Walled off community in Trinidad sparks poverty debate before summit

The residents of Beetham Gardens, a drab area of rundown government housing and relentless gang warfare, have been cut off from the rest of this sprawling Trinidadian capital.

The government has erected a wall along the neighborhood's frayed edges, blocking the view into a long troubled community that shares space with the murky waters of industrial waste, overgrown weeds and the constant stench of the nearby landfill.

The 5-foot-tall wall is simply a beautifying touch, say government officials, who have spent months prepping for the arrival this week of 33 leaders including President Barack Obama at the largest and most important gathering of hemispheric leaders.

But to those who live behind the wall, the structure means something else: It's a symbol of years of broken promises, government neglect and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

"They can talk prosperity. They can talk about development. But there can be no development in a country if you continue to leave behind any community or any of your people," said Sherma Wilson, 42, a mother of four and community activist who has taken on the plight of this long-suffering east Port of Spain community. "The peace we seek? We can only do that if we develop community by community."

As Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepare to engage regional leaders at the three-day summit that begins Friday, the question of deep-rooted social and income inequalities in the region will be a priority for the new administration.

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