Teachers Block Major Highways - 05/18/21 10:25 AM
If you were late to work today, well, you definitely weren't the only one. Across the country, those heading their places of employ were delayed up to an hour as the BNTU blocked all major highways across the country.
Like the last blockage which happened a little under a month ago, the unionists propped up their hoods and pretended that there was some issue with their vehicle. But unlike the last time around, this blockage lasted for much more than 15 minutes.
Courtney Menzies has a quick scan of the situation from all six districts.
The BNTU is back in full force and struck hard this morning with a countrywide blockage of all major highways.
From about 7 this morning, the teachers, in their customary green shirts, parked their cars in the middle of the road in Corozal Town and Libertad, feigning engine failure.
Around the same time, there was a similar scene in Carmelita Village. The members struck early so as to immobilize those who needed to commute to other districts to reach their workplaces.
Many of those commuters were travelling here, to Belize City, where - if they escaped the blockage on the Phillip Goldson Highway - they would have been met with another on the Haulover Bridge.
And if by chance they made it into the city, well, they would have to hope they didn't need to utilize any of the other bridges. There were cars placed across the Belcan, Belchina, and Chetumal Street Bridges.
And even those living in the city had to deal with long queues of traffic as police and traffic officers tried to keep north south traffic flowing in a city where 75% of the bridges were blocked.
Perhaps the largest traffic jam was seen in the Cayo District. This drone shot taken at mile 47 shows the miles of traffic backed up, and on the other side it caused a line of traffic that extended from Roaring Creek to Camalote Village. And residents there were held up for about 45 minutes.
A woman in labor was even caught in the chaos as she made her way to the Western Regional Hospital. However, while others were made the wait, the union members blocking the road allowed her to pass and she was able to give birth safely at the hospital.
Further west, 5 teachers were detained for allegedly trying to set a tyre fire on the road coming out of Succotz. This led their branch members to protest in front of the police station.
On the John Smith Road the commuters had to wait for an entire hour. And in the south, things were no different. There was traffic backed up in Dangriga NEAR THE Southern Regional Hospitalâ€¦ And in Toledo, our colleagues at PGTV were on the Joe Taylor Bridge which had been blocked and got some interviews from the protestors.
"When the present prime minister was in opposition, he protested with us. He demonstrated with us. Promising us that when we form the next government, that he would honor the demands of the teachers. Now that they're government, they plan to ignore us and we cannot continue to tolerate this. We demand accountability, transparency and good governance."
But did this move get the public on their side? Well, while many took to social media in support of the unions, there were still others who felt that blocking the highways was a selfish move and would only turn the public against the unions.
Best indications are that the traffic blocking campaign will not continue tomorrow.
But, the joint unions have planned a press conference for tomorrow afternoon. It was originally scheduled for today, but it was postponed.
Later, we will hear from the PSU president on the union's position after its last meeting with GOB.
COMPOL Says Cops Allow Road Blockage, But For How Long?
And, as you saw in that story, the police kept their distance and simply re-directed traffic as the teachers blocked all the major highways and bridges. Commissioner of Police Chester Williams told us there are specific directives not to antagonise the teachers or escalate their acts of protest - even if it is illegal:
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"Across the country we were alert, we conduct our highway patrols from four a.m. this morning, as a matter of fact, we were able to detain four teachers in the Benque area who were seen putting tires on the highway and were about to lit it fire and the police caught them and they have been arrested and charged and they'll be going to court for that. But again we try as best as we can to be hands-off or to exercise restraint so as not to have any confrontation with the teachers that may result in any civil disobedience. I don't think that our country needs any civil disobedience now as that could further add to our economic constraint that we are currently faced with and so we will continue to see how we can tip toe or exercise restraint with these demonstrations. I will say that it is rather frustrating because at the end of the day whatever it is that they are doing with these road blockages it is creating significant inconvenience to the broader public, people who have to get to work by a certain time people who need to go to the airport, people who need to go to the hospital, so it is causing inconvenience to people and the citizenry is getting frustrated with it as well and so I would hope that the teachers are going to rethink this position. It is counterproductive and it is getting people frustrated and eventually, we will have to not be too hands-off and do what needs to be done to ensure that the highways are clear. May I also remind the teachers that blocking the highway is an offense. It is obstructing the free flow of traffic and while yes we have been very patient and we have exercised restraint when the public gets too frustrated then we will have to ensure that something is done to allow traffic to flow and get people to where they need to get within a reasonable time."
Hon. Musa Says Unions Tactics Turning Tide of Public Opinion
And speaking with us this evening, the ComPol's boss, Home Affairs Minister Kareem Musa, echoed his sentiments. He says that the government understands the frustration of the unions and thus allows them to carry out these types of protests - which are illegal - especially since the unions are NOT getting permits for them.
He also added that by inconveniencing the public in this manner, they are only turning public opinion against them.
Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs
"I got a lot of calls I must say from very concerned frustrated members of the public who are trying to get to their jobs. We ask them to please try to bear patience with us, I know a lot of people would want to see the police take a more stiffer approach. I don't believe at this stage that is even necessary, so we have advised and I have requested of the commissioner of police and the high ranking police officers that we continue to maintain this hands-off approach, despite the fact that it has been like I said a huge inconvenience to members of the public. The teachers and the public officers have every right to strike. I think we've said that time and time again, but the government has a responsibility to govern and so while it is that a lot of what they are complaining about is like corruption in the past and that sort of thing, we can't catch any feelings over that. I know that we are the government that is actually implementing the 10% cut. It is easily argued that that is something that was long overdue from under Dean Barrow's administration; he kept saying it time and time again that tough decisions would have to be made. Unfortunately, we are the ones taking all the backlash and the heat for these decisions, but it has to be made in order for our country to not face higher inflation or even possibly worse, devaluation. So we understand what they are going through and hence the reason why like I said the police has been taking this hands-off approach giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns, but at the same time I think we have to look at the effectiveness, they have to look at the effectiveness of what they are doing, because they are not gaining a lot of public support but rather quite the contrary - the public is getting frustrated, because this is the limited number of people who still have jobs trying to get to those jobs and they themselves have had to face very harsh cuts in their employment and so it might be a little counterproductive."