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Friday, December 20, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Duncan St police post opened Moonilal gets ‘Spanish’ amnesia
Two weeks after greeting Kenneth “Spanish” Rodriguez with a handshake at the site of the Duncan Street police post in Port-of-Spain, Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal purported to have no knowledge of Rodriguez when asked why Rodriguez was notably absent at the post’s handing-over ceremony yesterday. Moonilal, fielding questions from the media about Rodriguez after the ceremonial opening, said: “I understand the people who are working here are here. I don’t know who you all are referring to.” Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who delivered yesterday’s feature address, said also she had no idea why Rodriguez, who said he was a foreman on the project, was a no-show. “I was invited here. I am just an invitee,” Persad-Bissessar laughed when asked about his absence.
Rodriguez, the controversial figure connected with the construction of the $2 million police post at 64 Duncan Street, was one of many people arrested as suspected gang members during the state of emergency in 2011, but was subsequently released. Rodriguez, a Beetham Gardens community leader, has denied he is involved in any gang activity. However, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams has identified Rodriguez as one of the individuals they had information on in connection with gang activity. Delivering her address at yesterday’s event, the Prime Minister said “wicked and heinous crimes” were taking place in Duncan Street and other communities and called for a collective effort to fight crime. She said it was from this perspective that the construction and handing over of the post should be understood. Saying police stations must be seen as institutions within the community, Persad-Bissessar said the police must also build acceptance and credibility within that space. In fact, police officers must see themselves as cultural agents, by promoting a culture of self-respect and respect for the rights of others, a culture of discipline, a culture of peace and order.”
The issue of gangs being awarded government contracts was first raised by Opposition senator Pennelope Beckles in debate last month. She said gang members were getting government contracts, “and as we speak, one gang member has a contract to repair a police station.” Speaking on October 4, after a tour of the former Duncan Street Housing Development Corporation (HDC) apartment complex, which was then marked for conversion into a police post, Rodriguez was adamant he was not a gang leader, adding that no one had any proof against him. He also insisted he was a registered contractor and had HDC contracts. That tour included Moonilal, Griffith, HDC managing director Jearlean John, Williams and Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson.
Speaking to reporters on October 7, at the launch of an anti-bullying campaign at Police Administration Building, Port-of-Spain, Williams said he read newspaper reports about Rodriguez’s claim he was not a gang member. “We have information about all gang leaders in the city, out of the city...all,” Williams said. Asked if this information included Rodriguez, Williams said, “Yes, it would include Mr Rodriguez.” John also called on Williams to name the gang leaders if he had the information. At a news conference at her office at South Quay, Port-of-Spain, last week, John said: “I need the commissioner or whoever the authority is to give me a list of gang leaders. I want their names and pictures.” She also dismissed Rodriguez’s role as either a contractor or sub-contractor for the project. “What he is doing there is anybody’s guess. He was never given an HDC contract to construct a police post. He is not a sub-contractor either. “Of course, a contractor can hire a sub-contractor. I did ask and I was told he was not,” John had said.
In an interview with the T&T Guardian at the construction site last week Thursday, Rodriguez said he was the foreman on the project and had his own company. He again denied being a gang member or gang leader, saying although he had been charged with crimes as a youth, he was never convicted. In 2011, he and his son were imprisoned but later released without charge, he said. “They say I am a gang member and a gang leader. I worked here now for about a month and two weeks on the streets of Port-of-Spain, the corner of Duncan and Nelson, and not one of them has made (an attempt) on my life out here in the open,” Rodriguez had said. He said he believed he was being used as a political scapegoat, adding, “I hear they calling my name on platform and all of them things.”
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