Obama and 32 heads of state are to attend the summit which begins tomorrow night at the five- star Hyatt hotel.
Local security officials agreed to move up the time the red zone takes effect to early this morning, one day after the evacuation of the International Finance Centre Tower C, on Tuesday evening, during what officials said was a false fire alarm. The Hyatt, Tower C, Tower D, the port, where the cruise ships, Caribbean Princess and Carnival Victory are docked, and a summit village will be closed to public access and only persons with official accreditation would be allowed into the waterfront. Traffic will also be restricted along Wrightson Road from the lighthouse to Colville Street, Woodbrook.
However, the public can still move around to conduct their last minute business in the streets on the outskirts of the red zone throughout the day, as the blue and yellow zones do not take effect until midnight when access will be limited.
Sources said the Secret Service agents arrived in Trinidad on Monday and began their security sweep of the Hyatt Hotel and IFC towers late yesterday and will conclude tomorrow in for the arrival of Obama and Clinton and the opening ceremony of the summit later in the evening.
Selected members of the Special Branch and Special Anti-Crime Unit will also take part in the exercise, which entails searches for bombs, spy equipment or any device which could endanger the lives of the heads of state and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has accepted Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s invitation to attend the summit.
Newsday has also learned the decision to step up the security measures coincides with the arrivals last night of Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson. Many more Caricom and Latin American leaders are also expected to continue arriviving throughout today.
Although no decision was taken yesterday to activate the red zone around Piarco International Airport, ahead of the original midnight time, it is expected that with the arrivals of the hemispheric leaders, security will be tight along the main roadways, including the Churchill Roosevelt Highway. A security sweep is also to be done at the airport and the old southern terminal which has been refurbished to accommodate the arrivals of leaders, especially those flying on their own aircraft. Obama will arrive on Air Force One and Clinton flies in on her own jet.
An additional security concern around the Hyatt was prompted by the presence of huge crowds at the summit village which was opened to the public on Easter Monday. It was originally scheduled to close on Tuesday evening, but up to late yesterday, hundreds of people danced the music played by popular radio DJs at the village. Traffic backed up on Wrightson Road for hours and pedestrians risked their lives by passing through the lines of vehicles.
Secretariat spokesman Dennis McComie confirmed the congestion was one of the reasons for the activation of the red zone. He gave the first public alert of the 6 am start of security restrictions in an announcement to delegates at the end of the first session of the Civil Society Forum held on board the Carnival Victory. Speaking with Newsday afterwards, McComie said the change was made because of “security considerations.”
RED ZONE from Page 3A
“This is because of the influx of citizens on the promenade. Our citizens are anxious and curious to see the new waterfront promenade and of course, it’s theirs. We had to take into consideration the number of cars on Wrightson Road and then we have delegates arriving and media coming in. Remember, it is the red zone only,” McComie said.
Minister of Trade and Industry Mariano Browne, who leads an inter-ministerial team charged with organising the summit, last night also said the earlier start to the red zone was due to arrival of the Antigua and Babardos prime ministers as well as the traffic problems on Wrighton Road.
The congestion will however ease up with the red zone alert which is also going to affect operations at the Water Taxi terminal which will be closed. Passengers who had planned to use the ferry service to sail Tobago may be inconvenienced too by the sudden move to activate the red zone along the water front. Sailings to Tobago will be restricted to only one over the weekend.
President of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association Gregory Aboud expressed concern that business people would lose another full day of business because of the sudden security alert. “My official position is that we had heard a rumour and we called today on more than one occasion and we had been assured by the Secretariat that Wrightson Road would be closed only at midnight on Thursday 16,” Aboud said.
“We would be extremely surprised if changes have been made and the announcement of these changes takes place at the last minute when there is no means of recovery or communication with staff and customers,” Aboud added.
He said there was no need to explain just how devastating this would be to the business community. “That would be felt amply if this is done,” he said.
Corporate communications manager of Republic Bank, Anna Maria Garcia-Brooks, said they had not been informed about any changes and as far as she knew, it would be business as usual today.
Banks have already altered their business hours, opening from 8 am to 12 pm and 3 pm and 5 pm today, closing their Port-of-Spain branches tomorrow.