By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY Fred Smith, QC, yesterday urged the government to “form a little Haiti” in The Bahamas instead of bulldozing shanty towns and “destroying people’s lives”.
In an interview with The Tribune, Mr Smith also applauded Attorney General Carl Bethel for forming a committee to deal with the prevalence of shanty towns.
Last week, Mr Bethel told reporters his office has set up a committee to “review the whole question of shanty towns” and “provide legal guidance”. He said once his office puts in place the structure and methodologies, the committee will advise the government on what should be done “in an appropriate, lawful and constitutional manner”.
Mr Smith, who is also the president of Rights Bahamas, also offered to appoint a member to sit on the committee so that the “sensitive, complicated, and diverse issues can be addressed in a humane and lawful manner”.
“This is a far better approach than simply turning up at 7am in the morning with a bulldozer to destroy people’s lives. Shanty towns, ghettos, migrant villages and refugee camps are created all over the world. The Bahamas is not unique with The Mud in Abaco or the many Haitian villages in New Providence but I urge this government to be visionary and compassionate and to make a virtue out of necessity,” Mr Smith said.
“It was a shocking terrorist tactic by Fred Mitchell and the Progressive Liberal Party to begin arbitrarily and unconstitutionally bulldozing down people’s homes,” he added.
“People have rights and I remind the government that even citizens in waiting who are Bahamians of Haitian descent, and or even migrants whether here legally or illegally are protected just like Bahamians by the Constitution. These villages have existed, some of them for 20, 30, 40 years and people have gained the right in some instances to title of the land by virtue of adverse possession but also in many instances by actually getting sales documents from owners of the Bahamian land.
“So people have built some concrete houses, wooden houses with foundations, and they have become a permanent fixture of the Bahamian landscape. The reality is that in The Bahamas we have very poor persons as well as very rich persons, so I urge those who are in power to be compassionate - and as Carl Bethel said - that the government would be dealing with this in an appropriate manner, which would be lawful and constitutional.”
Mr Smith urged the government to research the slums in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which he said have now become a tourist attraction after the Brazilian government assisted with sanitation, power, water and waste management.
“I urge the government to look online at the painted favelas of Rio de Janeiro which have become an artistic delight and have inspired the people in those communities to express themselves artistically with painting, handicraft, and it has become a very attractive touristic feature,” he said.
“Haiti has hundreds of years of craftsmanship culture. Paintings, woodwork, metalwork from Haiti are renowned internationally and in the Caribbean. If we have such a huge population of Bahamians of Haitian descent, or Haitians, we should encourage them to become like that of Miami and create a little Haiti where they can celebrate their ethnic and cultural diversity. Trying to make it work is far better than inflicting government-institutionalised terrorism on poor people, even though they are migrants.”
A Department of Environmental Health report conducted in 2013 found that serious environmental and health concerns exist across the shanty town network, and that a number of illicit industries flourish there – among them the illegal burning of pine forest to produce coal and the unauthorised sale of prescription medication.
In 2012, the Christie administration formed a special unit to address shanty towns. In 2014, some residents of a shanty town off Carmichael Road had their homes bulldozed by contractors hired by the Ministry of Environment following eviction notices.
The next year, residents of a community in Gamble Heights said they were “hopeless and homeless” after demolition began at their shanty town.