BELIZE CITY, Tues. July 13, 2021– This week, in the midst of an amped-up “Before you relax, get vax” campaign and on the heels of a recent GOB announcement that unvaccinated frontline workers will be subject to biweekly testing, a new group, named “the Belize Rights and Justice Movement,” (BRJM) emerged with a very different message: they don’t want the vaccine, and GOB should not force any member of the community to receive it.
The group claims it has three hundred members— a number that it says is steadily increasing, and according to these anti-vaxxers, they decided to form a united front in response to GOB’s issuance of Statutory Instrument 74 of 2021, which states that frontline workers must either get vaccinated by August 1 or present a negative COVID-19 test result every two weeks in order to be allowed to work. The group held a press conference on Monday to explain their views, including their belief that COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental shots”. During the press conference, several of the group’s executive members, which include a number of high-profile public personalities such as attorney Arthur Saldivar and former Belize City mayor Zenaida Moya, delivered presentations in which they categorized the recent SI as unconstitutional.
During her remarks at the conference, Moya said that the Ministry of Health and Wellness is mandating that members of the community take the vaccine, even if it seems that they have an alternative.
“Whether or not, like what Elena Smith says, as a teacher, they might say it is not mandated, but it’s mandated through the back door, because they are saying you are not forced to take this ‘experimental shot’; however, if you are mandating that you have to take the PCR test or the rapid test, then it is one and the same. At one hundred dollars, and with a ten percent pay cut, that is something else. So, that more than likely will drive people to take this ‘experimental shot’,” she said.
The Belize Rights and Justice Movement thus plans to launch organized resistance against the vaccination campaign and employers who enforce Statutory Instrument 74.
Elizabeth Dina, an executive member of the group, explained, “We will be doing a petition, and the petition will be in each village, district towns, and you’re asked to sign on to this petition. After these petitions have been signed, we will be sending a letter or notice to the government of Belize with the signatures in place, giving the government a second warning, because this one is our first. We will be doing door-to-door campaign. We also will be doing educational campaign on proper diet and letting our people know about proper diet….”
She further stated, “The petition to GOB after all signatures have been collected, and if there is no movement or the government does not heed to the warning of the people whose will has them in government right now, we are going to be sending them a petition to cease and desist from the crime against humanity. We are going to be holding protests and rallies through the streets of Belize and we are calling for the citizens: all citizens keep your monies in your pocket, boycott all businesses that support the SI…If we are still not being heard, since the Covid virus is so feared, everybody will start to get sick, mass sickouts. We are going to call on the government to strike out the new SI 74. We are going to call on the government, no more masks. We are going to call on the government, no more testing. We are going to identify locations for testing, and we are going to shut them down.”
Given the recent spike in COVID-19 clusters in various parts of the country as well as the recent detection of the Epsilon variant in the country, the group’s plans have sparked concern among those who fear that it will thwart efforts to control the virus’s spread. When asked about their medical sources, on whose expertise they’ve relied in formulating their position, the group claimed to have four doctors within their ranks: Abraham Flowers, Gerald Zuniga, Orlando Pelayo, and Jose Espat (who had been under investigation in 2017 for not having documentation of any kind to practice medicine legally).
Following the press conference, the Belize Medical and Dental Association (BMDA) spoke with the media and denounced the BRJM’s claims as misinformation. The BMDA also noted that three of the four “doctors” mentioned as the group’s medical references were not registered to practice in Belize, which could lead to possible jail time for those providing medical consultations illegally. On the following day, the BRJM held another media brief to clarify Dina’s statement about their medical advisors. During this second presentation to the media, the group confirmed that Abraham Flowers and Jose Espat are not doctors and that the advice which the group has received on the virus and vaccines was provided by Dr. Gerald Zuniga. At that follow-up press conference, Dr. Zuniga himself spoke on why he believes the PCR test is ineffective, claiming, “the PCR test could detect any fragment of nucleotide which could be confused for anything. So, it is used for research; it is not used for diagnosis.”
Several well-known figures such as Dr. Fernando Cuellar of the Belize Medical Associates and Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries, Hon. Kareem Musa have publicly refuted some of the claims made by the group during their initial press conference. Dr. Cuellar stated that the PCR test is, in fact, an accurate measure of the virus and also that the testing phase of the vaccines has already been conducted — thus debunking the Belize Rights and Justice Movement’s claims that the vaccines are experimental. Hon. Kareem Musa also stated, however, that he in no way wishes to condemn anti-vaxxers, but noted that the fact that they had listed several persons as their medical sources was cause for alarm and was detrimental to their credibility. Hon. Musa also urged members of the community to listen to the real doctors who have studied the virus to take an informed approach on whether they should be vaccinated.