RADHICA DE SILVA
Six scrap iron workers have been arrested overnight, as vanloads of protesters used the cover of darkness to block parts of Claxton Bay and environs.
A heavy contingent of army and police remains stationed in the area following four days of protests, which spilt onto the busy Solomon Hochoy Highway, inconveniencing hundreds of people.
The protests are occurring during the visit of Guyanese President Dr Irfaan Ali, who is in Trinidad on an official State visit. There are 107 scrap iron dealers in Claxton Bay who own vehicles that collect old metal including copper from across the country.
Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee says this accounts for 50 per cent of all scrap metal exports in Trinidad.
The scrap ironworkers have set up a permanent base at Cedar Hill Road, Claxton Bay, erecting a small tent under a coconut tree and a sign reading "Free Ironmen."
A police officer tries to persuade the scrap ironworkers not to block the roads, on Thursday 18 August 2022. (Image by IVAN TOOLSIE)
Speaking to Guardian Media, Aaron Sylvester said the police and army had prevented any further blockades after midnight on Thursday.
"The police and army brutalizing people. About six people get beat up and arrested overnight and I am sure they will be spending the weekend in prison," Sylvester said.
On Thursday, senior police officials spoke with the protesters, warning them that they will be arrested if they illegally obstructed the roads with burning debris.
The officer said while their concerns were legitimate, they should get their voices heard without causing distress to other motorists and without damaging the roads.
The iron men say they will continue a vigil in Claxton Bay until the government lifts the six-month ban on the exportation of copper. The ban was imposed because of the nefarious theft of public infrastructure including telecommunication cables, power cables, manhole covers, WASA pumphouse fittings, oil pipelines and even gates outside residents' houses.
Soldiers clear debris from Claxton Bay on Thursday, August 18. (Image by IVAN TOOLSIE)
Guardian Media understands pensioners who do not have cell-phones but depend on their landlines to call relatives and even ambulances have been suffering because of the theft.
The government has appointed a Cabinet sub-Committee to oversee a legislative framework for the scrap iron industry.
On Tuesday, Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon, who is on the Cabinet sub-committee, said there was a need for improved legislation to regulate the irregularities of the industry.
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal also said on Monday that the government’s arbitrary shutdown of the scrap iron sector is senseless and unacceptable and would only lead to an increase in unemployment and possibly a hike in the crime rate.
Guardian Media will update this story as more information comes to hand.