The Belize Cabinet’s recent decision to renew and upgrade its commitment to the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU), putting more boots on the ground, as it is said, is a case of now choosing the stick instead of the carrot. Where both the 2014 and the 2015 September celebrations were concerned, the Government of Belize chose the carrot approach in Belize City, which involved pumping some money into the Southside. But now the general elections are over, the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) has a brand new five-year term, and there is no political pressure or incentive to use the velvet glove with the desperate youth. Hence, the iron fist of the GSU.
There is always the need to control crime and violence in order to protect the financial bonanza for Belize City businesses, and increasingly the tourist industry, which the Centenary celebrations represent. But this year’s September celebrations are even more critical for the ruling party, because their administration has been much maligned of late.
It all began with the repeated humiliations in the Chiquibul and on the Sarstoon River, and continued with all the weak, defensive diplomacy on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Finally, on April 21, the President of Guatemala threatened military action against our beloved Belize. No sooner had the Guatemalan agitation begin to calm down, than the horrendous BTL settlement with Lord Michael Ashcroft devastated the Belize treasury. Finally, after the traumas of invasion threat and financial catastrophe, the UDP administration began to reel from the decapitation murder of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas, which was apparently orchestrated by a wealthy, mysterious gentlemen with whom UDP Cabinet Ministers and officials, not to mention law enforcement officers, had been known to socialize most cordially and from whom at least two Cabinet Ministers had accepted financial favors.
Some time ago, Cabinet apparently decided to make a grand show during the 2016 September celebrations which would paper over all the embarrassments and glorify Belizean heroism and patriotism using the historic backdrop of the Battle of St. George’s Caye and Belize’s Independence anniversary. This was clever political strategy on the fumbling UDP’s part, I think. It was, of course, cynical. It was ad hoc. This is a mere Band-Aid.
Please understand, dear readers. The UDP is trying to do the best it can. The People’s United Party (PUP) was not any better, and I will give you an example from 1992.
The then ruling PUP formed a group called a Crimes Commission, or something like that. My father was a leading member of the group. He proposed the formation of a National Service Corps. At the time, the bloody gang violence, only a few years old here, had caught the Belizean public’s attention. Early 1992, if you remember, featured the sensational Itza and Tunan murders. The PUP Government Minister who nixed the National Service Corps idea, on the grounds that it would be too expensive, would be exposed a decade later as one of the biggest thieves ever where Belize’s consolidated funds are concerned. How much has it cost Belize in blood since 1992 not to have established an institution to absorb, discipline, and train these young men who have swollen the ranks of the gangs?
Let me ask you another question. Since Independence, how much money has come into Belize for various women’s programs, as opposed to male ones? Recently, I heard it said that the latest University of Belize graduation class comprised 70 percent women. It figures.
The largest and most promising industry to emerge from Belize City’s Southside in the last quarter century was semi-pro basketball. There were Government Ministers in both PUP and UDP administrations who threw semi-pro, in its original, budget-focused phase from 1992 to 1997, under the bus. In fact, destroying semi-pro became a policy decision of the 1993-1998 UDP. The two major parties would have to enter confession mode for this story to be properly told, and you know that ain’t about to happen. As most of you readers know, I cannot be the one to tell the semi-pro story. I was too deeply involved.
I will say this, that my experiences in semi-pro basketball convinced me that the power structure in Belize, which includes both political parties, does not have a serious humanitarian concern about the Southside youth. In a moment of weakness a couple weeks ago, I wrote a column in this newspaper proposing the formation of a commission to address and alleviate some of the old capital’s conflict situations. After writing the column, I soon became bitter with myself. I berated myself for not having learned my lesson from semi-pro. Not only does no one in the power structure really care, not only will they not assist, the ruling politicians will actually crush any program which begins to work if they feel such a program is embarrassing them.
Almost as soon as UBAD was formed in early 1969, the late Ismail Shabazz began insisting that the organization had to acquire some land. He made it his business to lease the swamp lot for UBAD where Kremandala is now located on Partridge Street. The point I want to make to you is that at that time in 1969, and even after our newspaper first moved back here in late 1972, Partridge Street was the western end or western boundary of the Southside.
There were no gangs in 1972. There was only poverty. Today, there is still poverty, but now there are gangs. The law-abiding public is scared of the gangs, and rightfully so.
I know that Belizeans who live outside of Belize City and read this newspaper, often feel that too much attention is paid to the old capital. Belize went through a phase in our anti-colonial days, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, when, having become conscious that our economy and our society had been skewed because the British had made Belize City too privileged as their colonial administrative center, Belizean leaders tried to focus on the rest of our country. Establishing a new capital in Belmopan in 1970 was an important part of the process of freeing ourselves of the traditional Belize City dominance.
Belize City lost pride of place in some respects, but Belize City remained the population and financial center of Belize. For the last quarter century, Belize’s City’s crime and violence have grabbed the headlines. But the continuing strategy of various immigrant business people to buy up real estate and construct huge residential and business buildings in Belize City suggests that the Southside, as a physical reality, isn’t going anywhere soon. It must be that it is the people who have lived on the Southside during colonialism who will end up being forced to leave.
I believe the young men who live on the Southside know that they are viewed as problems by the power structure. The young men have become bitter. The power structure must pay attention to them at Centenary time, or they will disrupt the business of celebrations. In 2014 and 2015, the power structure offered the youth a carrot. In 2016, the power structure is bringing out a club. This is real.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie.