Headline — 12 October 2012 — by Albert J. Ciego

Maximum respect, citizens of Cayo! Citizens of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, and supporters across Belize, have gotten enough of savage murders and the rapes of their young women.  They are tired of empty words from politicians, and are prepared to fight for a safer Belize.

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 11, 2012

As they threatened on Monday, October 8, despite the intervention of the Attorney General, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington and National Security CEO, Colonel George Lovell, the businesspeople of the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, firmly supported by citizens who have suffered terribly from the high crime rate and lack of court convictions, closed down businesses today.

Not only were businesses closed, but students and teachers of high schools, primary schools and universities closed down their schools in protest of the murdering and raping of female students, especially because they believe that the criminals responsible for such heinous crimes have gone free due to inept police work and the inefficiency of the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose conviction rate, the records show, is abysmally low.

In all, about 1,800 citizens staged a massive demonstration in front of the San Ignacio Magistrate’s Court building to voice their strong displeasure with the fact that their town, and Belize, seems to have become a haven for violent criminals.

The demonstration was held to send an unmistakable message to the government that they will no longer idly sit by and watch their peaceful town become a dangerous place for citizens to live, work and even study in.

The peaceful protest began at 7:00 a.m. and concluded at 6:00 p.m. Participating in the demonstration were the Belmopan branch of the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU); and students and teachers of the University of Belize; Galen University; Sacred Heart College; and high schools and primary schools in the Cayo area.

The two universities and the San Ignacio College conducted a peace run, which started at the UB Campus in Belmopan, and they were met by Galen, and then Sacred Heart College, and together, the huge run came to the Columbus Park, the site of the protest in front of the San Ignacio Courthouse, where torches were handed over to the parents of the fallen students Suzenne Martinez, Norval Belisle, Jasmine Lowe, and Sandra Leticia Ruiz, who was killed in her home in Belize City. A candle was also lit for each of them.

The president of the University of Belize’s student body, Hope Amadi, told the crowd that they, the students, did not get the support from management to attend the demonstration, since management refused to suspend classes for today, but they did it anyway to show solidarity with the families of the two fallen students, and to show that they would no longer stand idly by while their fellow students are being attacked and killed. They came to show their seriousness, he said.

Also, the president of the Belmopan branch of the BNTU, Carlin Galvez, told the demonstrators that those teachers who attended the demonstration would suffer a day’s pay cut. She said that she wanted Government to take the portion of their salary that is withheld from them and pay for the forensic lab that is much needed, but she knows, she said, that they will buy high tech vehicles instead.

In her address, she told the crowd that she was angry because the Attorney General had insulted the intelligence of the people. She then asked for 30 seconds of silence, after which she said that that was the judicial system — silence.

Also, there were many speakers who gave words of commendation to the residents of Cayo for the bold step they had taken, to stand up for their safety and for the safety of their families.

The Solidarity Movement for Justice and Peace, comprised of a number of concerned organizations, who organized the demonstration, presented a list of 8 demands to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, October 9, 2012, in which a key demand was the removal of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal.

The demands presented were: (1) denial of bail for sex offenders or to repeat offenders of serious crimes such as aggravated assault or crimes with guns; (2) a registry for sex offenders and a monitoring system for those convicted of sex crimes so that people in the community where they live can know them; (3) a properly equipped forensic lab, staffed and funded to take priority over any other infrastructure for justice; (4) enforcement of all existing laws and punitive measures against crime, including whipping of convicted rapists and the death penalty for convicted murderers; (5) removal of the Director of Public Prosecutions as quickly as possible due to a record of low convictions; (6) a properly equipped police formation in San Ignacio and Santa Elena; (7) a fully equipped and staffed sub-station in Santa Elena; (8) immediate and serious action to correct the failures and shortcomings in the justice system.

In a meeting last night at the ITVET Center in San Ignacio which began at approximately 7 p.m. and concluded at approximately 8:30, citizens walked out in protest because they felt that the Attorney General was not addressing their demands and was not offering solutions.

Elrington told the protesters in the meeting that Cayo parents were not raising their children properly, and that the citizens were not cooperating with the investigations. He also said that Government did not have money for a forensic lab, and that they, the citizens, had to do their own fundraising.

