Editorial — 06 July 2019
This impotence on violent crime is destroying us

The UDP, which has been in office since 2008, and the PUP, which was in office from 1998 to 2008, are aware of the huge problem we face with violence in our country. These two political parties that have formed governments in Belize (they are jointly called PUDP) have at times, as the murder totals and murder rate for the country climbed, accused each other of being impotent on crime.

This finger pointing couldn’t go on forever, and the one that is presently in opposition, the PUP, has tacked to where they are calling for a bi-partisan approach to dealing with the problem. Disappointingly, their calls have fallen on deaf ears, thus far. It might be concluded that the UDP government is either delusional, thinks it has the problem under control, or it is overly political, will not admit that it needs help to contain it.

Belize has become consistently among the five most murderous states in the world. Seemingly, the lives of regular Belizeans are of little concern; the wealthy and well-off are priority. When a lawyer was shot, the government introduced trial without jury, and when a tourist was shot and killed, National Security brass met to formulate a response.

Back in 2008 the UDP recognized that violent crime was way out of control, a great concern for the populace, and they made the manifesto promise to deliver on an advanced tool that would help the country solve crimes. The UDP 2008 “Imagine the Possibilities” manifesto declared that if elected to government the party would: “Expand the size of the police department and increase greatly crime detection, successful solving and prosecution of offenders by installing a fully-equipped DNA testing facility.”

The UDP won office and they did increase the size of the Police Department, but that didn’t stop the murder rate from escalating. The UDP has not delivered on the other part of the promise, the part involving the fully-equipped DNA lab for the purpose of increasing crime detection and the prosecution of offenders.

When it came into power in 2008, the UDP also proposed preventative detention as a tool to fight crime. This well-intentioned initiative was not looked on favorably because it was feared that it would be abused. A previous UDP government had introduced the Security Intelligence Services (SIS), but that fell out of favor because overzealous or political agents were believed to have been using the organization to pry into the lives of innocent persons who were not friendly with the government of the day.

Honorable Wilfred Elrington, the present Foreign Minister, called for Belize to install a foreigner as the head of police. Elrington, a lawyer who at one time held the post of Minister of Police, related that while he was in private practice he had taken on a number of murder cases, winning every one. He said he had concluded that our system was deficient.

Elrington must have felt that a foreign Commissioner was less likely to fall under the sway of corrupt politicians. He must also have felt that a Police Commissioner who had no relatives or friends in Belize, would more readily make the necessary tough decisions. His suggestion was not endorsed.

The 2008 UDP government hired a retired high-ranking police officer from Jamaica, Harold Crooks, to study and make recommendations for the Belize Police Department. Crooks noted that witness cooperation was decreasing because of mistrust, and that very few murderers ended up in prison.

Statistics from about five years ago showed that no more than 7% of murder cases resulted in a guilty verdict. When you include the many murder cases for which police couldn’t find a suspect, the percentage of solved cases approaches the infinitesimal. Indeed, it appears that the only solved cases are those which involve passion crimes committed by persons who didn’t care if they were found out, and maintained that stance throughout their trial.

Since the 1980s, the American (USA) war on drugs has caused violent crime to shoot up in Mexico, Central America, and the countries at the north side of South America. A huge payday awaits anyone who can get drugs into the USA, and this has led to the growth of drug cartels. There’s a constant battle among the cartels, and they settle their differences with bullets, not in the courts.

At the same time that the drug war has been raging, there has been a growing disparity in the distribution of wealth in countries like Belize. Poverty is the term used to describe the state of not having sufficient income to pay all your bills, and it is exacerbated when those who don’t have enough, the poor, live in a country or neighborhood where there are people who have excess. Poverty leads to an unhealthy state of mind, and wherever it exists there is increased violence.

In countries that have poor governance structures, like ours, huge gobs of wealth are siphoned into the pockets of white-collar criminals, wealth that could have been used to develop industries and opportunities in the country. This leads to more poverty in the nation, more desperation, and more violence.

Robberies and murder have a terrible impact on the lives of those who don’t have much. You can’t address poverty if you don’t address crime. This is no chicken and egg story. The cost of security is too great a burden to pile on the backs of small businesses. Where there is crime, legitimate small businesses perish.

Some in the society are able to take care of their interests. The wealthy and the well-off, to protect their property and lives, buy more dog food, for vicious guard dogs; buy electric fencing, burglar bars, and cameras; and hire security guards. The government also increases security presence by hiring more police officers.

The hiring of security personnel in the nation under siege does help to alleviate joblessness. Unfortunately, security-related jobs do not increase the wealth of a country. The two most productive nations in Central America, Panama and Costa Rica, do not have standing armies. There are aggressive nations that are always on the lookout to bully a weaker neighbor, but in general standing armies are in place to protect a nation’s wealth. The only countries that make money off armies/war are those that manufacture guns and bullets, and other military hardware.

The Belize Police Department appears to be doing their best with the limited tools they have, but there are no creative government initiatives to address our problem. The reality in Belize is that our government is impotent on crime. We are talking about Belize, us, formerly British Honduras. When did this happen? How did we allow our country to become such a vicious place? Are we blind and cannot see the blood flowing through the streets and soaking the earth in our country? Our leaders should all be wearing sackcloth, instead of suit and necktie, because they are presiding over a disaster.

It is staggering to contemplate, but it is not impossible that the government’s lack of will is deliberate, it is not impossible that they are encouraging impunity for murder because the fear it creates stymies dissent, making it easier for them to govern. The government’s reluctance to accept the PUP offer of a bi-partisan approach to the problem could be for fear that that party might unearth things that they, the UDP, want to remain hidden.

We recognize the desperation of the questions in the previous paragraph, but what is happening in Belize today is so horrible, we have to ask. What have our leaders done to our country? This is so far from the Belize we knew.

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Deshawn Swasey

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