Highlights — 15 September 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
The disarmament question that National Security Minister, John Saldivar, dodged

Gun violence snuffed out the life of another man over the weekend on the south side of Belize City. This latest homicide in the murderous streets took place not too far from one of the two areas which have been declared to be in a “state of public emergency,” as defined by a proclamation, signed by the Governor General, which came into effect early last Wednesday morning, when security forces raided the homes of suspected gang members and carried off 100 persons, most of whom will remain incarcerated for one month—just like that—under the emergency measure now in place in two areas of the southside.

By now, if you have a proper understanding of the civil war that is taking place on the south side of Belize City, you will appreciate that there are too many guns in the hands of the wrong people and there is no program or government policy in place to arrest that situation.

Sure, the government in its so-called fight on crime has beefed up the Firearms Act with some hefty penalties for individuals who are caught with unlicensed firearms or unlicensed ammunition. Under the law, persons who are found with illegal guns and ammunition are not eligible for bail at the Magistrate’s Court, but have to apply to the Supreme Court to regain their freedom.

The Supreme Court, however, has ruled that some aspects of the amendments to the Firearms Act are unconstitutional. A new piece of legislation will deny gang members bail at the Magistrate’s Court level when the amendment to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act is passed by parliament.

At the Ministry of National Security press conference last Wednesday, I asked the Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar, if the government would consider a policy of disarmament, given the amount of illegal guns in the country.

Minister Saldivar prefaced his answer to the question by saying that was a question that Acting Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, could have answered.

 I was taken aback by the Minister’s response and his failure to adequately address the question. In a subtle way, Minister Saldivar was attempting to convey the impression that the questioner did not know what he was asking, because he ended his non-answer still maintaining that the Acting Commissioner of Police could have answered.

Somewhere in his rambling, he alluded to the fact that the police have removed over 40 illegal guns from the streets.

First off, Mr. Minister, the Police Department is not responsible for making policies. That is why the question was put to you, and not to Acting Commissioner Williams.

If the government has not thought about disarming the criminal gangs and others in the society who possess illegal firearms and ammunition, that would be perfectly understandable, but to attempt to make the questioner appear as if he does not know what he is asking is plain disrespectful.

What can one expect, however, from Minister Saldivar, who was holding the Defence Minister portfolio when he presided over the opening of the Forward Operating Base at the mouth of the Sarstoon River in April 2016, and stood by when the Guatemalan Armed Force on the other side of the river flew a drone, literally in his face, making him appear impotent in defending the airspace of the Forward Operating Base he had just declared opened with all the fancy talking.

Later on when he was asked about the incident, Saldivar attempted to alter the reality of what had happened when he remarked, “Well, I think you are making an assumption as to the source of the drone; the last time one such event had occurred, we were told that it was the Guatemalan media, but that aside, yes it is an invasion of our airspace and I believe you saw that we were about to take appropriate action.”

What appropriate action? That is simply not true. Belize Coast Guard Commander, Admiral John Borland, pointed a rifle at the drone, but got no orders from the Minister of Defence to engage.

After the incident, Admiral Borland was asked if he was going to shoot down the drone and he replied, “Well, I wasn’t going to shoot it down; all I was trying to do was send a message that the thing was in our airspace and it should leave.”

So how does the Admiral’s response square off with the Minister’s assertion that “we were about to take appropriate action?”

Unless the government can muster the political will to come up with a plan to disarm the criminal gangs, there will be no permanent solution to the gun violence and murders in the streets, because locking up gang members for a month at a time will do very little to reform them and reduce the carnage of gun violence.

We urgently need a disarmament policy to stop gun violence in the Jewel.

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