By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
DESPITE the prime minister’s assurance that he would “personally” work to find an alternative solution for vendors who were blocked from their regular access point to Cabbage Beach, more than a hundred protestors marched over the Sidney Poitier Bridge to Paradise Island and tore down the fence which obstructed the beach path.
Hours after the Christie administration released a statement through Bahamas Information Services (BIS), highlighting an agreement made between the government and the property’s owner granting temporary access to the beach over private property, demonstrators angered by the ordeal assembled at the foot of the Sidney Poitier Bridge.
Crowds clad in both Free National Movement (FNM) and Democratic National Alliance (DNA) apparel attempted to protest but were quickly cautioned by Royal Bahamas Police Force officers stationed at the location.
As police attempted disburse the crowd, FNM Leader Dr Hubert Minnis, DNA Leader Branville McCartney, Bahamas Trade Union Congress Secretary General Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson and Bahamas Taxicab Union President Philip Watkins led the group over the bridge, all en route to Cabbage Beach.
The crowd, now in excess of 100 people - inclusive of vendors, taxicab drivers, activists, politicians and concerned citizens - were met by another group of officers at Cabbage Beach.
Demands to open the gate blocking the beach access quickly escalated to calls for the fence to be taken down all together.
As tensions rose, one protestor refusing to come to terms with access to the easement being granted temporarily shouted: “This fence needs to come down.”
Walking over to the fence, he added: “This entire thing needs to be taken down to give freedom to the hardworking Bahamians who depend on this beach to feed their families.”
That protestor then untied the steel binds used to hold the fence in place. He was quickly joined by more demonstrators who began to pull the fence, resulting in the entire thing being pulled down.
As the structure fell, cheers erupted. However, police on the scene attempting to take control of the ordeal clashed with demonstrators.
One demonstrator was struck on the hand as he pulled at the fence. Another protester was restrained by a group of officers.
Politicians and other senior public officials at the scene appealed to the crowd to diffuse the matter.
Dr Minnis told The Tribune that the government’s “eleventh hour push to temper the people” wouldn’t calm the hearts and minds of an exhausted citizenry.
“It’s a bit late, but what it shows is that there is still people power in our country,” the Killarney MP said.
Dr Minnis said the actions of the public over the last two days signals “a major shift,” suggesting that Bahamians have now concluded that a government steadfast on making promises is “simply no longer good enough.”
“We are tired, this is the people’s time and the people’s power on display here today,” he added.
“We are not satisfied with just one segment of the fence removed. We want complete access; the fence must be totally moved so our people could have access. If you look here today you would see a complete representation of the entire Bahamas. This is not political, this is not PLP, this is not DNA, this is not FNM - this is about the people.
“This is the people’s time and with this demonstration people must understand and they have understood today; that once we stand together we will not allow Perry Christie and his government to walk over us again,” Dr Minnis said.
Mr McCartney lambasted the Christie administration, blaming the government for the issue escalating to the point where Bahamians were force to take to the street to protect their livelihoods.
“I blame the PLP government for not looking out for the interest of the Bahamian people. This is their example of believing in Bahamian people,” he said.
“This has nothing to do with politics. This not right for Bahamian people, this is not right for our country and it is a bad impression internationally for what has been done.”
In the statement released around 3am Tuesday morning, the government pointed out that the sales agreement between Access Industries and Brookfield (owners of the Atlantis resort) required Brookfield to close the easement in question and relocate the vendors’ access point to an area owned and operated by Brookfield located at Garden Drive off of Paradise Island Drive.
The statement also said that Access Industries had agreed to permit access to the beach path adjacent to the Riu hotel in response to a direct request from Mr Christie, to allow the prime minister time to work on an alternative solution for vendors.
There is a second access point to Cabbage Beach that is used by swimmers.
When contacted by The Tribune, Access Industries confirmed that they were working with Mr Christie to find a reasonable resolution to the ongoing dispute.
Ownership of Cabbage Beach was transferred from 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.
The vendors then went to court and were granted an interim injunction blocking the closure.
In January, that interim injunction was not extended.