As the country entered the first day of a state of emergency in limited areas National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy also indicated that the current security measures will last at least 15 days, and raised the prospect of an emergency meeting of the Parliament to authorise extensions.
“The time has come for action,” Ramlogan said at a National Security Council press briefing at the offices of the Ministry of National Security, Temple Court, Port-of-Spain at about 1pm. “These are desperate times because we sense the desperation of the population.”
“The war is on. We have declared a state of war against the bandits and criminals,” Ramlogan declared. “We will not stop until we win.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a state of emergency for targeted crime hot-spots, representing the fifth time in this country’s history that the President’s extraordinary powers have been so invoked.
A curfew yesterday went into effect in the municipal corporations of Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Arima, Chaguanas, Diego Martin and San Juan/Laventille. Ramlogan said the choice of these corporations and not others was reflective of specific intelligence gathered by the security forces which he was not in a position to disclose.
At yesterday’s briefing, Sandy urged the population residing in these areas, which have a registered electorate of about 400,000, to stay at home during curfew hours.
“Please cooperate with us and stay at home if there is no necessity for you to be anywhere else,” Sandy said. “Please stay at home.” He urged the general population to tolerate the inconvenience of the state of emergency.
“This is intended to assist us in the fight against crime,” he said. “There may be some areas of discomfort but please note that it is part of an effort to make all of us in Trinidad and Tobago safer...I am asking the national community to cooperate with us.” The objective, according to the Security Minister, is to go after “gang leaders”, “drug traffickers” and to get “weapons off the street”.
His comments came as a gun amnesty, shielding persons who voluntarily surrender illegal firearms from legal action, went into effect under the Emergency Powers Regulations 2011, approved by the President on Sunday and published yesterday in the Gazette.
The Emergency Powers Regulations 2011, which were published yesterday, specifically ban all public meetings at all times in the areas under the state of emergency.
In particular, public assemblies or meetings are banned unless they are religious in nature; are part of schools educational classes or recreation; cinema, musical or entertainment shows; sporting events; youth related and not political. The regulations also prohibit public marches, unless authorised by the Commissioner of Police.
A curfew in six areas came into effect at 9 pm under the terms of an order signed yesterday and issued under the regulations by Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams. Sandy said, from today, there will be zero tolerance for persons found in the streets of the municipalities under emergency orders without special permits issued by the local police stations.
Asked whether the State will use the entire initial 15-day-period provided under the Constitution, Sandy said, “Yes, we will.” He said the measures will remain in place even up to this year’s Independence Day celebrations on August 31. A committee, comprising the Attorney General, Minister of Communications Dr Suruj Rambachan, Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal and Public Utilities Minister Emmanuel George, will oversee the celebrations and their links to the security measures.
With the Government linking the current measures to the recent upsurge in crime, Sandy did not rule out further emergency orders if crime spikes occur in the future. “We will deal with the situation as it presents itself,” he said.
As police officers and members of the Defence Force took up extraordinary powers of arrest and search without warrant in the six municipalities, Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams said other areas of the nation, though not under a state of emergency, will fall under an increased police net.
“The policing of Trinidad and Tobago continues as ever but on a heightened basis...Policing is heightened for the entirety of Trinidad and Tobago for 24 hours,” Williams said at the briefing.
Williams was speaking in place of Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs who returns to the country today from Brazil on official business, according to senior police sources. Ramlogan said citizens have lived in fear of crime for the past nine years and it was time to turn the tables.
“There has been an undeclared state of emergency whereby people have lived under self-imposed curfews for the past nine years. I have seen innocent, law-abiding citizens put up barricades and become prisoners in their own homes,” Ramlogan said.
“We feel as a Government that we have a duty. We want to reassure our law-abiding citizens that you have nothing to fear, you are not the target of the state of emergency,” he said.
The Attorney General urged citizens to take the opportunity to come forward now with information they may have about criminal activities.
“Now is the time to speak up and share that information with the police and the army,” Ramlogan said. He said there was, as of yesterday, already “a virtual avalanche of people willing to come forward to share information.”
Sandy said initially the Cabinet planned to have the curfew run from 6 pm to 6 am. However it shifted the hours to 9 pm to 5 am in order to facilitate the Muslim community’s observance of Eid. Williams noted that citizens may apply to the police station nearest to where they reside for permits to allow them to move around during the curfew hours. However he noted that these are meant to be an exception to the general rule and that, generally, only persons deemed part of “essential services” would be granted permits. He did not give his definition of “essential services” but said the media was not included in such a group. Persons travelling out of the airport at Piarco may obtain permits from special booths next to the ticketing counters, he said. Persons with medical emergencies are to call traditional means of getting to hospitals, such as ambulances. (He did not address concerns, raised as recently as this week in relation to the death of Pat Bishop, of problems with the response times of ambulances.)
Additional PTSC services to ferry citizens out of hot-spots were scheduled to come on line yesterday afternoon, Williams noted. He said the PTSC will be granted a permit to provide services during curfew hours.
However taxis, drivers and maxi-taxis will not be granted permits, Williams indicated.
“There are undoubtedly persons who will have to adjust their arrangements,” he said.
Ramlogan noted that in July 2005, the PNM administration, under Patrick Manning, rejected a proposal for a state of emergency after a bombing on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, a series of kidnapping and amid a spiraling murder rate. He noted that the current state of emergency is the fifth in this country’s history. There was no word on when the Parliament would debate the current state of emergency, a requirement under the Constitution.
The most recent state of emergency was recommended by the then Patrick Manning Cabinet during an impasse with then Speaker Occah Seepaul in 1995. Previously, a state of emergency was declared during the 1990 insurrection by the Jamaat and amid an army mutiny and the 1970s Black Power uprisings. Former Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams also used a state of emergency in the case of CLR James.
Yesterday afternoon, there was a report that Blackberry messaging services had been disabled at the request of the State.
TSTT corporate communications manager Camille Salandy would not confirm or deny the reports, however up to late yesterday Blackberry messaging was still functional.
Under the emergency, national security bulletins are to be issued daily, Sandy assured yesterday. The National Security Council, the top-level body that regulates State security, is to meet every morning and report to its chair, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Last evening, Persad-Bissessar welcomed soliders and police assigned to San Fernando at the Mon Repos Roundabout, thanking them for their role in maintaining law and order.