“We observed that the Prime Minister seems to be widening the scope for trial without jury (which we had previously been told would be introduced for murder-related trials), and he agreed, indicating that he really believes that trial with jury should be done away with altogether.”
– pg. 10, article by Adele Ramos in Amandala of Wednesday, May 11, 2011.
In early 1970, the ruling PUP government, which had won 17 of 18 seats just two months before in a general election where they were opposed by the hastily constructed, ill-fated NIPDM coalition, decided to lock me up on a charge of seditious conspiracy.
The university professor/writer Terry Rugeley has pointed out that jail is often a “finishing school” for revolutionaries; it gives them time to think, among other things. Personally, I didn’t need any time to think: I’d done enough of that. And I do not like involuntary confinement. In fact, I hate it.
I was very angry at the arrest, and told my fellow UBAD officers that if I was convicted, they should break me out of jail and give me a chance to run, God knows where. I thought the charge against me was unjust. I believed I was being “chanced” by the PUP government.
If there had not been trial by jury in effect, I would certainly have been convicted and jailed in 1970, and I would have reacted in an extreme manner. There were bad things which would have happened to me. A nine-member jury, however, acquitted myself and Ismail Omar Shabazz on the night of July 7, 1970.
Fast forward to late 1981. A Mexican magazine publishes an article about a Merida-based Mexican drug trafficker who is killed in a shootout in Texas. The Mexican had boasted of his contacts in the Belize PUP government led by Hon. George Price, at the Belize government’s highest levels. The Amandala, Reporter, and Beacon all reproduce the article, in toto, and all three are sued for libel by attorneys Derek Courtenay and Glenn Godfrey, acting for Mr. Price.
Both Amandala and Reporter are represented in Supreme Court by brother attorneys Dean and Denys Barrow. The present Prime Minister and his brother appeared pro bono for Amandala, which was still a small business at the time. The Amandala case is heard in front of one Justice John Alcantara, from Portugal, I think, and he makes up his mind very early in the proceedings. Perhaps he had his mind made up before the proceedings ever began. It was clear to me that Alcantara was not writing down much of what I said.
He fines Amandala $10,000, big money at the time, and in a separate trial Reporter is fined $5,000, if I remember correctly. The lawyers appeal on both newspapers’ behalf, and the appeals are turned down, separately. In fact, on appeal the Reporter fine is increased to $7,500.
Incredibly, the case against the Beacon is never heard! At the time, Beacon, founded by Dean Lindo in August of 1969 to be the newspaper organ of his People’s Development Movement (PDM), is the newspaper organ of the shattered Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), then led by Dr. Theodore Aranda. I think Michael Finnegan was the Beacon editor at the time. As the months go by, and it becomes clear that the Beacon will never be charged, we hear a story.
The story is that attorney Michael Young was to represent the Beacon, and his father, the late Horace Young, had advised Michael to request trial by jury for Beacon in the Price libel matter. At the time, none of us laymen in the press knew that you could request a jury to hear the libel charges against you. Because Beacon never appeared in Supreme Court, one has to assume that the PUP leaders were afraid of trial by jury.
The people of Belize were already angry with the PUP by the time of those libel trials in 1982. In December of 1981, the PUP, which had just taken Belize to independence in September of that year, lost national Town Board elections to a UDP which I have previously described in this column as “shattered.” I don’t believe any Belize jury would have decided against Amandala in the Price and Louis Sylvestre libel trials.
The question at the time in the streets was, how come the Mexican publication responsible for the original story had not been sued. We were not inventing news in Belize, only reproducing what was being read in the Yucatán. In the years following the Price libel trial, we learned that there had been a drug trafficker inside his Freetown constituency committee. That drug trafficker ended up running to Chetumal to avoid murder charges in Cayo.
I wanted to write such a column for the issue of this newspaper published on Tuesday, but I had thought Mr. Barrow was only thinking of murder trials, and I was not ready to get into a conflict with him. But, when I read Adele’s article in the same Amandala issue for which I’d considered writing what I’ve done today, and saw Mr. Barrow quoted that “trial with jury should be done away with altogether,” I had to say what I have said.
I know that Belize City, especially the Southside, is in a crisis, and I know that trial without jury will help the authorities to put away some very dangerous men, but the jail is not big enough for all the suspects. Not only that, the system is producing killers hand over fist. They are getting younger and younger. We have a sociological crisis. Trial without jury, however, takes the community, the people, out of the justice equation, and I cannot support it.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.