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Jan 20, 2005

Unions flex muscles in protest march

Story PictureIt was preceded by fears of violence and massive utility outages but day one of a planned two day national strike came off as a largely peaceful but determined protest against government financial mismanagement and the resulting increase in taxes. Today’s actions were spearheaded by teachers and unionised utility workers. Most public officers directly employed by government were on the job today, perhaps in anticipation of attending a larger protest planned for Friday in Belmopan. Our coverage of events begins on the streets of Belize City.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Numbering in the hundreds this morning, executives and members of Belize?s labour movement marched through the streets of the old capital loudly proclaiming their message to government.

Beginning from the Memorial Park, the teachers, students, and public officers made their way across town to the Battlefield Park. Organized by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, officials told News 5 they were satisfied with the turnout.

George Frazer, General Secretary, NTUCB
?Excellent Janelle, excellent.?

Janelle Chanona
?How many people you think you have out here??

George Frazer
?I can?t give you an estimate because I joined the parade just about the time it was to move off, we had other business but excellent.?

Anthony Fuentes, President, BNTU
?Most schools throughout the country have been closed in solidarity with the National Trade Union Congress of Belize.?

Janelle Chanona
?What exactly are you trying to push for, I know it?s the raise increase but what are you…??

Anthony Fuentes
?It?s not only the raise increase. It?s the tax measures that Government says its planning to impose, along with that the mismanagement, and corruption in the Government of Belize.?

Janelle Chanona
?What are the teachers prepared to do if this doesn?t work??

Anthony Fuentes
?This vigilance will continue and we will not stop until we get what we want.?

With Belizeans all over the country waking up to dry water pipes, union representatives were still being tight-lipped about their action plan leading up to the budget debate on Friday.

George Frazer
?I know about the water. There are other activities. What has not come as yet will come in due course so we are carrying out a our plan of action and according to what I?ve been hearing and what I?m seeing, things are on track.?

Janelle Chanona
?I know there have been fires ignited in Orange Walk and some other things. Are those the kinds of things that you are pushing since you are not being specific??

George Frazer
?I just heard about Honourable Servulo Baeza?s place was burnt down. We have stated clearly that this is a peaceful demonstration and that?s what we are about and people out here are expressing their frustration and dissatisfaction so there might be other elements but definitely not a part of NTUCB?s plan of action.?

When the parade stopped at the Battlefield Park, a succession of union leaders addressed the crowd.

Paul Perriot, Belize Communication Workers Union
?This da neva wah PUP or UDP thing guys, neva. The Prime Minister in his address yesterday he spoke about UDP and UDP and UDP. This da nuh wah UDP thing people thing. This thing ya dah wah people thing. This dah fi we. We have to make those guys realize that together, we could do this thing.?

Then came news that Mark Butler, President of the Belize Energy Workers Union and three of its members had been detained at the Hattieville Police Station.

George Frazer
?We are sending out a warning, let our people go. Let our people go or you will feel the wrath of people. We are going to arrange with our lawyers if you don?t let them go. Hell and brim stone will come down on these people. Let our people go.?

With legal representation from Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow, before noon the union leader had been released. According to police sources, the four men were spotted in a vehicle acting suspiciously near Hattieville. When police searched the car, they found spurs used to climb utility poles, wire cutters, and other electrical equipment. News 5 understands police detained the men while they investigated possible plans of sabotage.

Meanwhile, back in Belize City, labour activists continued to urge citizens to strike against the Government.

Zenaida Moya, Association of Public Service Senior Managers
?I know that over seventy Novelo buses have been paid for to take PUP supporters tomorrow to try and intimidate the unions. The business community, the constitutional opposition. I am telling all of those who they will be paying off fifty dollars or hundred dollars, two hundred dollars or five hundred dollars don?t take their money. That?s our money.?

Moses Sulph, President, Student Body, UB
?Students who go to school who go to school know that sometimes there are no fans, there is mosquito biting them because there are no screens, no paper until we address the situation. So how will we be able to survive with an additional cut? If they care about us so much and we getting a good education and we empowering our nation, I see this other way which they will pass the burden down to the students because eventually university will have to raise fees and tuition.?

Horace Patten, President, NTUCB
?We are saying to everyone, you must come out tomorrow and you must show your disagreement with the Government?s position of raising taxes on all of us. You must come out tomorrow and ensure that all of your voices are heard.?

Odinga Lumumba, Protestor
?He come and tell you he make mistake. It?s not mistake. We are dealing with a criminal and time has proven that these people are criminals and it is time we the people and honest Belizeans to remove the crime from our country.?

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