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Protest in Trinidad & Tobago over Section 34 Scandal

On Friday, various sectors of the Trinidad and Tobago public participated in a protest march calling for the resignations of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Minister of National Security, Jack Warner. Various groups involved in the march included the opposition People's National Movement, the Movement for Social Justice (which recently pulled its support from the government), the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union and the non-governmental organisation Fixin’ T&T, among others.

Jack Warner dismissed the protest, claiming that fewer people attended the march than voted for him in the last election. He also claimed that the march was almost completely Afro-Trinidadian. (The opposition People's National Movement is predominantly supported by Afro-Trinidadians; the United National Congress, which is the dominant party of the ruling People's Partnership government, draws most of its support from the Indo-Trinidadian community. Warner himself is Afro-Trinidadian.)

Four days before the march, activist Philip Edward Alexander laid out his reasons for participating in the protest, comparing the Section 34 situation to the 1990 Coup:

I put to you that the assault on decency and our democratic, law abiding way of life that was the surreptitious proclamation of Section 34 with clear designed intent ought to be considered one of the most evil of acts committed against this state and its people, and I am reminded again (although I forget who first said it) that the only difference between this terrible affront to justice and what occurred in those terrible days beginning July 27th 1990 was that this assault against the Parliament came from the inside.

According to Alexander, the government has shown that it cannot be trusted:

 The denials upon denials in the face of mounting and glaring evidence to the contrary, the rewriting of history and all the other tried and proven articles of misdirection will continue on in earnest, but like all other examples of the guilty caught trying to hide the stolen cookie, crumbs have never been properly able to lie.

He felt that the only way to send a message to the government was to take to the streets:

It is pellucidly clear that this government needs to be sent a message as to the wishes of the public and on Friday November 2nd such an opportunity will become manifest as civil society, regardless of race, creed, class, gender and political persuasion come together to do just that. Sometimes it comes down to us. Our legislature, our House of Representatives and all that they represent need to be put right again, and as the fastest way to get to there is to punish the guilty in sure assembly, to remove from office all those who act against it then surely that is why we must march.

On Friday, Rhoda Bharath explained why the march was destined to have a large turnout:

Today, as more and more details of the section 34 issue [have] been revealed and more and more people realise the extent of the conspiracy perpetrated against the country, all of a sudden marching has become the fashionable thing. The people who wanted to make this about Keith Rowley and the PNM a few weeks ago are going to be out on the street en masse today because that’s how bandwagonists function. They diss an action that they are not in favour of in its early phases and then when they see the direction the wind shifts in all of a sudden their intellect kicks in and they find a plausible reason for joining and become even louder and more vociferous than the original members of a movement. It’s all good, once they pulling their weight. I guess the Lemmings have company today.

Bharath also addressed those who have accused the protesters of seeking to destabilize the government:

Another argument is that this March today is about causing political destabilisation…uhhh…YES…we don’t trust the Government. No electorate should have to be saddled with a Government it doesn’t trust, and to argue that we must put up with an untrustworthy government for five years is to play smart with foolishness. That’s why it’s called a democracy…we have the right to show our displeasure and I am going to show it.

Police Guarding The Office of Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan

Wired868 felt that the Section 34 controversy showed that regardless of whether the Attorney General was corrupt or simply inept, he had to go:

Going forward, here is my question: do we really want an Attorney General who doesn’t have a clue about the legal bills passing through Parliament? Isn’t the AG the protector of the people regarding all things legal? Isn’t it his job to ensure that sound laws are passed? Isn’t that why we pay him generous amounts of taxpayers’ money every month?

According to Wired868, if the government wants to remain in office, it will have to clean house:

By his own admission, he has failed spectacularly. By his own admission, the Justice Minister duped him. Herbert Volney, that wily old ex-judge plotted and schemed behind Ramlogan’s back and put one over the ever vigilant AG. Obviously distracted by some business far more important than the law of the land, over a period of some eight months, the poor Attorney General never once had the opportunity to study the Bill closely in the Parliament, the Senate, the Cabinet.

We have still not been told the reasons for the declaration of the state of emergency. Why? What goes on behind the closed doors of the Cabinet? If the People’s Partnership is to have any chance of survival, any chance of securing a second term, they must begin now to clean house, they must keep their election promises of integrity and transparency and they must spend the next two years rebuilding trust.

On Twitter, Vernon O'Reilly-Ramesar compared the crowd to a popular Carnival band:

When the march is bigger than Tribe you know that is a lotta people. At least they are staying in their section. #PoSMarch

David Abdullah of the MSJ, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley of the PNM, Ancil Roget of the OWTU, former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj

Pradeep Latchman felt that serious reform was needed:

Trinidad & Tobago Govt. operating as if the world has not changed; urgent reforms needed, new inspired leadership willing to work. #PoSmarch

Lasana Liburd responded to Jack Warner's claims about the ethnic composition of the crowd:

Jack Warner says S34 march was done by old, black, racially motivated people. Can't confirm he will now absorb post of racial integration

Rachel Rampersad noted the contradiction of the Congress of the People participating in the march against the government they are part of:

They repped in the govt too. #contradictionRT @samnanton: The Congress of the People is represented in this march. #posmarch

After the march, Rhoda Bharath responded to critics of the protest, including those who claimed the number of participants was overstated:

Long before the crowd started marching along the route there were estimates being given out online. Allan Karim, a known UNC blogger claimed 800. At around that time the crowd was easily double that and I was standing in Woodford square with a group of like minded and right thinking citizens discussing how this government for all its new politics talk, was using the usual racist propaganda scare tactics to corral it’s (sic) voter base.

Bharath felt that the attempts to downplay the protest were the sign of a desperate government:

Let’s face it. UNC/COP has squandered all of its political currency. As soon as any one of their ministers speak the electorate starts looking for the lie. The PNM faithful have returned home, it’s the swing voters or fence sitters that The Keith has to reach out to. The MSJ will now have to consider its voter base and reach out to undecideds in PNM and UNC/COP seats. If you ask me, short of a massive rigging that eclipses S34 or Prakash Ramadhar and the rest of the Section 34 Gang of Thieves managing to hoodwink the population into Proportional Representation (and that campaign coming, watch and see), the UNC has corrupted its way out of a chance at election 2015.

Reform T&T felt the march was a wasted opportunity. In response to this livetweet of a statment from MSJ leader David Abdulah…

“Never again must we believe a change in party means good governance. We must change the system.” – MSJ leader Abdulah #PosMarch

…Reform T&T chided the leaders for making the protest about personalities:

@CNC3TV So where did the march call for a change to the system. The focus was on personalities – Warner & Ramlogan.#POSMarch #fail

Yeshua's Dad replied that personalities must be changed before the system:

@reformtt @CNC3TV #POSMarch #fail 1st change personalities then system!

Reform T&T responded that going after personalities indicated a political agenda:

@Kre82devast8 @cnc3tv Change personalities = political agenda. #fail in 2010#fail now. Change system = country agenda. T&T must be 1st.

Protesters in Port-of-Spain

Peter North thought the protest was just opposition politics as usual:

@reformtt@tv6tnt Now is time to fete.#POSMarch” this was the the pnm Friday evening after work lime.Nothing more … Poncheon was water.

The images used in this post are by @RaiRicomas, used with permission.

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