An irate citizen, in response, told Elrington to auction six of their brand new vehicles, which cost about $100,000 each, which would raise $600,000 for the lab.

Additionally, the protesters berated the Attorney General for talking about “personal” matters rather than effectively addressing their desperate problems.

Elrington then gave the protesters some bad news – that the DPP could not be removed, because she had “secure tenure,” and that because Belize is a signatory to “human rights” conventions they could not lock up people in the manner demanded by the protesters.

Also, Elrington told the protesters that Belize could not hang anyone, because that would be a violation of certain “human rights” agreements into which the country has entered, and the country would risk losing aid from certain countries that oppose hanging.

What Elrington agreed to was to give the Cayo formation a vehicle by tomorrow, Friday, and another by the end of October.

The creation of the sex offenders registry, he said, was going to Cabinet for approval next week Tuesday.

Lovell, for his part, reminded protesters at the meeting that the Canadians had donated an IBIS, a sophisticated ballistics system to the forensic lab, which would be inaugurated tomorrow Friday, and that they are looking for a DNA specialist from the United States who would be attending court on behalf of the forensic lab.

The concessions made by Elrington and Lovell, however, did not appease the protesters, who said that they were tired of promises – they wanted action now. So, they vowed to continue with plans to shut down businesses and schools in Cayo the following day, Thursday.

Speakers at the demonstration today, Thursday, said that all this was “just the beginning,” and they are asking the country to join with them, and become tough on crime.

“Since we have been told to find the solutions ourselves, we will find our own solutions,” said one speaker.

Another speaker said that while they were told that the DPP could not be removed, the government took over a company in one day with three readings in the House. Government can do things, they said, if it really wanted to.

Today, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a press release, saying that it “joins in solidarity with the business community and the people of San Ignacio/Santa Elena and the surrounding villages in their stance to arrest the escalating crime wave in the Cayo District and throughout the entire country of Belize.

“The quality of life in Belize has been seriously eroded to the point that some citizens seem resigned to accepting that the murders and the oppressive atmosphere in the crime-ridden areas of this country are
a fact of life in today’s Belize.

“This is unacceptable … The residents in Cayo’s twin towns are determined not to accept the status quo … We agree with them that this state of affairs cannot continue… even one murder, one rape, one robbery, one assault, one home invasion, is too much.”

At the conclusion of the demonstration, a follow-up meeting was announced to be held next week, with no date given, after which the crowd dispersed.

This evening, the Office of the Prime Minister issued a press release which stated the following: “The Prime Minister of Belize, the Hon. Dean Barrow, has offered his congratulations and thanks to the thousands of Belizeans from the Cayo District and across the country who participated in the San Ignacio/Santa Elena peaceful protest against crime.

“The Prime Minister also acknowledges that it remains Government’s primary responsibility to safeguard citizens in Cayo and all of Belize. He therefore reiterates the commitments he made in his meeting with the leaders of the Solidarity Movement for Justice and Peace.

“Accordingly, the Government of Belize will: 1. Immediately provide additional resources (including vehicles) to the Cayo Formation of the Belize Police Department;

2. Implement a sexual offenders registry and monitoring system;

3. Operationalize immediately after the official handover of the technology and equipment by the Canadian Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this Friday, the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS);

4. Ensure, together with the Magistracy and Judiciary, the proper enforcement of the laws governing denial of bail in cases of sexual and other serious offences;

5. Fast-track the efforts with the Government of the United States to finalize arrangements for an expert in DNA Science to be attached to Belize’s National Forensic Science Service to mentor our local analysts as well as to act as a professional witness for cases having to do with forensic evidence.

6. Strengthen the Police Prosecution branch and institute greater coordination between the Police and the Office of the Director of the Public Prosecution to ensure more effectiveness in the investigation and preparation of cases for prosecution.”

The Prime Minister’s release, however, was conspicuously silent on the demonstrators’ demand for the removal of the DPP.

Tonight, at press time, the president of The Solidarity Movement for Justice and Peace told Amandala that he had not yet received the Prime Minister’s press release, and so could not comment on it.

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