Highlights — 28 May 2016 — by Johnelle McKenzie
Some Belizeans feel more threatened by violent crime than Guatemala’s aggression towards Belize

BELIZE CITY, Tues. May 24, 2016–The majority of Belizeans are more concerned about crime at home than the Guatemalan threat at the border, a recent informal poll conducted by Amandala revealed.

Amandala questioned approximately 50 people to get a sense of what people were thinking — which of the situations pose a greater threat to them: the threat to our territorial integrity by Guatemala with the incidents that have been taking place at the Sarstoon and the Chiquibul reserve, near our border, or the crime in the country, which has escalated alarmingly, with an ongoing sequence of murders that shows no signs of ceasing.

The small poll revealed that twenty-eight persons felt that a greater threat was posed by crime within the country, while only thirteen felt that the greater threat was from the border with Guatemala. Eight people felt it was both – the Guatemala threat, and crime.

According to a report obtained by Amandala from the Commissioner of Police’s Office, at the end of the first quarter of this year, a total of 34 persons were murdered. In January, six persons were murdered in ten days, a record that was broken in May with eleven murders in ten days.

A mother who lives in San Pedro told Amandala, “I feel more threatened by the crime in our country, because if we can’t solve those issues, imagine solving the situation at the border.”

She went on to say that she knew Mervin Almendarez, the football player who was killed on May 6 in San Pedro, who was also a football coach of a little league team. She added that now the children he was mentoring are left without a coach.

Also, a father who lives in Independence told Amandala that he feels that the situation at the border is being used by Guatemala as a distraction from their real problem, which is poverty.

Meanwhile, another gentleman felt that the greater threat was from Guatemala. He told Amandala, “The Guatemala threat is to our national security, which is scarier, since there is more at stake.”

The situation with Guatemala involves the Guatemalan military occupying the Sarstoon as if it belongs to them, and aggressing Belizeans, including our military, who enter the Sarstoon on official duties. There were several incidents, including a standoff between the Belize National Coast Guard and the Guatemalan Navy, on May 28, 2015, in the Sarstoon.

Another incident occurred on August 17, 2015, when the Belize Territorial Volunteers took four boats on a trip to the Sarstoon Island, but on their way they encountered two Guatemalan Navy boats which stopped them before they could reach the island — so they eventually had to retreat.

A press release from the Government of Belize had revealed that on March 12, an incident took place between Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF) and the Belize Defence Force at the Forwarding Operating Base that was being constructed along the Sarstoon River. The tension between Belize and Guatemala escalated even further when a Guatemalan minor was shot and killed by the Belize Defence Force on April 20, in the Chiquibul reserve. He, his father and brother were illegally farming in the area.

This led to the President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, condemning the incident without knowing the facts. He thereafter deployed more troops along the border.

Another interviewee told Amandala that Guatemala is just being a bully and reiterated that he is much more concerned about the crime at home.

A businessman told Amandala that he is more concerned about the crime, since businesses have been targeted by the criminals and now these businesses close earlier, which has led to a loss of revenue.

A retired teacher told Amandala that she feels threatened by both the situation on the border and the crime taking place in Belize. As a result of the crime, she no longer leaves her home at night. Also, quite a few of the persons who were recently murdered were her past students. She commends Assistant Commissioner of Police Chester Williams for the efforts he is making, since she believes that the children need to be cautioned before they fall into gang activities.

The breakdown of law and order and the senseless killing of our young people, many of whom are in their prime and have a lot to contribute to the country, appears to some Belizeans to be a more pressing concern than the Guatemalan threat at our western and southern borders.

According to statistics obtained from the Ministry of Health, 96 persons between the ages of 1 and 49 were killed in 2013; in 2014 the number of those in that age group who were murdered was 90 — a little less than the previous year, but still significant; and in 2015, a total of 89 persons from that age group were murdered — one less than the year before.

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