In the north of the country, bus operators also blocked the main thoroughfare into the City. Police descended on the highway to keep things under control. Commuters waited for hours until they were finally allowed to proceed to their destination. News Five’s Andrea Polanco covers this leg of the protest.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Over a hundred commuters were stuck here in the Posito area on the northern highway since five this morning. Motorists had to park along the highway as they watched tires burning and parked buses blocking the street. The flow of traffic was at a complete stand still as commuters waited in solidarity with the bus operators of the north. One commuter echoed the sentiments of the waiting crowd; that they won’t move until they get a favorable response from government:

Emmanuel Yama

Emmanuel Yama

“They’re removing bus lines which are lines that have been growing from down to up and these guys give use an efficient and best to our needs.”

Andrea Polanco

“How long have you been out here this morning?”

Emmanuel Yama

“We are here from six o’clock this morning up to now.”

Andrea Polanco

“So this di inconvenience you because you can’t go dah work?”

Emmanuel Yama

“Yes, but then these is our guys, this is Orange Walk Town, we have to support together like one, for one reason. They are removing what is from the poor people and give it to rich people and we are not going leave it like that. We are supporting these guys from Cabrera, Chells and the other bus lines—together in one. I know we are losing—like today is Friday like everybody knows—but it doesn’t matter. It’s all worth it. Like I tell everybody, we will move until the person come and tell us it is already been arranged.”

Marcel Cardona

On the way to the city this morning was Area Rep for the Orange Walk North East, who was retained on the spot as one of the lawyers for the bus operators. Cardona says this issue is taking food out of the mouths of many people in the north:

Marcel Cardona

“I was heading to Belize City to the Court this morning when I was caught up in the situation and then I was quickly approached by the bus drivers association of the north and asked to represent them, represent their interests etc. in this matter that is taking place here today. This is a bread and butter issue. This is an issue that affects their ability to put food on the table for their families, their children etc, their ability to pay their loans, their mortgages, etc. and by the stroke of a pen, a sitting minister of the government and in extension his government have sought to deprive these people of their property of their right to invest in this country of ours, in Belize. And that is not something that is right, and that is a grave injustice, that is a travesty to our justice system and certainly I am out here not only as attorney at law for them, but also separately in my capacity as a private citizen and as the representative of Orange Walk East. We stand in solidarity with the bus operators because the punishment, the victimization, the repression that they are going through is nothing”

Abner Chell

“I have fourteen workers that I have presently given letters to that will be fired. I have fourteen families that I am fighting for along with fighting for what I believe is my company and the interest of my family.”

Marcel Cardona

“In particular today when the unemployment rate according to the government of Belize has skyrocketed to twenty-three percent or almost one out of every four Belizeans are currently unemployed, damn, you have to support these bus operators. I have to support people that are trying to earn an honest living and they are simply being oppressed and victimized by the current government.”

One such bus operator, who is being affected, is Jose Cabrera, and he says that the peaceful demonstration is as a result of lack of response from the transport department:

Jose Cabrera

Jose Cabrera

“We have to show solidarity too because at the end of the day, I am getting affected too because they are always throwing a schedule list and the first list come out, my name wasn’t there. And it continues everyday—I say the same thing and personally my one and Mister Chell is being taken out. And that is from the transport department. Presently that is why we are here and we are fighting for our rights as Belizeans and we hope that this shows the government that we want peace and we want respect too.”

Andrea Polanco

“So Mister Cabrera, what are seeing out here today?”

Jose Cabrera

“It’s the support of my people from the north. They are here because of me too. They are here because of Mister Chell too. We have a member who si also from the north.”

Andrea Polanco

“So who initiated this blocking of the street and everything?”

Jose Cabrera

“Oh it’s the national bus owners, the organization, because he wants to dialogue with the minister. He have been plenty of the time talking to the minister saying minister, this is this.”

