KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is trying to use Vermont resident, squatter Emrol John, the subject of a state eviction, to blackmail the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government, Sir Louis Straker, former deputy prime minister and minister of foreign under the ULP administration said on radio yesterday.
John has until Sunday to demolish a three-bedroom house he built on Crown lands in Vermont 12 years ago.
The house, which is also home to John’s common-law wife and their four children, — ages 7, 13, 18, and 21 — is situated where the government plans to build a bridge linking Vermont and Francois.
The NDP has been highlighting John’s situation, saying that while he is willing to move, the government has not offered him a relocation package, in keeping with its policy.
Minister of Works Sen. Julian Francis told Parliament last year that while the contract for the bridge contains a provisional sum for John’s relocation, his Ministry would review the sum and he would not recommend that John be found a spot to relocate “because he was advised by persons close to the Member for South Leeward and persons close to the New Democratic Party to put his house there”.
Francis, however, said on radio this week that the government has gone beyond its policy in the assistance offered to John.
According to Francis, the government has offered to pay six months’ rent for a house for John and his family, pay him the value of his house, and allocate land on which he can build a house, paying for the land when he can.
But Sir Louis, who was instrumental in securing funding for the bridge, which is being financed by Taiwan, said yesterday that Vermont residents have been saying that John is holding the rest of the community “ransom”.
“… we cannot allow this one man to think that he would bring in the media and show the government in a bad light,” the retired politician said.
“… and that is what the NDP and the young man want: to blackmail the government, put it in the newspaper, show his house is broken down and his things are at the side of the road; that people would cry shame at the government,” Sir Louis said.
The former representative for Central Leeward who quit politics ahead of the December 2010 election, said that while he was in office a delegation visited Vermont to decide where the bridge would be constructed.
“The site was not chosen by politicians,” he said, adding that the location was recommended by the Chief Engineer after surveying the area.
In July 2010, according to Straker, he along with then South Leeward representative now Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Douglas Slater, then Works Minister Clayton Burgin and Taiwan Ambassador Weber Shih and members of his staff visited both the Vermont and Francois sides of the river.
“We met the young man there and we told him that we are going to construct a bridge here and that he would have to be relocated from there,” Sir Louis said.
He said that John is squatting on government land and has extended his squatting to a piece of land owned by a private citizen who took him to court.
Mia Eustace, daughter of Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, is representing John in the matter according to Sir Louis.
Sir Louis said that since the government delegation visited in July he has visited John four additional times.
“The truth is, he has always given me a polite response. He was never rude to me,” Sir Louis said of the man whose situation has captured the attention of the nation.
John has refused an offer for the government to pay six months’ rent for him and a piece of land in Top Village, Vermont, Sir Louis said.
“He said ‘No’. He doesn’t want to go into any rented place. … And he said he didn’t want that [land],” Sir Louis said.
Sir Louis further said that one resident of the area told him privately that John would not move because former and current South Leeward representatives Jerry Scott and Nigel “Nature” Stephenson, respectively, told him not to move, an allegation which John has denied.
“John told them that he doesn’t want anyone to break down his house. And they said they wont be able to do that otherwise they we’d bring the media … and the whole country will cry shame at them that they break down a poor man’s house …” Sir Louis said, recounting his private conversation with the other resident.
“So the NDP, they were seeking to blackmail the government in moving him,” he added.
Sir Louis said he has “begged” John to move and invited him to visit his office between July and December 2010.
“Not once has he come to my office. He has not gone to his representative Douglas Slater’s office,” Sir Louis said.
“There was an intransigence … in order to make it political because, I was told by the man who spoke to me, … Jerry Scott and Nature Boy said, ‘If you move that would only gain votes for the ULP in the December  election.’
“So, if there was anybody playing politics with this thing, it was the NDP people playing politics with it. The young man could have been removed from there a long time,” Sir Louis further stated, adding that the Chief Surveyor had told John not to build on the riverbank.
“Now, if Mr. Eustace has such sympathy in his heart, he has a lot of lands. Let him tell the boy to come out and build a shack, a house on his land,” Sir Louis said of the Opposition Leader, who, according to a clip reaching I-Witness News Wednesday night, said John is only asking to be relocated but is being victimised politically.
“He (Eustace) would not tolerate anybody coming out and squatting on his land. He would have them removed in no time. But what he doesn’t want for himself, he wants the government to execute that,” Sir Louis said.
Sir Louis said that had John cooperated with him, he would have had “a generous offer”.
“I said that as a Vermont man myself, I would be very lenient to him but the young man, while he was very polite in listening to me, was very intransigent.”
Sir Louis noted that Vermont residents have been promised the bridge for over 60 years.
“We cannot have the community have their wishes frustrated because of the intransigence and the political manoeuvring of this young man. If they are playing politics, let them continue playing politics. …
“I have not seen any indication that the young man is moving. So those who have egged on the young man not to move, let the NDP go an find help for him because he would have had very generous help from me,” Sir Louis said.
“… We have done everything possible to help the young man but the young man was badly advised by the past representative,” Sir Louis said, adding that the NDP operatives did not believe that the ULP was serious about building the bridge.
“… we are redeeming a promise we made within 11 years to the people of that community that we would build a bridge and the bridge is greatly needed,” Sir Louis said.
Read also: Vermont man ‘ready fuh move all now’