November 25, 2011 / 7:41 PM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 1-Trinidad gov't faces skepticism over 'death plot'

* Critics clamor for more details about plot, arrests

* Authorities say those held include army, police members

* Security jitters seen threatening economic recovery (Adds LNG exports to United States operating normally)

By Linda Hutchinson-Jafar

PORT OF SPAIN, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister came under public pressure on Friday to reveal more details of an alleged death plot against her that she blamed on criminals fighting back against a government crackdown.

On TV and radio talk shows and newspaper blogs, many citizens of the twin-island Caribbean gas and oil producer were expressing skepticism about the assassination plot, which Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced on Thursday had been uncovered against her and several of her ministers.

Police said nearly a dozen people had been arrested, including members of the army and police, but authorities have not given more details, citing the need to maintain security in operations to dismantle the plot.

Persad-Bissessar, a former attorney general who won May 2010 elections, placed the blame for the national security alert on criminals linked to the drugs trade. She said they were resisting a state of emergency declared in August to stem a surge in murders, violent crime and gang activity.

“We are hurting them in their pockets ... We are flushing them out,” said Persad-Bissessar, the first woman prime minister of the multiracial country of 1.3 million people.

The Caribbean state, the top supplier of liquefied natural gas to the United States, has experienced a spike in murders blamed on drug trafficking and related turf wars. Lying just off Venezuela, it is a trans-shipment point for South American cocaine headed to Europe and the United States.

Persad-Bissessar’s government has been struggling to revive a faltering, largely energy dependent economy and to attract fresh foreign investors, especially in the oil and gas sector where new capital is needed to boost waning reserves.

Many citizens expressed doubts about the announced assassination plot, suggesting the premier and her government might be seeking to bolster sagging political support and win sympathy in Trinidad’s rough-and-tumble local politics.

“They called a state of emergency, they disrupted lives, took away some of our freedoms and we have not yet been given a single credible reason why the government took such drastic action. The government has lost credibility in my eyes,” said Shelly Duncan, a 34-year old graphic artist.

“I haven’t heard any details except some people have been arrested,” said Ann Mohammed, a 46-year-old housewife. “Have they been charged? Have guns been found?”

The streets of the capital Port of Spain were calm on Friday with businesses, schools and offices all open. Some additional security was visible around government facilities.

Operations were unaffected at Trinidad and Tobago’s LNG gas export plant on Friday, despite the high security alert. “Operations are running as normal,” a spokesman for operator Atlantic LNG said. “We continue to monitor the situation.”

Trinidad and Tobago is expected to export 136 billion cubic feet of LNG to the United States this year, about 39 percent of all U.S. LNG imports, according to Waterborne Energy analysts.


Britain’s Foreign Office updated its travel summary for Trinidad and Tobago, urging visitors to “exercise extra vigilance during this heightened state of alert.”

The last state of emergency was imposed in Trinidad and Tobago in July 1990 when members of a local extremist Muslim group, Jamaat al Muslimeen, staged a coup attempt.

The latest reported security threat came just a week after Trinidad hosted an Organization of American States (OAS) conference of regional security ministers, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

With journalists and citizens clamoring for more details, local security officials were on the defensive.

“It is in the national security interest to keep those details close to our chests,” Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs said when the threat was announced on Thursday. “We all expressed that there is a threat and if you choose not to believe that then I guess that is your prerogative,” he added.

Analysts said the security scare, coming on top of the crime-related state of emergency declared in August, would not help Trinidad and Tobago’s efforts to ride out turbulent international economic conditions that are squeezing more vulnerable island economies of the Caribbean.

“It’s not investor-friendly to have this continued state of emergency and reports of an assassination plot,” said independent economic analyst and senator Rolf Balgobin.

Political analyst Bishnu Ragoonath said the government would regain public confidence if it released more specifics.

“The opposition is also pronouncing this to be a hoax and that in itself is a challenge for the government,” said Ragoonath, who lectures at the University of the West Indies.

The state of emergency suspends some constitutional guarantees and gives police sweeping arrest powers. The government has announced more than 7,000 arrests since August. (Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in New York; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Bill Trott)

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