The Prime Minister’s plans to fight the explosion of crime include expanding the 48-hour detention law; designating certain areas of the southside as “emergency areas,” where arrests can be made without warrant; and having the Attorney General “plug loopholes.”
BELIZE CITY, Sun. Mar. 18, 2018– In the wake of a horrendous upsurge in violent crime that began on Saturday morning, Prime Minister Dean Barrow called an urgent press conference at the Biltmore at about 4 p.m. this afternoon to announce a 2-pronged attack against what he called “a sickening litany of carnage.”
Firstly, the Ministries of Home Affairs (Police) and Defence (Belize Defence Force) are to be reconstituted into one ministry, that of National Security, under the Minister that was formerly in charge of this portfolio, Hon. John Saldivar.
Secondly, certain clearly demarcated areas on the southside of Belize City will be designated as emergency areas, and the 48-hour limit for detention will be expanded, although the Prime Minister did not specify the new maximum time-span for detention.
Between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, there were 8 shootings and 6 murders, including those of Teresita Flowers, 64, and Delcia Blanco, 17. Blanco’s friend, Shanique Requeña, 16, was shot in the arm. Flowers had taken in the two girls in her house. Flowers and Blanco were killed in a hail of bullets unleashed by a gunman who came into the house through an unlocked door, and executed his deadly mission.
The mayhem began on Friday evening, 6:30, when Victor Gibbs was shot, and ended 9 p.m. Sunday night with the murder of taximan Alexi Palma, whose body was found in his vehicle.
What may also have prompted the press conference, also attended by Home Affairs Minister John Saldivar and Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie, Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington and Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber, who is also Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, among other high-ranking government officials, was not only the high number of murders and shootings in so short a time, but an apparently emerging trend in which the gunmen have begun targeting women, and even children.
Previously, it was the men who were the victims, and women were collateral damage. Lately, however, it seems that the females themselves have become the gunmen’s targets, with children becoming the collateral damage.
After Compol Whylie listed some of the shootings and murders, stressing that police believe that they were not related, PM Barrow rose to inform the media that the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs, under which the Police Department falls, would once again come under one ministry — the Ministry of National Security, headed by Hon. John Saldivar, formerly Minister of Defence.
In 2016, in the wake of allegations that Saldivar, then Minister of National Security, had worrisome connections with controversial and incarcerated businessman William “Donny” Mason, PM Barrow had removed the Police Department from under Saldivar’s portfolio and gave it to Senator Minister Godwin Hulse, and later, to Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, leaving Saldivar with only the portfolio of Defence.
The Belize Coast Guard was always under Saldivar’s portfolio.
Now that Saldivar has regained his Home Affairs/police portfolio, Elrington will be left with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs portfolio.
PM Barrow then began his presentation, saying that he wanted to immediately offer “some degree of reassurance to the public and to convince the nation that the exercise would be conducted with the utmost vigor, commitment and seriousness, because failure, in the circumstances, cannot be an option.”
“The Belize Defence Force was asked last night, on a continuing basis, to assist the Belize Police Department with the ongoing campaign to … curb this absolutely horrific and disgusting phenomenon … clearly, this will mean more boots on the ground …,” said PM Barrow.
“It makes sense for us to reconstitute one umbrella ministry of National Security,” the Prime Minister further said.
That ministry will become operational in a few days after the Governor General, Sir Colville Young, signs the orders, which will then be Gazetted.
Continued the Prime Minister: “But that alone will not do it – the criminal element, the gang elements, are, it seems, well capable of, for the most part, being able to avoid the dragnets that we throw.”
“The Attorney General will also have his work to do”, PM Barrow said.
Barrow went on to say, “We have had the Attorney General look at options that are legally available to us to try to, as far as possible, plug loopholes … based on the range of options that the AG’s ministry provided us with … under Section 18 of the Constitution, we will ask the Governor General to designate certain clearly demarcated areas on the southside of Belize City as emergency areas.
“It is important that I make absolutely clear that this public emergency declaration will be area-specific … it will not apply to the whole of the city or even the whole of the southside. The security forces will provide the legal people with the clear coordinates of those areas that we want to cover.
