and before it is sanctioned, the area must be checked by a DCA inspector to ensure that the property belongs to the homeowner, or he or she has been given permission by the owner. Added to that, the property must be a certain distance away from the road, and hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars are paid to the different government departments, including the DCA, before the plan is passed.
Upon approval of the plan, APUA must do its inspections.
Town and Country Planner Frederick Southwell of the DCA said he took over the office in May 2011, but the squatting situation was not brought to his attention until November.
He said several letters were issued to the squatters informing them that they were living on crown lands, and simply put, they must move.
He also said that he was told that long before he took up office, the residents were told to relocate, as far back as 1996.
According to the Town and Country Planner, many more stop and enforcement letters were issued to the Perry Bay squatters, who wantonly continued to reside there, and some have even added extensions to their homes.
In late 2012, a 28-day deadline, stop, and enforcement notice was given. Meetings have been held time and time again with government officials and officials from the Ministry of Health with the residents.
According to Southwell, Lionel Michael of the Central Board of Health hosted a town hall meeting with the residents and translators at the Multipurpose Centre. He spoke to them of the health risks they were taking, as he too had observed that human waste was being disposed of in open drains flowing directly into St John’s Harbour.
He also stressed that they were all susceptible to many health hazards, such as cholera - a disease that thrives in a seawater environment, dengue fever, gastroenteritis and typhoid fever - a disease that is spread by improperly disposed of human feces, and a host of other diseases.
Perry Bay is not the only area where squatters have taken root. Environs such as Jennings Extension and Martins Village are also affected.
As I left Perry Bay, one resident told me that they know they did not pay for the lands, but they could not move if there was no place for them to go. She said they would fight because they had rights, and that they should not be targeted, as no one else is being targeted.