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Bigger Biggs road access controversy continues

Bigger Biggs road access controversy continues

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A Georgetown man, who accesses his farm by passing through Leon “Bigger Biggs” Samuel’s property at Rabacca, said he is prepared to break off any lock the businessman attaches to the gate of the private property.{{more}}

“Man try to break it off,” the farmer who gave his surname as Spring — and who other farmers called Pelico — told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, of a damaged lock at Samuel’s property.

“If me bin have my vehicle, ah break off the whole thing clean. … And if he bin fuh get some more licks again, he get some more licks again,” Spring, another farmer said.

The comments by Spring, who was among eight farmers who could not pass through Samuel’s land because of the locked gate, revealed a still raw nerve in an impasse that began in 2011.

A noisy, but cordial exchange between Samuel and farmers on Wednesday, suggests that the situation could be resolved through arbitration or state intervention, even as both parties believe their respective actions are legal.

Samuel told SEARCHLIGHT that locking the gate to his property, for which the government had revoked his licences to mine aggregate, was a sort of “New Year resolution” in 2011.

On Wednesday, when reporters visited the property, the padlock was so badly damaged, that it could not be opened.

Further, the farmers parked three vehicles behind two others owned by Samuel and the media and said they would not move unless the police were summoned.

After some negotiation, the farmers agreed to move their vehicle and used another road to access their farms.

Reports say Samuel’s decision to lock the gate angered farmers last year and they used vehicles to block access to Samuel’s property, who in turn blocked access to the government’s aggregate mines.

The situation came to a head on February 4, 2011, in a hostile exchange between farmers and Samuel, which one of Samuel’s employees videotaped.

Samuel says that he was beaten, but SEARCHLIGHT cannot independently verify this.

The videotape was published on YouTube on Monday and the blows reportedly took place while the employee was pointing the camera to the ground, as a man threatened to destroy the recording device if the employee recorded.

The verbal exchange is very clear and the recording shows a man grabbing Samuel’s T-shirt.

At one point, the man’s fist is touching Samuel’s face, but it is difficult to tell from the recording if he actually hit the businessman.

The situation exists, even as the farmers say that the road is located on private property.

The government has not stepped in to resolve it, notwithstanding the exchange last year and the ongoing situation.

SEARCHLIGHT found out on Wednesday that while the road passing through Samuel’s property was not the only access to the farms, it might be the most convenient.

This publication visited the road that farmers originally used, but a bridge there has not been rebuilt since it collapsed.

A third road takes farmers close to their land, but they have to cross a river, SEARCHLIGHT understands.

Passing through Samuel’s property allows direct vehicular access to the farms.

And Almon Pilgrim, a former employee of GESCO — now the Buildings, Roads and General Services Authority (BRAGSA) — said that in 2005, he ordered that a road be cut near the property, which Samuel bought in 2007.

In 2005, after the bridge on the original road collapsed, Pilgrim said “I took it on myself to cut the road” near the property Samuel now owns, to allow farmers access to their bananas.

“So, nobody really used to walk here (through Samuel’s property). But the people who own the land previously, they had vehicle, so they used to use the vehicle to get around the land,” he further told SEARCHLIGHT.

Pilgrim, who was the GESCO supervisor for the area, said that while he had instructed his staff to cut the road near the lands, he had not received permission to do so.

“So, people have to use their initiative; they have to walk through here (Samuel’s property) illegally to get on the road that we cut.”

But Pilgrim also told SEARCHLIGHT that the previous owner of the property “didn’t want anybody to pass through the land”.

Diana Edwards, who sold the lands to Samuel, told SEARCHLIGHT in a separate interview on Wednesday that she blocked the road twice a year, but had an arrangement in which GESCO paid her $500 per month to allow its equipment to pass through her property.

Samuel, who bought the lands in 2007, said that arrangement continued until 2008, although the cheques were made out in Edwards’ name, but the government subsequently discontinued the arrangement because there was no signed agreement.

Further, Samuel showed SEARCHLIGHT a copy of one of those cheques to Edwards.

He further showed this publication a document he says is minutes of a meeting of a government agency, in which a participant said that the road is indeed a private one.

But the farmers believe that they should still be allowed to pass through Samuel’s property.

“Whether he buy the land or not, he came and meet us walking here,” Spring said.

The 39-year-old man said he has been walking on Samuel’s land “as far as me know myself” but added that the road through Samuel’s property was not the original one.

Spring further said that the road they were accustomed to use was private, but “it become public because people been using it”.

The farmers, who cultivate a variety of crops and raise livestock, said they “can’t really function without the road.”

“… Here is how we get to the lands. Since Monday, we load up we vehicle to go a mountain. Yo’ can’t pass…” Spring said.

They have, however, rejected Samuel’s offer to allow passage through his property from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“Let me ask you a question. You can tell a farmer when to go and come from his land? … We should have access to his land anytime we choose. Can you tell me when or how to go to my land. It is a private property, but the road is his private property?” Spring said.

Samuel has a sign outside the property, reminding persons that it is private and that “unauthorised entry is at your own risk”.

“We was walking here before he buy and he never put a notice here saying this is private property until election [in December 2010],” another farmer, surnamed James, said.

Other farmers said the development was because of “political game” and “election game”.

But while Spring spoke of “some more licks again”, when further questioned, he told SEARCHLIGHT that no one hit Samuel during the February 4, 2011 incident.

“He and the guy scramble. He hold the guy, the guy hold him, too. The guy never raise he hand to hit Bigger Biggs up to now.”

Spring further said that he does not think that violence is an acceptable solution to the situation.

“He (Samuel) pushing people to violence,” Spring, however, said.

He said that the police have visited the scene several times and they say the relevant authorities have to deal with the situation.

“Bigger ah deal with peaceful people, because the time he block that road, you wudda come out here and meet different thing out here. And he, heself woudda get in things,” Spring told SEARCHLIGHT. (kentonchance@searchlight.vc)

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