SAN JOSE SUCCOTZ—Acrid billows of thick, black smoke filled the atmosphere since early this morning near Mile 71 on the George Price Highway as an irate mob of almost 300 villagers from San Jose Succotz spontaneously staged a fiery protest in which they blockaded the active roadway at the height of the day to express their displeasure with what they believe was deliberate foot-dragging by police with regards to the prosecution of disgraced Deputy Commissioner of Police, Miguel Segura, who was proven to be intoxicated at the time his SUV slammed head-on into a taxi which was heading to San Ignacio early this past Saturday morning, killing a mother of five in the process.
As a means of getting the attention of the authorities, fellow villagers and relatives of Yolanda Valencia, 54, who perished in the traffic accident, and Yanie Evan Cu, 28, the taxi driver, who is presently clinging to life at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City, took it upon themselves to launch a campaign of sustained civil disobedience at the junction of the George Price Highway and San Jose Succotz, where both victims resided. They burned debris and used rubber tires across the highway, which eventually disrupted the flow of traffic.
The people gathered in droves, placards in hand, demanding that justice be served, and that ACP Segura be made to “face the music” for his actions.
Amandala was on the scene as both the bonfire and the villagers raged, and we spoke with Elito Pook, a resident of Succotz and friend of the accident victims, who told us that he believes that it is an obvious case of skullduggery on the part of the Police Department, who, he mentioned, have a history of sheltering their fellow officers, in this case, the second-in-command, from facing the consequences for their misdeeds.
He said, “We’re not happy because we see how the law is being deviated from its due process when it comes to Mr. Segura being charged and prosecuted. We know that if any normal civilian caused such an accident, they would be detained, charged forthwith and punished to the full extent of the law, so why are they taking so long to charge Mr. Segura? Because he is a senior policeman? We’re asking for justice, we need justice. I know that we are doing wrong, but we see injustice being committed against us and we want our voices to be heard and to be treated equally. No one is perfect, but [at the same time], no one is better than the other; we are all Belizeans.”
The unrelenting villagers assembled at the roadside shortly after dawn and wasted no time in taking action in order for their demands to be met, even though senior police officers from the Cayo District later went to the scene in an attempt to negotiate with the protestors, who insisted to see Segura indicted.
Dindsdale Thompson, the Officer in Charge of San Ignacio police, first tried to pacify the angry crowd, saying, “Rest assured, right now, the police is not hiding or covering anything at any time in any way. It must go through a process. Our laws do not support that you are guilty until you are proven innocent. The process right now is that the case file is going up to the DPP’s office, whereby the DPP will then instruct what will be the next move from there. Mr. Segura is not working [right now]; he is off on interdiction.”
However, the people were unfazed, and some minutes later, firefighters arrived and attempted to douse the blaze. The villagers reacted by hurling rocks and pint bottles in their direction.
Daniel Arzu, the Officer Commanding Benque Viejo police and the lead investigator in the case, then stepped in and met with the families of the accident victims before addressing the crowd.
He said, “As the lead investigator here, I am showing impartiality and doing my job to the best of my ability. I have prepared the charges. I have served Mr. Segura with 5 copies of traffic-related offences ranging from manslaughter by negligence, causing death by careless conduct, negligent grievous harm, driving without due care and attention and driving with alcohol concentration. Now you all need to work with me because I need to have Mr. Segura arraigned here this morning, and we need to access the road so that we can reach to the courtroom.”
The riled up, skeptical villagers then demanded to see the charges, and refused to disperse, while the commanding officers expressed sympathy to them while trying to get the situation under control.
In the meanwhile, traffic was blocked for at least a mile on both sides for the entire time. Commuters had to disembark from their mode of transport on one end and then walk to the other end to get to another means of transport to continue their journey.
Among those affected by the blockade were tourists who were visiting the area, and we spoke to a tour guide who told us that although business has been impacted, he empathized with the protestors.
“It has affected me a great deal, because we depend on tourism to provide food for our kids, but I think the coin has two sides, because the families are being affected tremendously, and not only because they lost a loved one, but because they think that justice has not been served here, and that the process has been delayed, so I think they want to set a precedence.
“In other words, what is good for Tom is good for Harry, because how many times have accidents happened at this point here? How many lives have been lost right at this point between San Ignacio and Benque? A lot of lives have been lost in the past because of drunk driving, but the point is people are dissatisfied because they feel like justice has two levels.
“In other words, if you are politically connected, or you are in a high position, then the case is handled differently, and the people are not really satisfied with it”, he said.
There were flare-ups every now and then, especially when officials moved in to try and clear the highway, which resulted in the firemen and policemen being showered with various objects until they retreated.
Other protestors told us that they are simply fed up with the tendency of police officers to protect their comrades even though they know that they are wrong, and one man even pointed out that if the taxi driver was drunk and had caused the accident, then he would have been thrown in jail already.
Another source of the crowd’s ire was a video recording captured by an eyewitness, which went “viral.” It showed the Deputy Commissioner casually exiting his vehicle after the accident, with an uncaring expression on his face after the accident, before lighting up a cigarette and pulling up his somehow unbuttoned pants.
Police managed to maintain control for the most part, however, showing a lot of commendable restraint, and shortly after 2:00 p.m., after lengthy negotiations between a few of the villagers and police, the situation was diffused and the crowd left the area, but only after they affirmed that their objective was met and ACP Segura was to be charged criminally in court for allegedly causing the death of Yolanda Valencia.