Old US Army Vehicle at the Chaguaramas Military Museum
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By Boswell John - 1998
Chapter 2, 1941 - 1998 The Americans
On the 10th October, 1940, a United States mission arrived in Trinidad on the USS St. Louis. They had come in connection with an agreement of 2nd September, 1940, relating to naval and air bases. Immediately on their arrival Admiral Greenslade and General Deevers, the head of the military side of the mission met with Governor Hubert Young and his Colonial Secretary.
The Governor indicated to the American that he had already received an outline of the facility which the mission was expected to ask for in Trinidad. It became quite clear from very early that the Americans did not regard the object of the mission as the quest of a naval and air base for the United States in a part of the British Empire for the security of the British Empire but more so as that of a naval military and air base in an outlying island, the South American continent for the defense of which the United States government would assume responsibility and which was to serve, if necessary, as a jumping off ground for operations by the United States army in South America. One of the missions subsequently said that the United States regarded Trinidad alone as being worth 40 of the 50 destroyers that had been handed over by the United Stated government in consideration of the bases and facility afforded to them by the agreement of the 2nd September. The admiral admitted that Trinidad is not required for the defense of the Panama Canal but as an advanced base in the direction of South America.
Preparation of the site for the naval base and air station began on March 1st, 1941,and formal possession took place by 31st March. Installations were established in about 3 months time. The base was commissioned on Friday, 1st June, 1941.
The right to evict people off the peninsula was given to the Americans by the Lease Land Agreement, the Defense Regulations, and by the Trinidad Base Agreement. Governor Young clashed with the Americans several times, not only on the issue of the villagers having to leave Chaguaramas, but on the question of the bathing beaches being put out of bounds to holiday seekers and ordinary villages. He did not like the idea of the Americans having Chaguaramas and wanted them to develop the Caroni Swamp instead and establish a base there He was overruled and eventually sent home to England.
On February 23rd, 1941, the government set up a resettlement committee to help the villagers. On March 14th, 1941, the last 25 families in the district called Nicholas were given three months to find other homes. By the beginning of December 1941, Stubles Bay was sealed off and later the same month Tetron Bay. Notices to Quit were handed to Tetron residents in mid-December. Some of the residents of Nicholas and Tetron Bay were resettled in Carenage. Others moved to Diego Martin and Port-of-Spain, and especially to St. James.
The year 1942 began with Chaguaramas in the role of a military base. Homes had all been demolished, beach clubs and holiday homes were closed down. In 1943 and 1944 Chaguaramas base was a full military area with the North/West peninsula strictly prohibited to the public.
The American occupation of Chaguaramas has been one of the most heatedly debated issues in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. No one was more vocal in their opposition than the late Dr. Williams. In a statement to the Legislative Council on Friday, 20th June, 1958, the then Chief Minister gave members a detailed history of the Chaguaramas Agreement and asked pointed questions as regards the legal aspect of that agreement. He informed the House that in Council Paper No. 22 of 1941, laid before the Legislative Council on November 22, 1941, that the Agreement and the annexes were published, the leased areas were set out, the LEGCO having previously amended the Land Acquisition Ordinance to acquire the necessary areas. Dr. Williams stated that as far as the government of Trinidad and Tobago was at present aware, the lease was never registered. The document reads in the section preceding the delimitation of the leased area:
"In witness whereof His Majesty the King has caused the Public Seal of the Colony of Trinidad and Tobago to be affixed hereto."
However, Dr. Williams pointed out, there was no indication on the document that the Public Seal was in fact so affixed. He asked the question whether it was affixed, if the lease was valid, and whether in fact there was a lease. He pointed out that Article XXVII of the agreement made provision for the leasing of additional areas included in which were Tucker Valley, Monos, Huevos, Chacachacare.
As far as the government of Trinidad and Tobago were aware, no lease for any of the supplemental areas were ever signed, executed or registered. The question then arose, what was the legal status of all areas occupied by the United States after April 22, 1941, and what were the obligations of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in relation to those areas. He went on to point out that the lease or leases, original or supplementary, signed or unsigned, executed or not executed, registered or not registered, raised other legal difficulties. They were for a period of 99 years. The Land Regulations which are to be found in the Rules and Laws of Trinidad and Tobago, 1950, Regulations Vol. IX, chapters 21 - 43 state in Regulations 51, page 772:
The Government may grant leases of any portion of Crown land to any person for such purposes as may be approved by the Governor, provided that the lease shall be for such term not exceeding thirty years with power to renew for a further term not exceeding thirty years...
Dr. Williams went on to point out that the government had not been able to identify any authority for the disposal of Crown lands in 1941 for 99 years in excess of the term prescribed by the land regulations. The lands disposed of to the United States consisted of Crown lands and of private lands acquired by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago under the land acquisition ordinance. The Northwest peninsula involved acquisition; Wallerfield comprised 6,300 acres of Crown lands, Veredant Vale and quarry comprised 42 acres of Crown Lands and 85 acres of private lands.
Dr. Williams pointed out that the granting of the leases raised a further difficulty in that they were all rent-free. Crown lands carry a minimum annual rent of 24 cents per acre. The government had been unable to identify any authority for abrogating the provisions of the Trinidad legislation with respect to the payment for Crown lands.
In 1960, Dr. Williams led a march to Chaguaramas for the return of the leased lands. Partly because of the protestation of Dr. Williams and other nationalists, the Americans decided to review the agreement on February 10th, 1961. The Tobago Agreement was signed in Port-of-Spain, the result of which was that the flags of Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, the United States and the West Indies Federation were raised at Chaguaramas. On August 31st., 1962, Trinidad and Tobago became independent following the collapse of the West Indies Federation, and the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment and Coast Guard were stationed in the Northwest Peninsula. In 1966, one of the world's eight Omego Navigational Systems was constructed in Chaguaramas. It was vacated in 1978.
Another reason behind Dr. Williams's antagonism to the United States base was the fact that they wanted to sell grapefruit grown in Tucker Valley on the open market. Barred by the Soviet from doing so, they then offered them to the institutions.
Dr. Williams again refused. The Americans then buried the grapefruit. In 1977, the last of the Americans left Chaguaramas.
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