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Oct 5, 2017

Gas Prices Brings Protestors to Battlefield

Organizers of today’s protest march concerning record high gas prices worried as much about the turnout as the changeable weather. Despite weeks of public angst, there was still a fear that too many would choose to stay silent rather than let their voice be heard. And while the final figure of protesters was respectable, the message to Belmopan was no less strident: hear us and act, or suffer our wrath. The protest started at Constitution Park and protesters waded through the flooded streets as they made their way to Battlefield Park. News Five’s Aaron Humes reports from the streets of Belize City.

 

Moses Sulph

Moses Sulph, Protest Organizer

“It was raining very hard last night and earlier this morning, and some people called asking if the demonstration is going to be canceled. I know some people never turned up because of that. But we talked to God and we prayed about it as a group as well and we asked Him to hold up the rain, and show that You’re powerful enough to hold it up, so I believe we are on the right path. If we weren’t on a path to justice, I don’t think it would have been held up. And it rained a little and we walked through the rain – I walked through about six inches of water on Cemetery [Road and] Orange Street. But to get things done you have to make sacrifices and we are serious and we are committed.”

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Not even rain or the threat of it could stop this handful of protestors who spoke for many of their fellows being hurt by the consistent increases in gas prices over the course of this year. And as outspoken taxi operator of seventeen years Albert Cattouse, a member of Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) reminded us, it has been a constant thorn in the nation’s side.

 

Albert Cattouse

Albert Cattouse, Taxi Operator

“I have never seen it this high, never, never. And I also want to say something. This movement today about gas prices: this hadn’t just started; me and Moses Sulph started this at least about ten years ago. This isn’t something that’s new – we started this gas thing under the previous government because the gas was too high, we thought it was too high…”

 

Aaron Humes

“And that was when it was around eight, nine dollars?”

 

Albert Cattouse

“Eight, nine dollars. We tried to work with the taxi drivers; we invited the taxi drivers; we and Moses Sulph gone all over Belize City. At the same time was the time when Dean Barrow made a deal for the caneros to get lower gas prices, so we were trying to hold a meeting in Belize with all the taxi drivers, so we come together, write a proposal, send it to Dean Barrow see if we can get lower gas prices – the taxi drivers never did stand up. But the fight we are fighting with Moses Sulph, this dah no just now – dis da over ten years ago we fight this, with Moses Sulph; this is nothing new, people! I want you to learn that!””

 

Aaron Humes

“So at this point are your taxi drivers prepared to pass on the increased costs to consumers – those who take the taxi service.”

 

Albert Cattouse

“They don’t want to pass on the price to consumers. The taxi drivers, they’re such cowards.”

 

Sulph proposes that prices be lowered “straight to eight” – dollars, that is, which would still leave Belize among the highest ranked nations for prices, but much more tolerable than now.

 

Moses Sulph

“We are saying we want the gas price straight to eight, reduce it to eight, because that would be fair in parallel to the other countries around us, the cost of gas price they are paying. So we’re not being unjust here; we’re not being unfair here; we’re not being malicious here; we’re being just in our action, we’re being fair in our action and that is not something that many times people who want to be malicious do. And the poor people are feeling it – those who drive a little old car are feeling it, the taxi men are feeling it. Those who are making three dollars and thirty cents an hour are feeling it when they go to the store, so this ties it all together. If you’re making minimum wage which is three dollars and thirty cents an hour, you’d have to work three hours, almost, to buy a gallon of gas; imagine that.”

 

The issue was enough to bring out both the Opposition People’s United Party and Belize Progressive Party, who largely preferred to stay out of the media spotlight. But their respective leaders agree that something has to be done – and both zeroed in on the taxes collected by Government.

 

John Briceño

John Briceño, P.U.P. Leader

“We are here as citizens of this country. C.O.L.A. and some private citizens made a call to come out and demonstrate and show our displeasure with the Government, with the high cost of fuel, and that’s what we are doing here. If we’d have been here as a party we would have mobilized our party. So we just came out to show, just like anybody else. The high cost of fuel has a direct effect on every citizen of this country, and we are calling on the Prime Minister to stop talk. He talks and talks and talks so that nobody believes him. He needs to reduce the cost of fuel; he doesn’t have to wait until the next shipment comes in. all he needs to do is to amend the law and reduce the tax on fuel.”

 

Patrick Rogers

Patrick Rogers, Political Leader, Belize Progressive Party

“There is a cap that the Government should put on how much revenues they will be taking from fuel; that is the point that this country needs to understand. Because when the fuel prices on the world market were close to one hundred and forty dollars, U.S., a barrel, we were still not paying no twelve dollars a gallon for fuel. Today, with the prices around forty U.S. a barrel, we are paying twelve dollars per gallon – where is the cap on that? So we’re saying – let’s say the government said the maximum we’re going to take is five dollars; there is a ratio that they use but whenever it jumps five dollars we’re going to cap it at five dollars. Had they done that, maybe we could have eight dollars a gallon for prices at the pumps.”

 

Reporter

“Which would still be the highest in the region, but at least…”

 

Patrick Rogers

“…manageable.”

 

And what happens next? There appears to be divergent views from the conciliatory Sulph and the more militant Raymond Rivers.

 

Raymond Rivers

Raymond Rivers, Activist

“We are giving the Prime Minister one week to put the gas price to eight dollars. After that one week is up, the day after, we will be doing this in a more ‘ignorant’ manner, I got to say. I’m not talking behind my throat. Mr. P.M., you are going to get us so ignorant, you will can’t live in Belize because we know where you live and the next protest will be in front of your home, on Seashore Drive! The revolution is here.”

 

Moses Sulph

“It’s not too late. By next Thursday we will be out here again if it’s not reduced by Wednesday. And this is a consensus from the people, because I’m just a servant, and all of us as leaders are just servants. So you have to listen to your people; if you’re not willing to listen to your people then you just move out of the way.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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