In our most recent online poll, 84.9% of votes were for the stance that Belizeans do NOT feel safer in Belize now than they did the same time last year—this despite the fact that the murder rate has apparently dropped a bit.
Police Press Officer Fitzroy Yearwood concurred with our in-house murder tally, which puts the number of murders for 2011 at 125, versus 129 reported by police for 2010. This represents a mere 3% drop—but a drop, nonetheless, with which Prime Minister Dean Barrow said he is pleased.
Why? Barrow told Amandala that murders for the first six months of the year had far exceeded those for the previous year. Official data which our newspaper recently received from police indicate that as of June 2011, the number of murders had risen by 40% – 74 for the first half of 2011 versus 53 for both the first half of 2010 and 2009.
“When the truce was forged, we were on track to exceed the 2010 murder rate. No doubt!” said Barrow. “The success of the gang truce allowed us to come in under the 2010 figures.”
Barrow told Amandala that he is “‘naturally pleased’—if that is the right word, that we came in under the 2010 murder figures.”
He said that he is also pleased with the success of the gang truce in Belize City, which was forged at the end of August, early September, although he lamented heightened concerns over lethal home invasions out west. The Prime Minister said that a new officer-in-charge has been appointed to help address the problems there. He also told us that although the incidents in the west are not thought to be gang-related, the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) has also been called to assist with stepped up Patrol Branch efforts in the area.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister described the recent double murder of two Carmelita women as “tragic,” but, he said, “I don’t know how that can be guarded against.”
He said that these kinds of murders sadly appear to be the new “fact of life” in Belize. The Prime Minister also lamented the recent killing of 9-year-old Aaron Pope, on George Street, but told us that no one involved in the gang truce was responsible for that killing.
We had asked Mr. Barrow late last year to provide us with an official figure of how much the gang truce is costing taxpayers. He supplied confirmed figures to us today, indicating that Financial Secretary Joe Waight has indicated that they have spent $880,000 since August on what is a combination of programs involving the Conscious Youth Development Program and the gang truce work program, with $50,000 a week channeled through the Ministry of Works.
Mary Vasquez, Program Director of RESTORE Belize, to whom the Prime Minister referred us for more details on the number of people engaged, said that the truce began with 8 gangs; now it’s up to 13 gangs and there are discussions to bring 2 more gangs into the truce program.
Up to the end of December 2011, said Vasquez, there were 225 persons in the gang truce program, being executed under the Ministry of Works. Vasquez could not say exactly how much money those persons are paid weekly, but the tally, she said, is in the region of $45,000.
She said that there are also 60 persons employed under the Conscious Youth Development Program, apart from the persons employed with the Poverty Alleviation Project.