PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad – An environmental activist who has been on a hunger strike for more than two weeks vowed Thursday to press on even though a doctor hired by his relatives warned that he is on the verge of organ failure.
At the same time, a high-ranking government official called on Trinidad & Tobago's prime minister to compromise over a proposed highway extension being protested by activist Wayne Kublalsingh.
Kublalsingh was in the 15th day of his protest against a road project that he and a group called the Re-Route Movement claim will fracture the lives of numerous families and severely damage wetlands, leading to flooding problems and the loss of crops. The opponents say they want the highway rerouted, not scrapped.
Dr. Ashantie Charles-Le Blanc, the physician who has monitored Kublalsingh's health during his hunger strike outside the prime minister's offices, has said the frail activist is starting to show signs of kidney failure while shedding weight and muscle mass.
But Kublalsingh told The Associated Press that he planned to continue his protest until his "body collapses and falls apart" or the Caribbean country's prime minister agrees to a scientific study of the highway project's impact.
"I have to consider the suffering of the people in the village and how government proceeding with the highway in this manner ... will impact on the economics and politics of the country," said Kublalsingh, a 53-year-old part-time literature lecturer at Trinidad's University of the West Indies.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has said she admires the activist's commitment and has expressed concern for him, but she added that her government will not give into his demands. She has said the proposed highway "will benefit hundreds of thousands of our citizens for generations to come."
On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran issued a statement urging Persad-Bissessar to display "compassion and compromise," especially now that the dispute is being noticed outside of this country of roughly 1.3 million people.
"Now that the matter is receiving the attention of the international media, the government must engage in meaningful conversations to ensure that Trinidad & Tobago is not paraded as an uncaring society in the eyes of the world," Dookeran said from the Dominican Republic, where he was attending a meeting.
Persad-Bissessar's office did not immediately respond to the statement from her Cabinet minister.
Earlier this week, Kublalsingh was briefly hospitalized and treated with intravenous fluids because of his hunger strike. He has been refusing food and water.
The $800 million highway project is to connect the southern city of San Fernando to one of the country's energy-producing towns, Point Fortin, which is the location of a major liquefied natural gas refinery at the southwestern tip of Trinidad.
Like many Trinidadians, Kublalsingh traces his ancestors to India, where hunger strikes were common during that country's decades-long independence movement and continue to be employed by modern-day activists. He has long been an environmental activist, most prominently in a campaign against an aluminum smelter that was eventually canceled after extensive protests.