Editorial — 29 June 2019
Leadership we can trust could ease US cocaine war’s pangs

It’s not easy for Belizeans to wrap their mind around 5 men going to sea on a fishing trip and all of them ending up dead, not by drowning, but by gunshots to the head. The impact is staggering. The equivalent loss in Mexico would be for 1,735 Mexican fishermen to be shot to death one afternoon in the Gulf, and for the Americans it would be for 4,410 American fishermen to be shot to death one morning in Alaska. The world would have stopped turning if that kind of news would have come out of Mexico or the USA.

We can’t recall any period with so many incidents of multiple homicides in our country. On June 4, a highly respected and beloved teacher was found, along with two of her friends, all shot to death in her home, which is located in a somewhat isolated area near to the George Price Highway. Then, between June 21 and June 23, the bodies of seven persons were found, in separate incidents. In one incident, five men were shot to death while on a fishing trip a few miles off the coast of Belize City, and in the other incident a tour guide and a tourist were shot to death while on a fishing trip in the waters off San Pedro.

There is no suggestion that these three tragic incidents are directly related, but in Belize we all know that the climate here at least indirectly contributed to all three. In 1971, United States president, Richard Nixon, declared war on drugs. This drug war really began impacting Belize in full in the 1980s, and there has been no let up.

Police have made no direct links to drugs in the murders of the teacher and her two friends. They believe that the two young men they have arrested had gone to the house for the purpose of robbing its contents, and when they came upon the unfortunate trio who were at the house, they killed them. In the old days, before the Americans declared war on drugs, those two young men would most likely not have been armed with guns. It would not have entered their minds to treat human life so trivially.

Police say they have suspects for the double homicide in San Pedro, but they have not determined the motive. Among the suspects is a figure known to police who had a beef with the tour guide. Whoever it was, the problem led to an ambush at sea that claimed the life of the Belizean guide and his innocent American client. That is how we operate in Belize these days, since the Americans declared war on drugs.  In the old days, a fist fight might have resolved the difficulty between the tour guide and his adversary, but it was not impossible that it could have escalated to a single murder.

Police have suggested that the quintuple homicide at sea is drug-related, but they don’t have any knowledge of what really transpired. There are reports that a suspected drug plane was found in the north of the country last week, and about 200 gallons of aviation fuel was found in the south. This leads the police to believe that there was a “wet drop” of cocaine at sea, hence their speculation about the murders.

The families of the men who were killed suggest that drugs had nothing to do with their murders. They say that the men were all honest fishermen, and they were extremely busy chasing the crustaceans with the highly prized tails. The opening of the lobster season, on June 15 each year, is one of the most important periods for fisher folk.

The fact is that since the Americans declared war on drugs, no one who goes to sea is immune from cocaine contamination. You don’t have to be a cocaine hunter to encounter “Sea Lotto.” The operatives in the business know when and where a drop will be made, but sometimes there’s an emergency and a drop has to be made in an unplanned area, and sometimes the weather is uncooperative and the cocaine drifts off course. This explains why sometimes the product ends up entangled in the mangroves.

The police suggest/advise that fisher folk report their findings when they come upon cocaine at sea, but it is not so simple for fisher folk who choose to stay far away from the trade. The war on drugs has made cocaine so lucrative that it has corrupted governments and police departments. They could be damned if they report finding it. No one wants to make a report to a crooked cop. You can bet you will get on the watch list even though you played it honest on your find, this time.

The best thing that could happen for the humble fisher folk would be for the package of cocaine found in the mangroves to somehow disentangle itself and make its way into the arms of the person it was sent to. However, that does not completely absolve them for being so near to it.

They could leave the areas where the drug dealers like to drop their product, stay away until the Americans decide to end their war on drugs. That’s another dilemma for fisher folk. They can leave their rich fishing grounds to get away from trouble, but there is no guarantee, in fact it is highly unlikely that the rich fishing spot will not have fallen under the claim of someone else when they return.

They could take the risk and try to sell it. We would prefer that they do anything but take the risk and sell it, but can anyone blame those who give in to the temptation?

The website, drugpolicy.org, in “A Brief History of the Drug War,” says that in “the late 1980s, a political hysteria about drugs led to the passage of draconian penalties in Congress and state legislatures…”

Those “draconian penalties” sent the price of cocaine through the roof, and this directly led to the disruption, violation of the lives of millions. The massive penalties had an effect on marijuana too, but it is the cocaine trade that has had the worse impact on life here. Every country between the Rio Grande and Colombia has suffered because of this war that America is fighting against drugs. No country affected by this war can tell America to find another method to curb drug use in their country. The Americans are too powerful.

So far, this editorial has been without hope, helpless. At a glance it appears that the United States of America is slowly returning to sanity, as evidenced by changes in their approach to marijuana. This new development might suggest that they will soon get reasonable about cocaine also, but that is not likely because they don’t control the production of it. In America, everything is about their bottom line. They have nothing to gain economically by easing up the restrictions on cocaine use, so it won’t happen.

The Americans are too powerful for us to tell them to end their war, and we absolutely cannot tolerate these murders of our citizens and visitors to our country. We are in a bad, bad situation. We absolutely must stop these murders, bring to an end this horrible climate, this evil cloud that is taking lives and killing the spirit of our nation.

The only hope we see here is to give it our best, and for that we have to start at the top. We begin with political leaders that we can trust. Political leaders cultivate trust when they are transparent and accountable. It may be impossible for us to end this cocaine pain, but if we had leaders we could trust maybe we could ease the suffering in our nation.

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Deshawn Swasey

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