KINGSTON, JAMAICA, (REUTERS)
CARIBBEAN LEADERS MET to sign oil agreements on yesterday in Jamaica, where protests against rising prices paralysed parts of the capital and hampered access to the city where the summit was taking place.
There were no reports of violence in Montego Bay, the tourist area where Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were among leaders finalising the PetroCaribe accords allowing Caribbean states to buy 185,000 barrels of Venezuela oil daily at reduced rates.
Reporters travelling to Montego Bay said they were slowed and diverted by roadblocks erected as part of the protests over rising prices. But authorities said security arrangements were adequate to protect the delegates and leaders. "This is one of the most powerful security details that you could see anywhere," a policeman told Reuters. "We are taking no chances, because these two leaders are targets and we cannot afford to drop our guard," he said of Castro and Chavez.
Cuban Government spokesman José Louis Ponce said by telephone that Castro and his delegation did not have much information about the protests but that, "We are OK here, we are safe."
In Kingston, 110 miles (180 km) south-east of Montego Bay, police said 43 areas were paralysed by roadblocks and chaos. One officer was shot and wounded as he tried to remove debris blocking a road, and gunmen fired at police along the road connecting the capital with the Norman Manley International Airport, police said.
They arrested numerous demonstrators on disorderly conduct charges, including Spanish Town mayor and municipal leaders accused of blocking roads in the central area of St. Catherine.
The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party called for islandwide protests against rising prices for electricity, transport, food, animal feed and other necessities, but urged Jamaicans not to erect roadblocks or cut off schools and businesses. "The Government has gone deaf. They are not listening to the people and this is a time for them to start listening," Opposition Leader Bruce Golding told supporters.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said the Government had done all it could to control prices but increases in the price of crude oil had pushed up the cost of delivering other goods and services. "We have no control over the price of foreign oil, not even the great United States does," Patterson said.