(Trinidad Express) From today the curfew hours have been relaxed to 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., giving members of the national community three more hours on the streets.
In announcing the new hours, which coincide with the start of the school term, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday: “I have been advised that this would assist us with children going to school, and others who have raised concerns in the business community, to give a little extra time in the evening.”
She added that the Government would certainly revise the time, if it is so advised by the security forces.
For the last 14 days (since August 22), a 9 p.m to 5 a.m. curfew had been imposed in two cities and four municipal corporations along with a State of Emergency which applied throughout the country from August 21.
Persad-Bissessar yesterday acknowledged that the curfew had brought some inconvenience, but asked the population not to lose sight of the bigger potential gain. She said no one could say that they didn’t feel safer today than in the last ten years.
She was winding up a historic debate which saw the House of Representatives approving a motion to extend the State of Emergency by three months. It is the first time in living memory that the Parliament has met on the Sabbath. (In the past the House has met on a Saturday on a number of occasions).
At 2.45 p.m. yesterday, some nine hours before the State of Emergency was due to expire, House Speaker Wade Mark recorded that there were 29 votes for/ten against the motion. All Government MPs were present but absent from the Parliament yesterday were PNM MPs, former prime minister Patrick Manning and Patricia McIntosh (who is on vacation overseas). Manning chose not speak in the debate on either the President’s statement setting out the basis for the declaration of the State of Emergency or the motion to extend it.
Manning however was very much part of the debate as his name was called frequently by every Government speaker as bearing a huge responsibility for “plunging the nation in a state of turmoil and lawlessness”.
Persad-Bissessar, in a solid contribution, examined the genesis of the crime situation and concluded that it was Manning’s befriending of gang leaders which laid the foundation. She cited his promise to give Abu Bakr land; the Muslimeen campaigning for the PNM “while terrorising supporters of the Opposition in Tunapuna and San Fernando”; the billions spent in URP and CEPEP to fund ghost gangs and the contracts that gang leaders received through the PNM.
“The political support (of the Muslimeen) for the PNM had come at a price and this nation is still today paying for it,” the Prime Minister declared.
She said the “unholy partnership” meant that state resources were distributed to the people via gang leaders, who became the de facto councillors and representatives of the people. As the PNM Government “incredibly” conferred the title of ‘community leaders’ on gang leaders, Manning, when one of the gang leaders died, dubbed him a national hero, she noted. Recalling the meeting between Manning and gang leaders at a fancy hotel, she said it signalled the “surrender and transfer of state power to gangsters and bandits”.
“We do not negotiate and wine and dine with gang leaders at hotels, as that last administration did…just to stay in power,” the Prime Minister stated.
“The moment the PNM Government of the day took the decision to negotiate with criminal elements in exchange for political support, that set off a dangerous course of events from which this country is still reeling today,” Persad-Bissessar opined.
“He (Manning) knew who Mr Big was and left him out there and today you (PNM MPs) want to come here, and talk about guabine and sardine and anchovies and fry dry”, the Prime Minister thundered, dismissing the PNM’s argument that the current dragnet had not caught any big fish.
The Prime Minister asserted that every murderer was a big fish, as was every gang leader and every bandit who terrorised innocent citizens. The gangs were the spine of the drug trade, she added.
But the Prime Minister said one of the most disturbing allegations from the PNM during this debate was the charge of ethnic profiling. “It is mischievous and designed to create division in our society,” she said, to deskthumping. She said it also represented a “direct and unfair attack on the police officers and soldiers, who had placed their lives on the line to defend innocent citizens.
“No Government minister selects which persons are to be arrested or detained. That is the work and intelligence of the police and soldiers who are out there on the streets,” she emphasised.
And she noted, criminals had no respect for their victim’s race, religion or colour. “As a mother I know that the cry that comes from..the depth of your womb when you cradle your lifeless son or daughter…it doesn’t matter what race”, she said, adding that the same blood flowed from every murdered victim.
On the charge that the hot spots were only in PNM areas, she said the municipal corporations—Arima, Chaguanas, San Juan/Laventille, San Fernando and Diego Martin were all controlled by the People’s Partnership and were defined as hot spots and were under curfew. She added that with the exception of Sangre Grande and Carrera, the hot spots identified under the PNM and the People’s Partnership administration were the same.
The Prime Minister said although the PNM identified as early as 2003 that there was a problem with young Afro-Trinidadian males and a consequent need to pay attention to this group, it did nothing. She said if the PNM had done something about the problem, its members would not have to cry now, some eight years later, that this administration was profiling and targeting Afro-Trinidadian males. She said when National Security Minister John Sandy read the statistics on crime with respect to Afro-Trinidadians, “I felt it in my stomach and thought what could we do.” In this regard, she announced a team headed by political scientist Selwyn Ryan “to enquire into the root cause of the problems identified as shown by the statistics”. The statistics show that the majority of murders are committed by Afro-Trinidadians and they are also the main victims.
Noting that a State of Emergency was a constitutional weapons put there by the framers to enable a Government to protect the people and the country, the Prime Minister reiterated that there was a real threat to public safety, law and order . The criminal underworld was “bound to retaliate” as their wholesale and retail networks were disrupted by law enforcement which seized over half a billion dollars of illegal drugs between 2010 and 2011. The drug seizures, she said, included 6,750 kilos of cocaine, valued at $236.3 million last year and 8,477 kilos of cocaine valued at $296.7 million this year; 3295 kilos of marijuana valued at $49.5 million last year and 1,229 kilos of marijuana valued at $18.5 million this year.
The Prime Minister said the state of emergency had worked, with a substantial reduction in murders and serious crimes down to virtually zero. There have been 1,356 arrests to date, of which 420 were gang related, 252 drug related, 285 were serious offences, 91 breach of curfew and 33 homicides.
Noting that under the UNC administration (1995-2001) there were 789 murders while from 2002 to 2009 under the PNM there were 2,853 murders, a 218 per cent increase per year, Persad-Bissessar stated: “Mr Speaker I saw the sanctimonious hypocrisy on the other side. I saw it when they were washing their hands and saying they would not support this state of emergency, when they were saying they had done everything… as the crime rate continued to increase (under their watch),” she said.
Parliament next meets on Wednesday to raise government’s borrowing ceiling.