“This is without a doubt an unprecedented step; we have before used the Public Safety Act, certainly the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, to declare special areas; under that Act, it is the minister who is able to declare any area, not exceeding one square mile, specified in the order that the minister makes, to be a special area, and in that special area, any member of the security forces may, without warrant, do various things, including arresting persons for upon reasonable suspicion of having committed or about to commit a crime – we’re not using that, that is the one we resorted to in 2011, 2012, when areas were cordoned off, I’m not sure quite how successful it was …”
“We’re going beyond that”, PM Barrow said, adding that on the advice from the Attorney General, the security forces are looking at going beyond the 48-hour maximum detention period mandated by the Constitution.
“We are well aware of problems in the Police Department. We are well aware that there are some policemen, perhaps women, whose behavior, whose interaction with the underworld, to put it mildly, leaves a lot to be desired. Again, that is part of the remit of the new expanded leadership of the Department, to try to eliminate as much as possible, that kind of relationship which is such a keep-back in terms of the crime-fighting effort,” the Prime Minister said.
PM Barrow explained that they would use what he called a “holistic approach” against the gangs, calling it “a combination of a hard charge that does not ignore completely or eliminate the requirement for dialogue, to give those that we see as the most hardened capos a chance to hold it down, in return for our not going at them in any way that is a violation of rights, and that is one-dimensional in a fashion that ultimately end up being counter-productive.”
After speaking about what could be interpreted as a “carrot-and-stick” approach to criminals, the Prime Minister ended his address with a plea to the public and media to “give our efforts a chance” before making criticisms.
In the question and answer period that followed, the Prime Minister was asked about the propriety of giving the Police Department back to Hon. Saldivar in view of the reason why it was taken away from him in the first place.
According to PM Barrow, “… there has emerged absolutely no evidence of any kind of relationship that was improper between Minister Saldivar and the now infamous or notorious Mr. Mason. In politics, perception is reality, and at that time, when these accusations were flying thick and fast, it struck me that the proper thing to do was to not have Minister Saldivar continue as Minister of Police, in the circumstances, there had been talk of an investigation … which would have been more a political investigation than a criminal investigation.”
Barrow then stated, “In any event, the criminal investigation had to proceed, and in my view, Minister John, at that time, as head of the police, was put in an untenable situation. Mr. Mason has long since been charged … except for trial that matter is over. John has been a good Minister of Police; John Saldivar is the best man to head that ministry [of National Security].”
The Prime Minister, however, did not mention that he had refused a demand by the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) — which was one of their eight demands to government in 2016 — that there should have been an international investigation into the Danny Mason case, into alleged links to government “higher-ups.”
PM Barrow had said:” The only room for any kind of expert would be in terms of where there may be some shortcoming—not as a consequence of any omission on the part of the police, but perhaps because the expertise, let’s say in the area of the forensics, would not be locally available. I have not heard of any such, but that is to me the only possible rationale for importing an expert with respect to the murder.
“What the BNTU has been pushing is an expert to investigate the relationship of ministers to Mister Mason. We did agree that we would see the services of such an expert for that purpose, but two things: the Attorney General has proposed terms of reference to govern that to the BNTU and they’ve come back with some suggested changes, which perhaps the Attorney General will dilate on this a little more, which make clear that they are missing the boat.”
That investigation was never done.
In answer to a comment from 7News’ Jules Vasquez at the press conference that the Prime Minister’s plans had no new ideas, and were in fact “a retread of failed formulas,” the PM disagreed, saying, “When the BDF, on previous occasions has been pressed into service to assist with the crime-fighting efforts, it is my recollection that there has been relief that the joint efforts brought — of course, the idea was never to have the BDF operate permanently as a kind of adjunct to the police force, and it has been historically true that after immediate responses to crises, which responses have involved the BDF, you make some progress, the BDF would then be withdrawn, and sooner or later the flood tide begins again.”
PM Barrow also said that there were no plans to replace Commissioner Whylie, something that many organizations, dissatisfied with his performance, had been asking him to do for years.