The building that housed the Venezuelan Embassy burnt to the ground
By Clive Bacchus
BASSETERRE, St Kitts (WINN) -- Two early morning fires in St Kitts on Sunday -- one that destroyed the Venezuelan embassy and another that damaged the Organization of American States (OAS) office -- have sparked a sharp exchange between Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas and the leader of the opposition Mark Brantley.
Douglas, in a national address on Monday, condemned the fires and linked them to recent opposition protest actions. Brantley rejected the charges and labeled the prime minister’s comments “unfortunate”.
“On the evening of Saturday January 4, 2014 , an illegal night time demonstration was held by PAM (People’s Action Movement) politicians and associates… and around midnight that same night a fire was set at the Organisation of American States Secretariat and extinguished by our fire services, but a few hours later the embassy of Venezuela burned to the ground,” Douglas said.
The prime minister named opposition politicians who, he said, on Friday night “rushed and mobbed a social gathering” that he and the deputy prime minister were attending at a Port Zante business place “in an apparent attempt to intimidate either or both of us or the business persons present there.”
He added that people wishing to replace his government have been trying to stir up trouble.
“For months …persons wishing to replace my government have asserted that we in St Kitts and Nevis are gripped by a ‘crisis’. The public clearly disagrees. And the public has behaved accordingly. For this, opposition politicians have repeatedly berated Kittitians and Nevisians for not rising up like the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya,” said Douglas, declaring: “It is clear, therefore, that some have decided that if there is no crisis, they will have to manufacture one.”
“I warn any and all persons who see it as their bounden duty to create instability … my government absolutely will not tolerate any operational shift from disagreement and protest to destruction and mayhem. And any person involved in fomenting mayhem and destruction in this federation will be dealt with, to the full extent of the law,” the prime minister asserted.
In a statement issued after that address, Brantley, who had earlier issued a statement condemning the fires and urging citizens to cooperate fully with law enforcement, accused Douglas of “trying through innuendo to inflame the unfortunate situation and blame the opposition”.
“To connect a peaceful opposition protest at the Marriott with these fires several hours later and several miles away can make sense only to the most cunning and calculating mind”, Brantley charged.
“We are well aware that Dr Douglas is under tremendous political pressure with a motion of no confidence now hanging in abeyance for over a year. This is a dubious distinction for our once proud democracy in St Kitts and Nevis and unprecedented in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Any distraction at this time for him and his failed government would therefore be welcomed,” Brantley stated.
“These fires provide such a distraction and lead us to question who benefits politically, if at all, by these acts against our friends in Venezuela and the OAS?”
“It seems to me that our minority prime minister gets from these fires an opportunity to hurl accusations and innuendo against the opposition without a scintilla of evidence. But, more importantly, he gets a much needed distraction from the growing crescendo condemning the refusal to debate the motion of no confidence and the demands for fresh elections,” Brantley asserted.
“Let us not be surprised if these fires form the basis for him to seek to impose emergency security measures on our people in an effort to quiet the growing cacophony of discontent against his minority government, “ said Brantley. “ History has taught us that one way to quiet discontent is to first label those seeking justice as criminals and terrorists. The life of Nelson Mandela bears stark witness to this age old tactic of the oppressor.”
The Basseterre Fire Unit responded to a report of a fire at the OAS office just after midnight and was able to contain the blaze close to a window and stop it spreading to other parts of the building. The unit again responded, at around 4.30 am, to a report that the Venezuelan embassy was on fire but on arrival the entire building was already engulfed in flames and could not be saved.
The two buildings are streets apart in the capital Basseterre. Fire Chief Everette Ogarro said due to what was discovered arson was suspected at the OAS building but stopped short of blaming arson for the destruction of the Venezuelan embassy.
“What I can say is that we discovered some items that may be of evidentiary value but we have not made the determination that arson was involved in this case,” Ogarro told WINN 98.9 on Sunday.
OAS Ambassador Greene in response to a question about the fire at his office, stated: “What I want to do is condemn what I see as a malicious act and attempt to cause confusion and create instability in the country.”
A hastily arranged street jam, organized by the National Carnival Committee, that coincided with an already planned and approved political rally by the opposition is one of the reasons given for the opposition picketing the Marriott hotel where American television personality Tavis Smiley and Trinidad and Tobago’s David Rudder were headlined as featured celebrities at the Prime Minister’s New Year’s Gala in St Kitts on Saturday night.
Two small groups of opposition activists stood on the pavement at the entrance and the exit of the Marriott and said they were protesting the last minute cancellation of the much publicized political meeting, and the year-long delay in the hearing of a motion of no confidence against the government. General secretary of the opposition People’s Labour Party (PLP) Clecton Phillip was arrested during the exercise, on a charge of disorderly conduct, detained overnight, and released on bail Sunday morning.
The opposition has the numbers to win the motion of no confidence if it is tabled in parliament and debated. Speaker Curtis Martin has ruled that the motion will not be heard until the high court rules on its authority over the speaker’s handling of parliamentary matters, including what is put on the order paper. A high court judge has heard arguments and is to announce a date for a ruling.
Republished with permission of West Indies News Network