AT almost 30 points across the country, the opposition United National Congress (UNC) led protests against the fuel price increase on Tuesday from about 6.30 am.
Tuesday was the day the price increase took effect, students returned to school, and many people returned to work after the long Easter weekend.
The protests were held along the highways and at major intersections.
A team from Newsday’s south office visited Debe roundabout, Gandhi Village roundabout and Gasparillo intersection off the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway.
Small groups of people dressed in yellow held placards with messages such as "Rowley must go," "Imbert must go," "Stop the painful increase now," and "Higher fuel prices equal higher utility rates," while chanting, “Enough is enough.
Speaking at the Debe roundabout, political leader of the UNC Kamla Persad-Bissessar said too many things were happening in the country that had caused suffering to the population, and blamed the People’s National Movement (PNM) government.
She specifically lashed out against the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Colm Imbert for increasing the price of fuel, food inflation rates, alleged spying, crime, and closing Petrotrin, among other concerns.
Persad-Bissessar accused Rowley of avoiding the UNC’s call for information about decisions she described as “wicked policies by a wicked and incompetent government.”
She declared, “Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will meet in Parliament, and we shall be raising as matters of urgent public importance the hike in fuel prices, and we will also be raising increasing crime.
But, she added, “What does the Prime Minister do on this day? He jumped on a plane, duck and run. He gone Barbados. Tomorrow when we meet in Parliament it is supposed to be Prime Minister’s Questions, but he duck and run.”
Protesters in the background shouted, “He doesn’t care about citizens of his own country,” “He runs,” “He always ducking,” “He always ghosting the country,” and, “We all continue to suffer.”
Persad-Bissessar also accused the Government of using spyware to hack into electronic devices for sensitive data and spying through various social media platforms.
She said the hacking software Pegasus was used to get information about the planned action on Tuesday and showed a memo with a police logo about the protests.
An additional police document, Persad-Bissessar said, was received on Tuesday morning detailing the protest locations and identified a telephone number allegedly used to contact individuals to assemble at various points.
“Today I have even more disturbing evidence. I have a confidential memo, received hours ago, where the TTPS revealed they got information maccoing the UNC’s planned activities today, from intelligent sources.
"We are obeying the law. We have given instructions to not block the roadways and highways. We are peacefully protesting.
“They cannot catch the murderers, the thieves and the robbers, but what are they doing?
"It says in this (confidential) memo persons are being contacted by several numbers and actually gave a number. I want to know whose number is that – maccoing, spying. We don’t know this number, but they saying it is a UNC number, a UNC operative.”
The protesters after hearing her disclosure, chanted “We not taking that, we not taking that.”
Persad-Bissessar said she feared TT would be faced with sanctions based on the US Department of State 2021 Human Rights Report.
She said there were concerns about the costs of imports and exports of fuel after Petrotrin was shut down.
“We import more fuel than we use, and therefore it means that we are exporting the rest – to whom? Is it to a sanctioned country? And we should not be surprised because at the height of the pandemic and the lockdown, you (the Govenement) welcomed people on a sanctioned aeroplane.”
This was presumably a reference to a 2020 visit by Venezuelan vice president Delcy Rodriguez. The government said the visit was to discuss the covid19 pandemic, against which the borders had just been closed.
Part of the document noted the Government’s steps to identify, prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, but said impunity persisted because of “open-ended investigations,” and the slow pace of the criminal justice system.
UNC MPs: Get rid of PNM
Oropouche West MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said the fuel price increase was a draconian measure to impose on the population, and the PNM was not in a position to effectively govern the country.
“We are calling on the PM and Government to immediately reduce the price of fuel, to withdraw the fuel increase. That is a draconian measure that takes effect from today.
“There are placards saying ‘Keith Rowley must go’ because he has lost his authority and legitimacy to govern this country. It is a message we are sending to the Government that enough is enough and we will step up this action in the coming days and weeks,” he said.
A short distance away at Gandhi Village roundabout, Oropouche West MP Dave Tancoo led another small group of protesters.
Holding an effigy or bobolee of Imbert, Tancoo described him as the demon king Rawan in the Ramayan, a sacred book in the Hindu religion.
Tancoo said, “If you don’t speak out now, there will be property tax, increased water rates, increase electricity rates, increased everything.
“This is Rawan. Rawan symbolises the most evil of evils, and just like with Rawan, we need to get rid of Colm Imbert, using every legitimate, demonstrative, diplomatic, democratic means to get him and Rowley out of government.”
Moruga/Tableland MP Michelle Benjamin said families hadreached out to her over the weekend because they were unable to meet their basic food needs and feared the outcome after the fuel increases.
UNC councillors from various districts were also present. Their collective calls were: “Rowley must go,” “Call elections now,” “We are fed up,” because, they said, the Government's heartless actions had left the population suffering.