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Guilt by birth

EditorialGuilt by birth

If one decided to be brutally frank, one could describe these editorials we write as constituting self-stimulation. These editorials do not affect the status quo in Belize, because the landlords in South Stann Creek, the oligarchs in the Pomona Valley enclave, the industrialists and agro-industrialists in Spanish Lookout and Blue Creek, and the wealthy immigrant merchants in Belize City and the Corozal Free Zone continue on their merry way with hardly a blink or a stutter.

It is that Belizean status quo which last week moved to incarcerate George McKenzie, Jr. indefinitely on a murder charge without proper investigation. Yes, it is the Police Department which gets the blame here. It is something they have been doing over and over again, for as long as a quarter century. To begin with, there are young men who are treated as congenitally and permanently “guilty,” because of the poverty-stricken Belize City neighborhoods into which they are born. The Police Department is overwhelmed by the epidemic of crime and violence in the old capital. These police officers are under pressure from the ruling politicians to “solve” crimes: the most they can do in most cases is pick one or two of those who are guilty by birth and charge them. The unfortunate youth who are charged can spend years in jail on remand before they are cleared in court.

But, the politicians are satisfied with the police “solution” because the Belizean public, with its limited attention span, always calms down after an arrest is made in a high profile murder case. Under pressure, the Police Department has found a way to take some of the pressure off themselves: the Police have found a way to relieve some of their chronic scapegoat pressure.

For every George McKenzie, Jr., who spent six days in police custody on suspicion of committing a murder which he did not, there are countless Belizean young men who are now in jail who will not and can not be convicted in a court of law, but who are serving years in prison because they have been found guilty by Belize’s socio-economic reality. There is rank injustice in this system, and there is serious cruelty to human beings.

This newspaper began as the organ of an activist organization in 1969. The leaders of this activist organization were tried several times in Supreme Court and many times in Magistrate’s Court between 1970 and 1972. Because the cases were well publicized and the activist leaders were usually able to procure legal representation, they received more justice than those we are now describing as guilty by birth.

The activist organization collapsed in 1973 because half its leadership found hope for change within the electoral political system. They began to support the United Democratic Party (UDP), officially founded in September of 1973.

This newspaper did not take their UDP direction, and instead entered an alliance with the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) between 1975 and 1980. On this newspaper’s ending that alliance, fate had it so that Amandala actually began to become part of the establishment the following year – 1981. That is when this newspaper became the leading one in Belize.

Amandala became part of the Belizean establishment, but Amandala never became part of the Belizean oligarchy. We know who the oligarchy are, and we know that the nice ride they are getting in 2014 Belize is not a free ride: the oligarchy, in their various manifestations, have paid off the ruling politicians and the highest ranking public officers. Nothing like what happened to George McKenzie, Jr. will ever happen to those who protect themselves with the payoff.

If you say that it is too fine a distinction we make between the establishment and the oligarchy, you may have an argument. Among those who are guilty by birth, however, they know that this newspaper and this media house will never be silent in the face of callous, systemic injustice. That is the limited role we play in this third millennial Belize.

Although this newspaper is unquestionably the leading newspaper in Belize, we do not claim to speak for the majority of the Belizean people. Remember now, the majority concept is a sacred concept in parliamentary democracy. Societies arrive at the majority concept by means of free and fair elections. But the oligarchy of Belize have found a way to control elections in their favor. Essentially, that controlling mechanism is campaign financing.

In 1969, the pre-conditions for armed revolution in Belize did not exist because the vast majority of the Belizean people believed that it was possible to achieve real change through the electoral process. 45 years later, many Belizeans have lost such a faith in elections, but it is possible that a majority of Belizeans still believe in elections.

Compared to 1969, the level of murderous violence in Belize is absolutely frightening. This has become an unstable society. The Belizean people expect anything to happen on any given day. This newspaper considers itself a part of Belize’s overall societal inadequacy. We must all take the blame for what happened to George McKenzie, Jr. last week. This is our Belize, and our nation-state is one where injustice appears to be cemented in place. If this is indeed the case, then we can expect things to become worse before they improve. This, we think, is the lesson of history.

Power to the people. Power in the struggle.

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