Editorial — 13 January 2018
Belize’s Ides of March

It is a common pastime of older generations to criticize the behavior of young people. Older generations, however, often do not properly appreciate the changes of circumstances which affect the behavior of young people.

Today we would like to consider a phenomenon which took place in Belize between 1969 and 1972, and then consider the changes of circumstances which have taken place since then. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was an unprecedented level of youth and student activism in this society, but we have not seen such youth and student activism repeated here on a consistent basis since that time. Youth and student activism became spectacular, ad hoc style, during the Heads of Agreement uprising in late March and early April of 1981. That activism was not sustained. Since then, nothing.

The youth and student activism of the late 1960s/early 1970s was led by young university graduates and students who had, to a certain extent, an African, Mayan, and Palestinian agenda. There was also, to a greater or lesser extent, a socialist agenda. Of the two most prominent organizations formed during those years of activism, the United Black Association  (UBAD) survived much longer than did the People’s Action  Committee (PAC), but the PAC leaders actually continued their activism when they began working inside the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) in 1970 or thereafter.

Our point is that it was the UBAD organization, which founded this newspaper in August of 1969, which had regular, sustained confrontations with the security forces of Belize. There was no BDF army in British Honduras in 1969, nor was there a Coast Guard.  All there was, was a “special forces” police unit, which was referred to as “paramilitary.” This was in addition to the regular police force, which did not carry arms back then.

As far as we understand, the PUP Government of Belize had decided to form the paramilitary as a specific response to uprisings in Belize City which had taken place because of the Thirteen Proposals in 1966 and the Seventeen Proposals in 1968. The paramilitary personnel were very fit, active, proud, and macho.  But, they were trained locally.  Prominent names we remember from the paramilitary were those of Charles Good, Ornell Brooks, Callie Gillett, and Richard Myvett. (The first notable success of the paramilitary was the recapture of the escaped and notorious convict, Edward Rodney, in the latter part of 1968.)

The paramilitary could not be compared to the heavily armed, foreign-trained security units we have in Belize today, such as the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) and the Special Assignment Team (SAT). The opinion in the streets today is that these third millennium security units are trained to beat down and to kill. The streets were confirmed in their opinion after the George Street slaughter in January of 2013, and more so after the circumstances surrounding the murder of Fareed Ahmad in late December of 2017 became public knowledge.

To understand what is going on today in Belize, you must have an understanding of how security forces operate in the oligarchical republics of Guatemala and Honduras to the immediate west and south of Belize. In Guatemala and Honduras, the rich, elite classes routinely employ elements of their security forces to eliminate activist personalities such as trade unionists, journalists, teachers, artists, community organizers, and so on.

The elite elements of regional security forces are trained by American and Israeli experts to the level necessary to battle with Colombian, Mexican, and other regional drug traffickers, and also potential terrorist elements. When these elite security elements are employed by corrupt politicians and brutal oligarchs to enter neighbourhood communities and discipline activists, it is usually a case of massive overkill. Trained to fight with cartel and terrorist individuals and groups, elements like the GSU and SAT wreak havoc in the neighbourhoods we refer to as “the streets.”

Since independence in 1981, the streets of Belize City have become more and more dangerous in different ways, so that there has been a movement of the desk Belizeans, as we may describe educated Belizeans, to the safer Northside outskirts of Belize City and suburban communities. Desk people have almost no contact with the special security units, but street people regularly do. And street Belizeans have become very concerned about these security units, concerned to the point of fear. It is past time for desk people to pay attention to what is happening here. It took the security units four or five years to move from gangsters to Muslims: the next step is the media.

We cannot expect our young people to become activists in this type of environment. When UBAD ran the streets here more than four and a half decades ago, we understood the paramilitary to be physical and dangerous: we did not understand the paramilitary to be psychopathic killers who were being rewarded for scalps. In the context of 2018, both the UBAD insurgents and their paramilitary antagonists of the late 1960s/early 1970s would probably have to be considered innocents.

At this newspaper, we consider the responses of the Government of Belize to the January 2013 George Street slaughter, the Belmopan beheading of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas in 2016, and the December 2017 execution of Fareed Ahmad to have been inadequate. This is how Belizeans in the streets feel. We know, because Kremandala is located in the mean streets.

Those of you Belizeans who are regular readers of this newspaper are the specific Belizeans who decide elections. You are what the political scientists refer to as independent voters, and your priority is our community and our society. You make the difference between the UDP and the PUP.

This newspaper believes that the Belizean people need to send some kind of a message to the ruling politicians in March’s national municipal elections. If we don’t send a message, the UDP fat cats will think that they’re doing just fine. And they ain’t. This is for sure. The UDP is taking us down that Guatemala and Honduras road, and we Belizeans have been walking behind them with our eyes wide open and our brains in paralysis.

For the message to be sent on the Ides of March, our desk Belizeans have to pay more attention to the streets. Our job at this newspaper is to instill a sense of some urgency in more comfortable Belizeans. We need extra effort on March 7. We are very fortunate in Belize that our elections are still free and fair. This is not always the case in the republics west and south of us. Yes, in Belize our elections are usually inordinately influenced by money, but the Belizean people have shown on more than one occasion that we can look past the money when the issues are dramatic enough. Now is such a time.  Look past the money.

Power to the people.

Which American gave the tsunami order?

Some questions need to be asked about the tsunami order which caused Belizeans to become panicked on Tuesday night this week between 9 and 11 p.m. We understand that it is better to be safe than to be sorry, but the results of our Tuesday night exercise suggest that the person who gave the order over there in some American office was more in guess mode than science mode.

Firstly, the emergency tsunami advisory was for Belize and Honduras. Guatemala has coastline in that immediate region where the Belize and Honduras coastlines meet. Mexico has coastline which meets the Belizean seafront in the north. That’s why the scholars say the Belize Barrier Reef is Meso-American. So then, this Tuesday night tsunami only had the names of Honduras and Belize on it? What was going on in the emergency centers of Mexico and Guatemala? Did anybody in Honduras panic the way we were doing in Belize? And if they did not, then, why not?

One reason we have to ask these questions derives from the fact that Belize has one of the finest hurricane preparation programs in this region. We know, from long experience and practice, how to get ready for hurricanes. Earthquakes are a different matter, because there are no warnings and there is no time to prepare. Tsunamis are closer to being earthquakes than to being hurricanes, because tsunamis give little warning. The common ingredient between tsunamis and hurricanes is big water which is out of control.

The difference between hurricanes and tsunamis is the available reaction time. For hurricanes, we have several days. On Tuesday night, we had a half hour or more for Mr. Tsunami, but not as much as an hour. What can you do in a half hour without risking chaos in the streets of Belize City and on the roads leading out thereof?

We Belizeans never take earthquakes seriously. We have no history of being affected. Hurricanes don’t panic us, because we know our reaction procedures. On Tuesday night someone out there introduced a joker in our psychological deck. In the three and a half century history of Belize, we have absolutely no record, neither written or oral, of being affected by a tsunami. If you’re going to start talking tsunami here, you better have your facts straight. That’s what we’re saying.

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Deshawn Swasey

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