If you listen to the taped discourse of the Belize Black Summit of September 2003, you will realize that ten years ago Belize City (and its Southside in particular) was already experiencing catastrophic levels of criminal violence, homicide, and incarceration amongst young black men. Ten years later, the average age of the combatants has been lowered to the extent that it is possible to say that Belize City is actually experiencing the phenomenon known internationally as “child soldiers.”
We should point out that the young boys and young men who are the combatants in the Belize City gang wars grew up and live in specific neighborhoods of the old capital, and some of you readers may need to be reminded that there are young girls and young women who live in those same neighborhoods. Relatively few of those young girls and young women ever engage in actual gang combat, but they support and encourage the criminal violence of the young boys and young men in their neighborhoods, because they see that criminal violence as necessary for the defence and economic survival of their neighborhoods.
In our title for this editorial, we referred to a “Southside status quo” because we wanted to underline the fact that there is a state of affairs which exists and has been in existence for some time, and this state of affairs, for whatever the reason(s), is essentially satisfactory to some powerful elements, both in the city and in the nation entire.
When this newspaper, almost two decades ago, began to realize that most of the criminal violence and homicides were occurring on the Southside of the City, there were two different groups of people who resented our Southside analytical model. One group of such citizens comprised sincere and respectable Southsiders, who felt that the Southside was getting a bad name when such an analytical model was used. The other group of resentful citizens were basically Northsiders who did not wish for the Northside’s prosperity and socio-educational superiority to be exposed by comparison with the growing Southside crisis.
Soon after the June 1993 general elections, when they lost all six Southside seats to the United Democratic Party (UDP), the leadership of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) sought an alliance with the Kremandala media organization. This alliance resulted in the Kremandala chairman’s second son, Cordel Hyde, becoming the Lake Independence PUP candidate. In the August 1998 general elections, Cordel Hyde won the Lake I seat for the PUP. The other Southside seats won in that election by the PUP were the Albert seat by Mark Espat, the Port Loyola seat by Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, and the Collet seat by Remijio Montejo.
In the March 2003 general election, both Cordel and Mark defended their Southside seats, but Balderamos-Garcia and Montejo were defeated by the UDP’s Boots Martinez and Patrick Faber, respectfully. The PUP, however, which had won 28-3 in 1998, won 25-6 in 2003.
In August of 2004, there was an upheaval in the ruling PUP which became known as “G-7.” The upshot of that upheaval and its aftermath was that Cordel Hyde and Mark Espat only succeeded in defending their Southside seats in the 2008 general elations by pointing out to their constituency voters where they had stood for them and the Southside, and had experienced victimization by their party leadership.
Without Cordel and Mark, the PUP lost all six Southside seats in March of 2012, and if you include the new, partially-Southside Pickstock, you can make it 7 out of 7 UDP. All these seven Southside UDP area representatives are Cabinet Ministers (five of them) or State Ministers (the remaining two).
No one can deny, in April of 2013, that the Southside is in crisis. This crisis is not the UDP’s fault, but this crisis is definitely the UDP’s responsibility. It is a frustrating thing for Belizeans with a black-conscious history to view this state of Southside affairs, and experience a feeling of helplessness which has become almost chronic.
The nature of Belize’s parliamentary democracy, as operated by both PUP and UDP administrations, is such that the elected representatives of the people who are members of the winning party, most of whom become Cabinet Ministers, and the Prime Minister who leads them, possess awesome and intimidating powers. So that, if the Southside elects 7 out of 7 UDP area reps, and these area reps are unable to address the conditions which have given rise to the Southside crisis, just what is it that ordinary, grieving Southside residents can do? In real terms, the government has all the power: it is only theoretically that we citizens have power in the present Belizean system of parliamentary democracy.
On his visit to Belize a few weeks ago, Minster Louis Farrahkan personally requested that Evan X Hyde, Kremandala chairman and former president of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), and Nuri Muhammad, a former Imam of the Belize Muslims, work together instead of separately. This was a difficult request, but, since the departure of the Minister, the two principals have sought to honor his request.
In line with that, the Kremandala chairman, accompanied by two Kremandala officials, met privately on Sunday afternoon with Mr. Muhammad and a few Muslims. It was only at the very end of the meeting, which lasted for two and a half hours, that the Southside humanitarian crisis was briefly discussed. It is for sure that follow-up meetings will have to be held to look at the crisis. The Southside crisis is one which began, in gang terms, more than a quarter century ago: no brief discourse is going to change the Southside status quo.
Belize is a nation dominated by party politics. Historically, community initiatives are swallowed, like Jonah in the whale, by electoral politicians. In this editorial, we cannot give you any good reason for optimism. We can say, however, that there are attempts to heed Minister Farrakhan’s call for more community unity. There are powerful people who will not welcome such news. So, we shall see what we shall see.
Power to the people.