Opposition Demonstrates Against Fuel Prices
UNITED Workers Party (UWP) Political Leader Allen Chastanet says more protest marches similar to last Thursday’s are likely if government does not reduce fuel prices “with immediate effect.”
Scores of protesters, many bearing placards and shouting “Enough is enough”, began the march around 5:15 p.m. near the Red Cross building at Vigie last Thursday, making their way along the John Compton Highway en route to William Peter Boulevard. By the time the procession got to the Castries Market, the carnival-type atmosphere had built up and the number of marchers had swelled appreciably.
By 6:15 p.m., the protesters arrived in the William Peter Boulevard, the UWP’s traditional stomping grounds. Sporadic loud chants and singing erupted as music speakers blasted Herb Black’s “Do De Maths” and Gypsy’s “Soul of the Nation” during the ensuing 4-hour-long public meeting.
Twelve speakers addressed the thick crowd, including Party Chairman Ezechiel Joseph, First Deputy Leader Dr. Gale Rigobert, Second Deputy Leader Lenard “Spider” Montoute, Guy Joseph and Party Leader, Allen Chastanet.
In his 20-minute address to the crowd, Chastanet said the protest march signified “a giant leap” on the party’s journey to “provide leadership for the people of Saint Lucia.” He accused the government of not doing enough to alleviate the plight of ordinary Saint Lucians.
“I can tell you that today is the beginning of a change,” Chastanet said. “Today is the first time in many, many years that the people of Saint Lucia have stood up to Kenny (Anthony) to say ‘enough is enough’. This is only the beginning of the fight.”
Chastanet said his party’s chance of unseating the current Saint Lucia Labour Party government “is not going to be easy”, but that the protest march was “the first step”, adding that the current party in office should be on alert.
“I want to put Kenny Anthony and his Cabinet on notice tonight,” Chastanet said. “We are not here only to march to reduce the price of gas to the same prices as in the rest of the Caribbean. We’re not asking you to bring it lower than the other places in the Caribbean. Just bring it to the same price that the rest of the Caribbean is enjoying — $10 or $11 a gallon. That is where we want to see the gas prices. We’re saying to you to not allow bus fares to go up. And if you allow bus fares to go up, the crowd that is going to come here next time will be three times as large as this one.”
Despite the Prime Minister giving his government’s commitment last week to reduce fuel prices further when the next fuel adjustments are made in April, Chastanet is calling for immediate reductions in both diesel and gasolene prices. Dr. Anthony cited a continuous downward trend in the prices of both commodities on the international market, adding that the current three-month pass-through mechanism being revised to an eight- or six-week period is being mulled by government. Chastanet says he is unmoved by Dr. Anthony’s pronouncements.
“I want to say to (Dr. Anthony) – do it now,” Chastanet said. “We don’t believe you that you’re going do it tomorrow. Do it now. I say to the minibus drivers: do you really believe that Kenny Anthony is going to give you a fare hike on March 5? We don’t know. We have no idea.”
Speaking to The VOICE minutes after the public meeting ended, Chastanet said he felt the protest march had achieved its purpose. He said it would do the government a great deal of good to listen to the protestors and respect their views by “doing the right thing”.
The National Council on Public Transportation (NCOPT) met with Minister for Transport, Philip J. Pierre last Tuesday to discuss a likely fare increase for bus drivers. During that meeting – deemed by Pierre and NCOPT president Godfrey Ferdinand as a “win-win” on both sides – the NCOPT presented a new proposal which Pierre agreed to bring to Cabinet for perusal before making a determination on the matter. Chastanet, however, is calling for immediate closure on the discussions.
“I expect the government to reduce the gas prices immediately and make sure they bring the bus drivers back to the negotiating table now and tell the people of Saint Lucia what they’re going to do. We’re not expecting to wait until March 10 to figure out what the outcome of that meeting is going to be,” Chastanet said.
When asked by The VOICE how soon he expected the government to act on his party’s demands regarding the fuel prices and bus fare matters, Chastanet replied: “Next Cabinet meeting.”
“We will continue escalating this protest march until the government does the right thing,” Chastanet said.