Tuesday morning’s slaughtering of four leaders and/or affiliates of the George Street gang was a message being sent to that gang and the surrounding community. On the one hand, it may have been that the message was only intended for a section of the gang and the community, and, on the other hand, it may have been a broader message, a message for Belize City and Belize nation.
A few years ago some Belize City men went fishing and disappeared somewhere outside the Barrier Reef. A couple days later, a single body was found, badly beaten, floating in shallow water at a southern section of the Reef. The single body found was that of a magistrate, a man who was generally thought to be “clean.” In the aftermath of the disappearances, there were questions which came up about the previous activities of two or three of the other men. None of the other six has ever been found.
A few years before that, an English Caye watchman, his common-law wife, and a couple of their children disappeared on the way to the caye in a boat travelling from Belize City. None of them were ever found.
Before Tuesday morning, Belize City and Belize nation had experienced the trauma of having to cope with sensational and gruesome murders and disappearances. There had been the case of a pilot for one of the local airlines who disappeared into thin air along with his plane. The difference between the disappearances, on the one hand, and Tuesday morning’s slaughtering, on the other, was that the community and the nation had to deal with the bloody visuals within hours of the slaughtering, and at the same time face the municipal upheaval of rash blame assignment and anticipated retaliation.
George Street has become an institution in Belize City which, whether you admit it or not, is an integral part of the old capital’s landscape. The George Street gang became the most powerful element in the Belize City underworld about 12 or 15 years ago. Remember now, before you start tripping and praying, all cities in democratic countries have an underworld. In New York City, the most spectacular city in the Western Hemisphere and probably the world, their underworld became dominated by what were called “The Five Families” in the 1930s. By the time Belizeans began migrating to America in numbers in the 1960s and 1970s, the most famous of these families was the Gambino family. In Belize City, then, George Street has become the equivalent of the Gambino family.
Enemies of George Street planned and executed an operation in the middle of George Street territory which forced Belizeans to watch four slaughtered George Street gangsters and affiliates being thrown unceremoniously into the backs of police pickups and driven to the morgue on Tuesday morning. Belize City then began to panic because of the fear of a retaliation of which they had reason to believe George Street was capable.
About eight hours after the discovery of the bodies, the Government of Belize held a press conference to discuss the matter with the city and the nation. As soon as the bodies were found, the George Street community publicly had begun to blame the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU), an aggressive, controversial, and brutal organization which has been in the headlines for a couple years now.
The political constituencies within which the George Street gang is located are Mesopotamia and Queen’s Square. These are represented in the House by arguably the two most powerful politicians in the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) – Prime Minister Dean Barrow (Queen’s Square) and Housing Minister Michael Finnegan (Mesopotamia). Mr. Barrow has won seven consecutive elections in Queen’s Square, and Mr. Finnegan has won five consecutive elections in Mesopotamia.
The government appears to have succeeded, temporarily at least, in what was their main objective – returning things in the financial capital to normalcy. They did so by reaching out to George Street gang leaders and having them come out of their stronghold for a time, thus convincing the general populace that retaliation would not take place.
The matter of such retaliation is more than frightening because indications are that early in the New Year, George Street may have targeted innocent civilians as a message to the authorities. The Belizean state has not disowned the GSU, even though there is the suspicion in the streets that the GSU may be more responsible to Washington than to Belmopan. GSU attacks against George Street seem to have been motivated by the idea of beating and intimidating George Street into submission. Now, early in the New Year, things have gotten out of hand. George Street may have, in response to GSU firepower and pressure, begun thinking in a kind of terrorist manner. Different thinking on George Street’s part was quickly followed by Tuesday morning’s slaughtering.
In the absence of hard facts, there is a lot of speculation going on in the Belizean citizenry. We think there is a lot of fear amongst the Belizean people, one big reason for the fear being a sense of helplessness. This sense of helplessness is discouraging at the present level. The bigger problem comes when citizens reach the point of wondering whether their elected and appointed authorities are themselves at a loss for a real solution.