We say that we have strong governments in Belize under the Ministerial constitution which came into effect with the general election of March 1961. We describe the various governments since then as “strong,” because, no matter how narrow their election victory or how violent the protests sparked by specific crises, all our governments finish their five-year term of office, unless they themselves choose, for whatever the reason(s), as in June of 1993 and March of 2012, to seek an early renewal of mandate.
The violent crises which have occurred in Belize, such as the Heads of Agreement in March of 1981 and the union-led protests of January/February 2005, do not take place along ethnic, religious, or geographical (District) lines. Our crises have a national characteristic and generally take place along party political lines.
In early 2003, the United States, planet earth’s only superpower, invaded a nation-state in the Middle East known as Iraq. Iraq was being ruled at the time by a strong arm dictator named Saddam Hussein. Hussein had come to power by force of arms, supported by a minority Sunni Muslim political party. In neighboring Iran, which is basically a Shiite Muslim state, forces loyal to the Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious leader, in 1979 had overthrown a monarchical dictatorship run by the Shah of Iran, a leader who had been supported by successive United States governments. The United States then supported Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in a war he waged from 1980 to 1988 against Khomeini’s Iran.
Soon after that war ended, Hussein, mistakenly believing that the Americans would not intervene, invaded oil-rich Kuwait, Iraq’s neighbor to the south. But the United States immediately led a military coalition which expelled Iraq from Kuwait by force, while leaving Hussein in power in Iraq.
Saddam was a brutal leader of an oil-rich country divided among majority Shiite Muslims, minority Sunni Muslims, and Kurds. Iraq was a stable, prosperous society under Hussein. There are scholars who say only brutal leaders can control former colonial states like Iraq which have become independent with populations comprised of powerful factions which hate each other, and which states sit on top of valuable natural resources.
Be that as it may, the United States and Great Britain, supported by a few token allies, invaded Iraq in March of 2003 in order to take out Hussein and, presumably, install a democratic framework. The real purpose of the invasion was to provide American and British oil companies with an opportunity to sign oil extraction contracts with new Iraqi governments less hard line than Hussein’s. Saddam was quickly removed, and later hanged, but crazy violence raged in Iraq for years. Finally, after Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, the Americans began to prepare for a military exit, leaving a majority Shiite government in power.
A few days ago, however, major civil war broke out in Iraq, for the reason that the minority Sunnis and Kurds are not satisfied with Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite government, which is, incidentally, friendly with both the Iranian and Syrian regimes. Sunni Muslim forces took control of Mosul in a bloody insurrection. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, is only about 100 miles or so from Baghdad, the capital city. Tikrit, an important city in an area with a lot of oil, fell to rebels. (We’re not sure if these are Sunnis or Kurds.)
Belize is much smaller than Iraq and has much less oil. Belize has a strong, democratically-elected government. But, over the last two decades the justice system has virtually collapsed in Belize. On Friday morning in broad daylight, while the House of Representatives was holding debates in Belmopan, on North Front Street right across from City Hall in the old capital a lone gunman came up, in front of many witnesses, and started firing at a human target. Wounded, his target tried to flee, but the gunman ran him down and finished him off. This type of thing has happened before in Belize City. The question is, how strong can the government be if this society is deathly afraid of its gunmen?
The Jamaican anthropologist, Dr. Herbert Gayle, told Belizeans a few years ago, in a researched report, that the murder rate on the Southside of Belize City has reached what the United Nations would consider civil war levels. More than two decades ago, Belize began to become violent. All the governments since then, as the governments before, have been strong. And Belizean differences along ethnic and religious lines have not contributed to the violence.
So, what the hell is going on here? Well, there are outside forces which are very much interested in Belize’s natural resources, such as oil and land. These outside forces do not give a damn about the Belizean people. They go directly to our strong governments and they buy out the ruling politicians who have been elected by us, the Belizean people. These ruling politicians then use their strong governments to cater to those wealthy outside forces, while crushing the Belizean people and denying us opportunities. Desperate and panicking, the Belizean people, especially our young males, have turned against each other violently.
Things in Belize will never become as bloody as they are in Iraq. Nevertheless, a big problem here is that all we can see ahead is a worsening of the situation in Belize. As a result, the Belizean people have lost hope. Cynicism has set in. This is a bad state of affairs.