In solidarity with the bus operators is P.U.P. Leader, John Briceno, who says that the events is an indication of what’s taking place at a national level:

John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader, P.U.P.

“Certainly I think it is a manifestation of the frustration of the bus owners, but if you were to look into the bigger picture of the manifestation of frustration of the Belizean people. Of a government that refuses to listen to the Belizean people, a government that is completely out of touch with the daily grind, the daily problems that Belizeans are facing.”

And as a result of the blocking of the highway, a bus operator and five commuters were arrested this morning, and spent over six hours at the police station in Orange Walk Town. After they were released at two in the afternoon, Abner Chell told us they had to do what they had to:

Abner Chell

“We were travelling along with some things in the vehicle and then from a distance we see the police vehicle coming behind us and they were trying to pull us over.”

Andrea Polanco

“Weh kinda thing more or less unu mi have ina di truck?”

Abner Chell

Abner Chell

“All we mi have dah mi some tires and some dirt weh mi have, weh we mi…”

Andrea Polanco

“Unu mi wah use this to block the road?”

Abner Chell

“No, we noh mi wah use this to block no road. Weh happen, this morning we used some buses to block the road. But these were just meant to be placed on the side of the road just to stop the flow of traffic from another vantage point fo view. We can clearly realize that the government did, it is true, they did give us a twenty-one grace period. But at the end of the day, you could have realized that the intention of the government was to reinstate and to do the same plan they had brought to the table to us. Hence we had to do what we had to do.”

But what is needed are immediate results, a sentiment echoed by Cabrera and Briceno:

John Briceno

“I think that the first thing the Prime Minister needs to do is to give a directive to his Minister of Transportation that everything needs to stay where it was before. And for them to give themselves, be it one month or two months, and enough time so that they could go back to the negotiating table to work out all the differences between the bus association and the ministry of transport.”

Andrea Polanco

“I know that this morning Mr. Shaw is meeting with the Prime Minister. So you guys are awaiting the words coming out of that meeting?”

Jose Cabrera

“Yes, at this moment he is at a meeting with the Prime Minister and as soon as he gives me a call, we will move peacefully.”

Andrea Polanco

“But that all depends on the word you all get from that meeting?”

Jose Cabrera

“Sure because he is defending our runs as our president right now.”

Andrea Polanco

“So what are you all as bus operators expecting to come out of that meeting? What is the word that you all want to hear?”

Jose Cabrera

“Well we are expecting fair treatment and respect because we are in this business for so long and hopefully, like I tell you, I am a person who likes to think positive and be realistic with what’s going on here in Belize.”

Andrea Polanco

“When you say fair treatment, what exactly the bus operators expect this morning?”

Jose Cabrera

“Well we want our runs like it is right now. Like I tell the president, we want to stable something that we want our original runs because my runs come out from Douglas, San Juan, San Pablo and those buses come full from there. And all of them are workers and they are right over here and they’re in support of me right now.”

But sometime shortly after eleven, the operators heard via phone from the president of the Belizean Bus Association Cooperative, Thomas Shaw, who requested that the buses be moved:

Via Phone: Thomas Shaw

“We are meeting right now with the Prime Minister and he did give us his words that this will be resolved and we can get back to our normal duties. So as for now, guys remove the blockage. We are going to have a press conference at 2:30 again and we go from there. And I will be calling a meeting with all the operators to actually inform them of what has been place. This thing with the Chuc’s bus line, the Prime Minister stated that personally he wasn’t aware of what the minister was doing and he is going to bend back in order to really resolve this situation.”

Marcel Cardona

“And you believe the Prime Minister?”

Via Phone: Thomas Shaw

“We’ll be having a press conference and I’ll be on the air and the press conference with myself and the P.M. and we’ll go from there okay.”

Commuters were then able to continue with their journey after the highway was re-opened by the Fire Department and the police. Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.

Going into the weekend, it is expected that the busses will be in service across the north and west.

Channel 5