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Feb 4, 2005

Protesters march to continue strike

Story PictureWith the militant core of the teachers union clearly out of sync with its leadership and the prospect of schools opening on Friday melting like an ideal dropped on a hot pavement, the stage was set this morning for union members and their supporters to take to the streets. Patrick Jones reports that the march was sizable and orderly…but the aims of the marchers did not always coincide.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
Whether it was from the sidelines…riding in the back of a vehicle…wheelchair or the best seat in the parade, the streets of Belize City overflowed with protest today as thousands of citizens joined in a demonstration against the government.

The protest march moved off from the Yabra Green around mid morning and from early on it was evident that this was no rent-a-crowd. President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize Horris Patten says it allowed the people to express themselves.

Horris Patten, President, National Trade Union Congress
?Well the purpose simply is to carry through with our programmes and plans. Although we know that there might have been some understanding, the programme is that we were not quite complete with the whole process and the idea is to ensure that the process is complete. Now we are hoping that between today, tomorrow, with the submission of what we have prepared yesterday going up to the people in charge that we will get some great response which would help us to put an end to this whole thing. But we think it is a great need to ensure that the people speak for the last time, so that everybody understands clearly what we are directly on.?

But while taxes, salary increases and reforms were three of the major points in the dispute, president of the Public Service Union, Dylan Reneau, using the metaphors of sports to illustrate his point, said it has now gone beyond those issues.

Dylan Reneau, President, Public Service Union
?The goal posts have now been moved to resign or be removed. The issues or the ball that is being played with are reform, taxes and the salary increases. The Belizean people are behind the government. They are on the football field. They have the ball to kick. And now they are moving to that goal post. But the moment they don?t deal with those issues, reform, taxes and the salary increase, I am seeing the Belizean people pushing them closer and closer to one of those two goal posts, resign or reform. This government still has a chance. They are at mid field right now. Mr. Musa please, your people di talk to you. If you really believe in democracy let?s go deal with this things, man.?

Patrick Jones
?Do you see a complete resolution to this crisis any time soon??

Horris Patten
?I swear I believe there will be. There definitely will be a direct response shortly. And I think that the people have indicated that we are on the right track.?

While progress towards resolution of the crisis has been made, president of the Communication Workers Union Paul Perriott also believes the end is now in sight.

Paul Perriott, President, Communication Workers Union
?The people movement has started and this is a big opening eye to the Government of Belize that this has nothing to do with politics. This is the people. The people of Belize have spoken and we will continue speaking until…I will say until because I won?t say what will be until.?

Patrick Jones
?Now you?ve protested and you have requested certain things. Those have apparently been offered to you but still you?re out in the streets. What?s the sticking point now??

Paul Perriott
?Well, it has to end somewhere. We still have not agreed on the wording or what they are proposing, the agreement. So that is where we are right now. This could not be stopped because we did reach an agreement. So we hope that hopefully today we could go back and redraft that agreement and make the necessary changes and get the government to agree with what we actually want.?

Dylan Reneau
?The whole issue revolves around reform. We still have a lot of reforms to do. We have an agenda to push ahead. But when it comes to the taxes there has been no real move on the taxes. They are just rolling it back and wanting to implement it. But remember attached to the taxes is the fact of the corrective measures. And we don?t get that sense that there is any serious, serious move to deal with those things. And finally the salary increases, yes they have said they will give us the salary increase. But what benefit will that give us if these taxes are raised to exorbitant rates. They will take back so much more of that raise that they were going to give to public officers, teachers and the senior public officers.?

These teachers are from Belize District, Belmopan and Orange Walk. Perriott says while there may be dissention in the ranks of the BNTU, public confidence and solidarity remains strong.

Paul Perriott
?The public will get the same sense that we are trying to tell the government. The government cannot make decisions for us. The teachers are a part of that whole process. The teachers have decided that you guys cannot make decision for us either. So if its democracy we talk about and we want the peoples? voice get out that is what the teachers have to say. We don?t loose any drive. The trade union congress dah still one so, we did not loose anything out of this.?

At the end of the march, the protestors, watched from the sky and the sea, heard leaders of the various unions make statements of their respective positions.

Paul Perriott
?AThis government has been saying that the unions have been moving the goals posts on them. Well let us set up the ball field. We have the two goal posts, they are set in stones. You either resign or be removed.?

And while hope remains that the situation will return to normal sooner rather than later, Reneau says it does not look like public officers will return to job on Monday.

Dylan Reneau
?Right now how it looks, it seems like the public officers are saying they are going to hold out for as long as it takes for this thing to happen. The Belizean people are behind us, the politicians are there with the ball, reform taxes, and our salary increase. You make the tough decisions. You have to do it not the people will come here and let it happen. You have to be the ones. You were elected to govern and govern you must.?

Patrick Jones
?But by holding out, do you think that you are gong to lose credibility??

Dylan Reneau
?Look at this crowd. Do you think this is loosing credibility??

Patrick Jones
?After taking their messages of protest through the streets of Belize City, the thousand of teachers, public officers, business leaders and other supporters of the industrial action rallied at the Yabra Green. Their attention now turns to completing an agreement that both sides in the dispute feel comfortable that they can move forward with. Patrick Jones, for News 5.?

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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