NEGRIL, Westmoreland — It has been a tense few days for Rolland “Dr Love” Martin. Since July 1, the deadline the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) gave him to vacate its Long Bay Beach Park in Negril, he has been on the lookout for anyone sent to forcibly remove him. On Thursday night he gave up the usual spot in his pitched tent and slept in a chair, ready for anything.
“Wi just move off some of di tings dem and put dem on the roadside because we a wait to see if they are coming with a plan suh we can benefit,” Martin told the Jamaica Observer during a visit to the beach on Friday. He appeared a bit sad, not his usual bubbly and energetic self.
The beach — once filled with carvings, tent, clothing, tarpaulin, pots and several crates that were used to erect a bar — had been partially cleared.
However, Martin was still adamant that he will not leave the place he has called home for more than 40 years.
He has been in a battle with the UDC for years and believes he ought to be compensated for taking care of the beach where he has lived and made a living for decades. A few other people also ply their wares at the site, mostly craft items, to a dwindling stream of beach users.
“It’s unfair that the UDC not giving wi any compensation for so many years. Wi tek care a di beach how long, and a boost tourism and mek this place. A we clean up the place and make it nice,” Martin argued.
In a written response to the Observer, the State-owned UDC confirmed that the 45-year-old man was issued with a notice to vacate the premises. They opted not to comment on his demands for remuneration. They did point out, though, that there is no landlord/tenant arrangement between the corporation and Martin, and they have been asking him to get off their land since December 2014. They have also tried, in the past, to get the police’s help to remove him.
The UDC has also advised Martin and other craft traders who use the beach to ply their wares in the designated area. In the western end of the country, the UDC currently owns and operates Success Craft Market in Montego Bay and Rutland Point Craft Market in Negril.
Martin has rejected their suggestion.
“Who fi guh craft market? Yuh mussi mad! Nuh weh nuh inna the craft market to hold people,” he said furiously, arguing that all the shops are already occupied by craft vendors.
Demetri Rose, who has been homeless for more than two years and now lives on the beach, claiming he helps to keep it clean, is hoping any resolution to the impasse between Martin and the UDC will include a house for him. The whole thing has left him “stressed” and “nervous” he said.
“If they can find somewhere to put us, kind of a proper home,” he said, suggesting that he is willing to pay.
His financial status appears in question though as he says business has been slow.
“As yuh can see how the place look, nuh tourist nah come down here anymore. I feel a way. Even the people dem scared to swim because the place empty,” he said.
Craig James, a frequent visitor to the beach, is hoping the group occupying the beach will be allowed to stay and the venue remain freely available for use.
“A di only weh we have fi do picnic and suh. Let it remain as is,” he suggested.
“What I’d say to the UDC is to overlook what they are doing. This is a spot weh mi come and can free mi mind, chill, relax and interact with the friends dem, cause ova yah peaceful. I don’t think this is a right solution that UDC is trying to make right now,” he added.
Martin appears to still be relying on squatters’ rights to stake his claim, telling the Observer he has been maintaining the property. The law says anyone who acts as an owner (maintains property, erects structures, etc) for 12 years or more may have a legal claim. They must also have others ready to vouch that they have acted as an owner. However, all of that only applies if the true owner makes no attempt to also act as an owner, or has not made any claim to the land, for example, by issuing the other party with a notice to quit.