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Fighting for peace: everybody must eat

EditorialFighting for peace: everybody must eat

Mon. Oct. 30, 2023

What’s going on over there in Gaza is crazy, and sad. It’s all about land and greed and the struggling poor trying to secure their “livity” against a powerful and cruel enemy. Here in Belize a lot of tension surrounds land, and our Maya brothers and sisters trying to secure their own “livity” by grabbing hold of the land the courts say they have rights to. Let’s hope common sense prevails, with a special measure of human charity towards each other, so that we don’t end up like over yonder. Meanwhile, in communities across the Jewel, after this month was past halfway without a murder occurring in the Jewel, lethal violence erupted in the last couple weeks of October, and quickly there are six murders recorded with one day left in this month. Without a doubt, the efforts of the Police Department and the LIU (Leadership Intervention Unit) to reduce the level of gang warfare has resulted in a drop in the murder count over the past year, and that is to be applauded. But it is not enough. Over seventy murders in little Belize already this year is a lot. And obviously it is not all about gangs and drugs; other ingredients play a role in the situation, and we would like to take a try at offering an analysis towards a solution so we can make another major reduction in the number of murders in the Jewel, to hopefully bring us back to “the good old days” of Old Belize, where a murder was a rare occurrence.

Before he became a senator and then a minister with the previous UDP government, Mr. Godwin Hulse once hosted a weekly program on Krem Radio entitled “Shop Talk,” where he used his engineering knowledge to share some basics with listeners on the engines that moved their cars every day. He broke it down into “small change”, and emphasized the three things that were necessary for our car engine to run and move the vehicle – something to burn (gasoline or diesel); something to burn it in (the cylinder, whatever number of cylinders the engine has); and something to burn it with (the spark, from a spark plug in a gas engine; and the compression to create fumes by the injector in a diesel engine); that is as best as I can recall.

In terms of the convergence of conditions creating the prevailing social climate in Belize, we would like to propose a comparison to the above description/analysis, and hopefully this could point us in the direction of an effective strategy to “achieve our just objectives” of peaceful living.

Now, we Belizeans are still basically a peaceful, loving people, overall. But the social climate has changed, drastically. Although government claims the level of unemployment is now very low, the fact is that, due to high inflation, there has perhaps never been this level of poverty rampant in our communities. The dollar is not “stretching” as it once did. Many people are not eating right; hunger is real for a significant portion of our population. They say a hungry man/woman is an angry man/woman. When a person is dealing with money problems on a daily basis, often affecting the meals he/she is able to provide for him/herself or his/her children, there is a level of inner instability and discontent, and a situation that may cause one to be quick to anger over minor misunderstandings with someone else. Nevertheless, most people are steadfast and long-suffering, even in their plight. But not all; and it is the few who may become part of the violence statistics. That prevalent anger and frustration causing many individuals to be prone to having a short temper or be susceptible to temptation to crime, in Shop Talk that could be referred to as the “something to burn.”

In decades past, the U.S. border was “easy pickings” for Belizeans wanting to go “through the back”. Aside from those receiving legal visas, a significant number of Belizeans joined the exodus north through the sixties, seventies and even into the eighties, through the facilitation of local “agents” who could navigate the route from Belize to the Mexico-US border, from where Belizeans, because of their dexterity with the language, could easily pass themselves off as American citizens who had come across to Mexico for a short visit. But with the increasing influx of Central American refugees through the seventies and then the eighties, things began to tighten up at the US border. There was no longer a free flow up north, and along with more and more Belizeans being deported back home, the Jewel was slowly becoming like a restricted area, no longer with the pressure release valve of easy escape to the USA. In a sense then, Belize in general, and Belize City in particular, had slowly assumed the conditions of an engine cylinder —“something to burn it in” in Shop Talk parlance: an enclosed space with social pressure building among citizens who could no longer easily escape to the north, while more and more were being sent back home to increase the pressure.

All that was left was “something to burn it with”. As stressed as our society is, with high levels of poverty in the presence of ostentatious wealth, and increasing numbers of unemployed or hand-to-mouth-living people with no means of escape to the north (application for a U.S. visa is now US $300.00, non-refundable) being joined by more and more deported individuals; as bad as that would be, it would not necessarily translate into our current levels of murders, if there was not the next piece of the deadly puzzle, which is the something to burn it with – and that is guns. Never before have there been so many guns in Belize, licensed and unlicensed. The Commissioner admitted giving 10 gun licenses to one single businessman, who still later died by gun violence. A prophetic line in a popular dance tune from the mid-seventies said, “This one have a gun; that one have a gun …”, and it is so true today, a spinoff from the illegal drug trade. So, it is no longer fistfights, or pulling a “fence paling”, or knives or machetes (except among the C.A. immigrants); the first option in even “minor” disputes today is the gun, as was the case for a youth who allegedly shot and killed a neighbor last week because he was reportedly chastised about playing loud music.

So, what can we do? In Belize City, and elsewhere in the Jewel, with guns everywhere, there are two things that may still help us to drastically reduce the tragedy of murders we are facing every year. Attack poverty seriously; everybody must eat. Starting with “the least of these”, ensure that every Belizean is afforded the ability to have proper daily nutrition; going up the ladder of salaries as the budget permits, workers and professionals will still be rewarded, but the gap can no longer be so excessive that starvation is the lot of those on the bottom. And, since it seems we cannot stop the guns from coming in, and we cannot open the borders up north, then all we can depend on as the next deterrent to violent crime and murders, is to make the risk of prosecution seem greater for the perpetrators, so that more hot-headed individuals will think twice before pulling the trigger. And that is a whole other discussion. Peace and love, Belize!

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