The protest against the steep increase in traffic fines escalated yesterday at Tain, Corentyne after cane harvesters came out in full force and blocked the road from around 5:30 am leading police to use tear gas to clear the area and four persons were arrested.
The cane harvesters, who complained that the increase in fares for their children as a result of the fines was putting an extra strain on their pockets, blocked the road with three trucks. They had vowed to do this during a smaller protest the day before. Traffic fines have been steeply increased following an alarming rise in road deaths. Since the new traffic fines, Berbice drivers have hiked fares and have refused to carry schoolchildren who can’t pay the higher fare.
Vehicles were yesterday prevented from passing and lined both sides of the road as passengers, including workers and school children exited and walked long distances to their destinations. Others joined transportation that worked up to that point.
At one stage only an ambulance was allowed to pass and as one of the truck drivers moved to facilitate the ambulance, other protestors stood in the way to ensure no other vehicle would pass. The driver immediately blocked the road again and a third truck was driven up to fill a space between the first two. Later, a car transporting a sick person was also allowed to pass.
The police, with guns and tear gas in hand, made several appeals to the protestors to clear the road and return to their home.
But the persons insisted that they would not move “until the president [Bharrat Jagdeo] come.” Some even shouted, “We protesting fuh we rights and y’all come fuh kill we; shoot if you want but we nah gon move.”
But when the police fired the tear gas the protestors scattered in all directions; some dropping their bicycles in the process and scaling the fence of the Nand Persaud International Communication. Others ran though the streets and continued to shout at the police for lobbing the tear gas at them, causing the ranks to fire another round to keep them quiet. But the persons, including women shouted even more that a school: Tain Primary was just nearby.
This newspaper had heard Deputy Commander of ‘B’ Division, Balram Persaud giving orders to his ranks to “open fire” with tear gas but they were prevented from doing so because of the presence of the regional chairman of Region Six, Zulfikar Mustapha, vice chairman, Dennis Deoroop and other regional officials.
The protesters crowded Mustapha on the roadways as they aired their grouses and Persaud had to ask him to leave so they could carry on with their work. Mustapha told this newspaper that he was trying to get the people to clear the road and talk to him in the school but they refused.
A woman told Stabroek News she joined the protest because she is a single parent and “it hard on me. I have four children to send to school and if I have to pay $200 in transportation for each one every day then ah don’t know how dey gon reach.”
According to another woman, “The reason why we protest is because we children can’t get vehicle to go and come from school. We can’t afford to pay the money the drivers charging now. Me child going to Berbice High School and me have to find $400 plus money for snacks every day