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Saturday, July 11, 2020
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From The Publisher

“It is not known whether Belize police are still seeking Belizean businessman, Angel Espat, who has been reported as being seen in Chetumal by a local newspaper.

“Eugene Thompson was Angel Espat’s driver. Espat was a partner in Belize Air Cargo Ltd. with Jorge Diaz Barrera, a Mexican narcotics trafficker killed in Texas last year. According to a local newspaper, however, Espat was also a high official in the Freetown division of the People’s United Party.

“When the police sought him for questioning in connection with Castellanos’ murder after Thompson’s arrest, Espat fled the country.”

– from the headline story in Amandala no. 687, Friday, August 27, 1982

In mid-May of 1981, while Belize was under a state of emergency, a blind guy by the name of Gilberto Rivero, if I remember his name correctly, brought a copy of a Mexican magazine, Presencia, to the old Amandala building. It appears he also took copies of that magazine to The Reporter and The Beacon, which was the newspaper organ of the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) at the time.

All three newspapers re-produced an article in the magazine which said that a Mexican marijuana cultivator and trafficker, reportedly shot dead in Houston, had claimed that the Belize Premier, Hon. George Price, was his partner. The Mexican was known to use Belize diplomatic licence plates on his Mercedes-Benz and to cross the border frequently back-and-forth between Chetumal and Belize.

Mr. Price demanded an apology from the three newspapers. His lawyers, Derek Courtenay and Glenn Godfrey, did not demand an apology from the Mexican magazine which was the source of the article. When the Belizean newspapers did not apologize, they were sued for libel.

Both Amandala and Reporter were represented in Supreme Court by brother attorneys, Dean and Denys Barrow, who also represented the two newspapers at the Court of Appeals. In every single case, foreign judges, one from Portugal and one from Barbados, ruled decisively against the newspapers. They had to pay the plaintiff, Mr. Price, big bucks.

Incredibly, The Beacon was never tried in court for the Presencia article. Our sources say that the lawyer for the Beacon, Michael Young, requested trial by jury instead of by a judge, and that turned out to be that. The Beacon was never taken to court, and never had to pay a fine for the exact same libel for which the other two were fined.

The aforementioned libel trials began in April of 1982, after Belize had become independent the September of the previous year, and I remember that the atmosphere in the Supreme Court was repressive. The whole of Belize knew that Mr. Price would never be personally involved in something like drug trafficking, so it was nigh impossible to convince the Belizean public that something had to be wrong, that we were reproducing the Mexican article for the information of Belizeans, and with the argument of “fair comment.”

The very year of the trials, however, just four months afterwards, the truth began to come out. There was a drug trafficker inside Mr. Price’s Freetown Constituency Committee. That drug trafficker ended up having to flee to Chetumal, where he lived the rest of his life in exile. This had to be the man to whom the Mexican drug trafficker had referred in the Mexican magazine article.

Back then, not that many Belizeans knew how big drug trafficking was becoming in Belize, and the fact that it had infiltrated the Government of Belize. The power structure of Belize felt that it had to kill that Mexican magazine story at its roots, and so the two Belizean newspapers were the sacrifice.

There is a point in many litigations when it begins to cost you more money to defend yourself than to throw in the towel. In the case of that Mexican magazine story, I knew something was wrong somewhere, but I didn’t have the money to investigate the matter. I reached as far as a conversation with a Sergeant of Police who had worked at the Santa Elena border. He told me yes, he had seen the Mexican with the Belize diplomatic plates.

The Barrow brothers were doing the case free of cost. They provided a fundamental defence, but in order to win that case we would have had to do serious investigative reporting. We would have had to go into Quintana Roo to seek the truth.

Belize is a country where people are always talking about things they see or hear about in America. Investigative reporting is one of these. None of the newspapers in Belize is rich enough to do that. And, if they had the money, they would have to look for reckless reporters. It’s absolutely too dangerous in The Jewel.

Sometimes it’s actually crazy. When the evidence began to accumulate that the CIA was involved with cocaine trafficking in order to help finance the anti-communist contras in their fight against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, it just seemed like too much paranoia and conspiracy theory business. I mean, the American government is the one that’s waging the “war on drugs.” How could they also be trafficking?

Well, these things happen at the fringes of the authority structure, where, when lower level people get busted, the politicians at the top can routinely and easily disown them. I think that in 1984 the CIA was moving cocaine through the Belize International Airport, but the DEA didn’t know the traffickers were working for the CIA. So in May of that year the DEA prepared a list of cocaine trafficking indictments in Florida which included five Belizeans working for the CIA in Belize. This is what they call “getting your wires crossed.” The DEA indictments, incidentally, included a very senior Belize police official.

I have said to you before that Mr. Price did not have to give up power in 1984. He gave up his power because he wanted the best for Belize’s democracy. At the end of the day, he was a true nationalist, and I give him maximum respect for that.

32 years after independence, we Belizeans are struggling to move from colonialism to nationalism. To make this move, sometimes men (and women) have to make sacrifices. Sometimes we have to allow ourselves to be humbled in public when we have enough power to behave otherwise. When you are big enough, you can act small. Thus endeth the lesson.

Power to the people.

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