Editorial — 26 October 2012

This newspaper is not opposed, in principle, to the concept of compensation. Neither do we believe the people of Belize are so opposed. This is, in fact, an old legal concept which most often comes into play in cases of manslaughter by negligence. But, when the Belize government decided on some “compassionate compensation” for the family of a Guatemalan intruder who had been shot dead recently by a BDF soldier, they did not appreciate how serious and delicate an issue the Guatemalan claim is, and how troubled the Belizean people are by repeated, increasing Guatemalan incursions into our territory for fishing, xate-gathering, logging, gold panning, and other purposes.

The case of Steven Buckley, moreover, had been sticking in the throats of many Belizeans. A husband, father and hard-working tradesman, he had been shot in the face by a senior police officer who had been drinking. If any case was crying out for compensation, that was it. But, years had gone by and the matter of Mr. Buckley appeared consigned to the dustbin of local history.

In a matter of days, a trespasser Guatemalan was receiving compensation for his family. The Belize government was throwing gasoline on fire. As the immediate grumbling began building into anger, then outrage, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the person of Chief Executive Officer, Alexis Rosado, tried to distract the Belizean people with a story that this compensation money, or some of it, would be coming out of a fund controlled by the Organization of American States (OAS). As we understand from Channel 7, Rosado had explicitly referred to the OAS fund in a government propaganda show on television. The OAS lie, however, established no real traction. Last weekend’s press conference by the Belize Coalition for Justice (BCJ), a national coming together of many organizations, a press conference which screamed condemnation of Belmopan’s “compensation” package, took center stage.

On Tuesday this week, the OAS Secretary-General, Jose Insulza, came to Belize in a follow-up to a meeting he had held the day before, Monday, October 22, in Guatemala City with the Foreign Ministers of Belize and Guatemala. That meeting had considered the financing for the education campaigns to be held in Belize and Guatemala leading up to next October’s (2013) simultaneous referenda in the two countries to decide on whether the Guatemalan claim should be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). When the Belizean media routinely asked Insulza about OAS compensation for the slain Guatemalan’s family, the OAS diplomat was offended, insulted even. There was no such OAS fund. The OAS does not involve itself in compensation. The Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs had messed up yet again, this time on a regional stage, and the Government of Belize had been embarrassed.

It is easy to single out Alexis Rosado. He is the obvious scapegoat. But, senior officials often take bullets for their bosses. This OAS fund lie could have been fabricated at a higher level, and passed on to Rosado for circulation. All the same, Alexis Rosado is in trouble. On an issue so tied in with the dangerous Guatemala claim to Belize and ongoing Guatemala incursions, you can’t tell an outright lie to the people of Belize. You just can’t.

A tradition in Belize of political parties owning and operating newspapers began with the People’s United Party’s The Belize Times in 1956. It was continued with the People’s Development Movement’s establishing of The Beacon in 1969. (The Belize Billboard had been absorbed by The National Independence Party (NIP) in 1958.) The Beacon became the United Democratic Party’s People’s Pulse in the 1980’s and then The Guardian in the 1990’s.

When radio began, the then UDP government gave a radio license to Gerald Garbutt, who was fronting for Ralph Fonseca and Glenn Godfrey, for FM 2000 in 1994. FM 2000 later became Positive Vibes and openly owned by the PUP. After the PUP returned to power in 1998, they gave UDP Leader Dean Barrow a license for WAVE Radio.

The UDP leadership have fallen in love with their Guardian newspaper and their WAVE Radio. It appears UDP leadership, or one of their cronies, is behind a certain television station which broadcasts WAVE Radio material on television. There is also a WAVE TV. It is confusing.

Now, whichever party is in power subsidizes their media organs with government advertizing. Newspapers operated by the party in power have almost no circulation, but they are blessed with many advertizements. Radio stations owned by the party in power are not popular.

The point of all this is that the Barrow government chose to play fast and loose with the OAS fund lie. This is bad business. Perhaps those of us in the media business should have been suspicious from the time the OAS fund story began to appear as if through a back door. A story as big as the OAS’ becoming involved in compensation for a Guatemalan shot and killed by the Belize military, should have been formally handled with the participation of the free market media, not government-subsidized runners.

It has been the custom for politicians in power to say that they don’t read this newspaper. The fact of the matter is that almost everyone else does. Ruling politicians facing business as serious and delicate as the Guatemala claim, have to be careful not to believe their own propaganda. Amandala has been the leading newspaper in this nation for 31 years, and counting. Unlike Prensa Libre in Guatemala, we are not the voice of the socio-political, business and military elite. This newspaper came from the people and is sustained thereby. This is a major difference between Guatemala and Belize.

Mr. Man, you lied. You must be condemned. Power to the people.

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