There were several subjects discussed at Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s first press conference since his back surgery in Los Angeles three weeks ago. This was on Wednesday morning at the Biltmore Hotel, just a day after the harrowing details of the weekend beating, torture and murder of Tyson Rodriguez had sparked a heated exchange on KREM Radio’s WUB call-in show. That indirect exchange took place between a member of Belize City’s street public and a police officer.
For some reason, the topic of Tyson Rodriguez, a victim of police violence in the Placencia peninsula over the weekend, did not come up at the PM’s press conference. Just a few hours after that press conference, a Ladyville youth was shot dead in the village, and early indications are that the deadly shooting was done by the police.
Two weeks or so ago, a letter to the newspaper from a member of Belize’s expatriate retirement community discussed violence and crime perpetrated by Belizeans against members of the expat community. The indications are that police believed Tyson Rodriguez to be one of a trio of home invaders who brutally beat and robbed a middle-aged Canadian retiree couple in their Placencia home. The letter writer’s fears were real.
It is no secret in the streets of Belize that every now and then the police come to the conclusion that certain dangerous and successful criminals have to be dealt with by killing them. In some cases, the police appear to be urged, instructed, or encouraged to execute specific criminals by those higher up in the food chain, so to speak. Sometimes it seems that politicians or members of Belize’s socio-economic power structure do this urging, instructing, or encouraging. But there are times when it appears the police reach such conclusions on their own.
We remember way back in the mid-1950’s there was a police manhunt for an accused murderer named Castro. Police found him sleeping in a hammock, and they riddled him with bullets while he was asleep. In the mid-1970’s, a repeat criminal known in the streets as “Jerry Collins” raped and murdered an elderly female member of a Belize royal family living on Southern Foreshore. Most Belizeans knew that such a fugitive would not live to experience apprehension or trial. And, so it was. In the 1990s, there was the famous case of Mangar, who began to talk on a radio show and embarrassed the police by so doing. It became clear that Mangar would be shot on sight. And, so it was.
In modern times, however, police execution of criminals has become a frequent occurrence in Belize. The nation state of Belize, as a constitutional entity, has been unable to execute murderers for almost three decades, because European countries have declared that they will cut off various forms of aid from us if we execute any criminals. It may be that this is one cause of increased incidents of executions by our police officers. This is a serious subject, and demands major public discourse. One reason it is so serious is because police executions some time ago began to include criminals who are not murderers.
Expatriate retirement in Belize is a form of tourism which has not been examined where frequency and revenue impact on the Belizean economy are concerned. We, the Belizean people, do not know how many foreign citizens have retired in Belize and we don’t know exactly where they live. We believe that they prefer to live in the scenic and idyllic areas of Belize, such as Consejo Shores in Corozal, San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, the Cayo hills, Hopkins, the Placencia peninsula, and various parts of the Toledo District. Some of these retirees have purchased their own private cayes.
Most of these expat retirees are relatively wealthy people, and some are very wealthy. They would no doubt be willing to assist Belizeans in their new communities and adopted country, but they are strangers here and can’t afford to trust just anyone. It is the politicians in office and other public officials who have some contact with the retirees, and it is they who know the positive effect such retirees have on the Belizean economy and, we suspect, the personal bank accounts of Belizean politicians and public officials. Along these lines, the published and broadcast accusations of the high-profile retiree now turned fugitive, John MacAfee, are very, very interesting.
On the ground, there is a deal of desperate poverty in the communities around where the expat retirees live, and the expat retirees have become targets of home invaders. These home invaders are poor Belizeans who have turned to crime and see the retirees as vulnerable. It is the Belizean politicians and public officials who know how valuable these retirees are to the Belizean economy and to themselves, and there is little doubt that in such cases as the case of Tyson Rodriguez, those Belizean politicians and public officials will sanction the use of maximum violence against such perpetrators.
The question is, though, what are the rest of us Belizeans supposed to think and say? Killing is an acquired taste, and street Belizeans feel that some of our cops have become bloodthirsty and trigger happy. More important, Belize was and is supposed to be a civilized society of laws and due process. We Belizeans are surrounded by republics where this was and is not really the case, and we Belizeans have grown up and lived watching the rich in the republics having the license to kill the poor, either personally or through their security forces. We therefore have a good idea where the present situation could be headed. The streets will say, where it already is.
The issue of Tyson Rodriguez was too serious not to have been brought up in Wednesday morning’s press conference. We think that had it been discussed at the press conference, the police might have been less eager to begin shooting the same afternoon in Ladyville. Just a thought, beloved.
One of the problems in Belize is that the desperately poor can see wealth around them. Some of this wealth is ostentatious. As we said previously, some rich people are willing to assist those less fortunate than themselves. But, with the increase in corruption amongst Belize’s politicians and public officials, when the rich give anything to those politicians and public officers for the alleviation of poverty, that assistance does not reach the poor, or only a small fraction of it does.
The rich believe they are being unfairly targeted by the poor. The poor believe the rich don’t care. In the middle, corrupt politicians and public officials take from the rich and shoot at the poor. Houston, we have a problem.