This Monday morning, July 3, Marco Vidal takes over the top police command from Chester Williams in Belize City’s troubled Southside. Vidal, who was the first commander of the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU), has a heavy-handed reputation, to put it mildly. Chester Williams, who was “discovered” by Ralph Fonseca when he was Minister of Police in the Said Musa years, was also considered heavy-handed until he went to qualify himself in law and, upon his return, began to dedicate himself to “community policing.”
It is sad that the academics in Belize are so intimidated that sober, focused public discussion on serious issues is seldom held. Party politics makes everything so prickly in Belize; Belizean citizens allow Gordian knots to exacerbate matters in Belize, even when a proven solution emerges.
Working in tandem with Mrs. Diane Finnegan, Nuri Muhammad, and the one Jawhi (a former American gang figure), Chester Williams reduced gang violence in Southside Belize City. This is undeniable, and the reduction in gang violence has been dramatic. All indications are that Williams and his team’s solutions for the Southside gang wars have not even been expensive, all things being equal.
This gang violence is a problem that began making headlines in Belize in the late 1980s, and Belize City gang violence originally patterned itself off the Crips vs Bloods configuration in Los Angeles, as depicted in the movie Colors. The gang violence came on the heels of the arrival of crack cocaine in the mid-1980s in Belize, so that it is generally speculated that in the beginning gang violence here was all about drug turf, drug dons, and drug jackers.
In the early years, the most sensational gang murder, that of the Crips’ Derek “Itza” Brown, actually took place on the Northside in 1992, but as the years went by it became clear that the Southside had more gang problems than the Northside. This was arithmetically evident for any analyst to see, yet this newspaper’s introduction of the Southside model in the mid-1990s was met with criticism and resistance. More than a decade later, Dr. Herbert Gayle, a Caribbean expert in the matter, confirmed that the Southside was where it was worst – civil war levels of violence.
It was almost three decades into Belize’s modern political era, which began in 1950, that it became the case that the Southside of Belize City emerged as the political stronghold of the now ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), which has been in national office here since 2008, and has not been defeated by the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) in any kind of election since 2003. As it stands, the UDP controls five of the six Southside seats, as well as the Pickstock seat, which is a Northside/Southside hybrid. (The UDP first took control of the Southside in 1979, winning two of the then three Southside seats for the first time ever.)
Why would the UDP move Chester Williams from the Southside Belize City action, where even the blind can see that he is doing a great job, and send him to a desk job in Belmopan? This could not have been the decision of the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie. The decision to move Chester to the Garden City was a decision of the UDP’s political directorate, and they made that decision because they have been hearing talk that Chester Williams may have Southside political ambitions. Remember, we told you in the second paragraph: party politics in Belize trumps everything. Stopping Chester’s run took priority for the UDP politicians: to hell with the youth.
What we can’t understand, cynical political observers that we are at this newspaper, is why the Southside-heavy UDP Cabinet would bring Vidal into the Southside cauldron. There is a reason, of course, why the Cabinet Ministers are where they are: they know how to make political decisions. Still, Vidal for Southside does not make a lot of sense. For years the rumors in the Southside streets have been that Marco has personal reasons for disliking the Southside. Dawson or Broaster would have been a safer political choice to replace Chester, but you know how it is. Barrow and Finnegan know politics. Story done.
It is not all the UDP’s fault what has happened to the Southside since the glory days of UBAD in the late 60s/early 70s. But, this is the UDP’s watch, and has been the UDP’s watch since 2008. Chester Williams was only a reformer, but a damn good one. What the Southside needs is a revolution – a sociological, educational and economic revolution. But, it is clear that what the Southside needs, the Southside will not get, and definitely not from Barrow/Finnegan.
Five will get you ten that what Marco Vidal brings to the Southside on Monday morning is incendiary material. And it will not take much to start a Southside fire. Chester’s work could go up in smoke in weeks, or maybe even days.
The Southside problem was always, at its root, a humanitarian problem. In the House on Friday afternoon, the Mesopotamia area representative, Hon. Michael Finnegan, made an impassioned plea for himself to be considered the poster boy for Southside hardship stories and success against all odds. Fine. We have a suggestion for the Hon. Finnegan. Beginning on Monday, you should walk the Southside streets with Marco Vidal, or ride in his police vehicle. Make sure, however, that you are not videotaped in the Southside Commander’s company, Hon. Finnegan. Such a videotape, like your Ashcroft tape, would provide more grist for the PUP propaganda mill. We’re just saying.
Power to the people.