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By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
DOZENS of irate Cabbage Beach vendors blocked the traffic flow to the Sidney Poitier Bridge yesterday in protest over the “sudden” closure of the main easement access to the popular beach, resulting in violent clashes with police.
At least two protestors were arrested during the standoff, with bystander cell phone video footage showing several others who lay prostrate on the bridge being dragged by armed police officers.
Some vendors even used their cars to block access to Paradise Island, prompting police officers to push on the vehicles. Vendors also claimed they were “stomped and kicked” by police during the confrontation.
Monday’s protest, described as “truly necessary chaos” by Halston Moultrie, legal advisor to the Cabbage Beach Business Owner’s Association (CBBOA), played out around noon.
The Tribune understands that vendors who showed up to the site on Monday morning were greeted by Atlantis security guards to ensure that a company could erect a new fence - effectively stopping access to the beach at the easement adjacent to the Riu Paradise Island Hotel.
Vendors said they were instructed to gather their belongings and leave the property immediately.
According to reports, vendors in the process of moving from the site began to row with security guards, prompting Atlantis staff to call in the authorities. Responding officers, once on the scene attempted to quell the matter, however, claims of aggressive policing tactics escalated the situation.
Vendors told The Tribune that during the ensuing commotion many of them were allegedly struck about the body by officers, kicked and dragged from the scene.
“All we wanted to do was work today, make some money to feed our babies,” screamed a female vendor as she shed tears at the Nassau-end of the Sidney Poitier Bridge.
That vendor claimed she was hit in the chest by police during the clash with officers.
Clutching her left shoulder, the vendor added: “We were over on (Paradise Island) and they ran us. Once we got here we were pushed, kicked and stomped on by police. We came across (to the Nassau-end) and the police were waiting on us. We didn’t want it to reach to this point. We didn’t come here with plans of blocking up this bridge or going at officers.”
“This didn’t have to get to this point,” she added. “We only wanted to work today. We only want to earn a living just like we have done for years. Now, they are telling us that new owners are closing the property. Just talk with us and we can come to some agreement where we can earn a living and (the property owners) can manage us.”
“The government lied to us and sold us out. That is what the government did and now we are being dragged, kicked, stomped - treated like dogs even though our government said they would do right by us,” she said.
Another vendor, Jahro Saunders, said he was also allegedly abused by officers.
He said he followed the crowd from Paradise Island over the bridge back to Nassau.
“We wanted to show them that we are united,” he said. “Together we stand, divided we fall. We came out (Monday) to make money. We came out with so much enthusiasm and so excited just to get our hearts broken. Three boats, one of the biggest boats in the world is in today, the Allure of the Seas, and (Sunday) was so rough on the beach I am sure that everyone behind me could say that no money was made on the beach.”
Mr Saunders, who was later arrested while in the process of blocking a lane on the bridge with his body, explained that vendors have long debated with government and property owners over beach access.
He added that many of the group’s concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
Backed by the cheers of colleagues, Mr Saunders said the government has forced vendors out on the streets without a means to survive.
He suggested that if vendors were removed from the property permanently, many will be leaving behind the only jobs they have ever known.
Ownership of Cabbage Beach was transferred from Atlantis (Brookfield) to a subsidiary of Access Industries in 2014. In late November 2015, vendors were given written notice stating that the access would be closed at the end of December.
That led executives of the CBBOA to file an injunction to have access atop the easement granted to them while the courts determined if Access Industries had the legal right to close the area.
An interim injunction was granted, allowing access via the easement until the Supreme Court could make a ruling on the matter.
On January 6, 2016 Justice Bernard Turner refused to extend that interim injunction filed against Atlantis (Brookfield Asset Management), delaying his official ruling.
Justice Turner said the matter lacked clarity on both sides and appealed to legal consul for the CBBOA to adjust legal applications submitted to the court to show the changes in ownership of the property.
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe has long called for the continued use of the access.
However, vendors on Monday suggested that earlier assurance from him was only given as “lip service to the masses.”
Vendors said Mr Wilchcombe visited them at the beach on Sunday.
They said the West End and Bimini MP gave assurances again that their jobs on the property were safe and would not be affected by any deal the government made with Access Industries.
When contacted by The Tribune for comment, Mr Wilchcombe said the vendors have a responsibility to improve the quality of service they offer at the site.
He said while the vendors have operated at the beach for many years, “many issues developed and the decision to close the access to the beach followed the sale of property.”
Mr Wilchcombe said the government would continue their discussions to arrive at a conclusion that will allow the vendors to earn a living.
WARNING: VIDEO BELOW HAS SOME STRONG LANGUAGE