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A socio-political crisis

EditorialA socio-political crisis

The history of besieged Presidencies is, in the end, a history of hubris – of blindness to one’s faults, of deafness to the warnings, of seclusion from uncomfortable realities. The secret of power is not that it corrupts; that is well known. “What is never said,” Robert Cato writes, in “Master of the Senate,” about Lyndon Johnson, “is that power reveals.”

– pg. 44, THE NEW YORKER, May 8, 2017: from an article entitled ENDGAMES, by Evan Osnos

Belize entered a period of socio-political crisis on Wednesday morning, May 17, in Belmopan when roughnecks led by the Chairman of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), Alberto August, disrupted the proceedings of a Senate Committee inquiry into scandals at the Immigration Department, and then assaulted three members of the Belizean media, including a lady news editor for this organization.

Six days after the incident in the National Assembly building in Belmopan, on Tuesday, May 23, Mr. August, who also heads the Elections and Boundaries Commission and Belize Water Services (BWS), offered a personal apology for the assaults on the media while announcing that he had organized a group he named Belizeans Against Courtenay (BAC), with the intention of returning to the National Assembly building to resume disruptive activities this Wednesday, May 24. It should be noted that Chairman August, on the Wednesday morning of May 9, had personally heckled and harassed Senator Eamon Courtenay, the lead Senator of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), during his questioning of a witness. On the morning of May 9, Mr. August did not appear to be accompanied, and he had broken off his hostile behavior and left the National Assembly building after a while. He returned with muscle one week later.

The main reason we consider Belize as having entered a socio-political crisis is because we consider the behavior of the Police Department in connection with the Senate Committee inquiry of May 17 to be highly questionable, even suspect. The attitude of the Police Department, under the command of Commissioner Allan Whylie, has been under our keen scrutiny for the past three years, following Commissioner Whylie’s refusal, after being ordered by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin to do so, to investigate the doings of then Immigration Minister Elvin Penner with respect to the Citizen Kim passport scandal. Commissioner Whylie’s defiance of the highest judicial authority in the nation gave us reason to believe that the Police Department had been politicized at the highest levels.

Following the outrageous behavior of the ruling party’s operatives, led by the UDP Chairman, in the National Assembly building on Wednesday, May 17, there was not the slightest attempt, at least none that was visible to this society, by the Police Department to begin addressing the Senate Committee proceedings in any kind of proactive manner.

Remember now, police presence on May 17 had been at the absolute minimum in the National Assembly building, and there is no reason to believe that any urgent alarm had been sounded even after the Senate Committee proceedings were disrupted, and aggressive, offensive, criminal behavior by the UDP soldiers began.

Amidst the official, studied silence of the Police Department even after Chairman August announced that he and his soldiers would be returning to the Senate Committee inquiry this Wednesday, May 24, the Opposition PUP asked for a postponement of the May 24 hearing, because, as we understand it, they had reason to believe the volatility at the National Assembly building would be dangerous and uncontrolled. This is our understanding of the reason for the May 24 postponement, and we certainly want to hear more from the Opposition on this specific issue.

Whom we, the people of Belize, should have been hearing from in the first instance, following the May 17 assaults and up to the present moment, is the Police Department. Charged as the police are with maintaining domestic law and order, they should have moved quickly to assure all and sundry that they were on top of the situation at the Senate Committee/National Assembly building now and moving forward. This did not happen. The Police Department has been missing in action, as we would say. What the hell is going on here?

A secondary reason for our belief that Belize has entered a socio-political crisis has to do with the vitriolic level of anger and aggression displayed by the Chairman August group, its reckless, public assaults on the media, and the apparent willingness of the Government of Belize to watch a confrontation develop between elements who want to see the Senate Committee inquiry continue and elements who want to bring the hearings to a halt as quickly as possible. There is a socio-political polarization which has taken place around the hearings, and it is the constitutional responsibility of the Government of Belize to maintain a climate of law and order which allows for reasoned, intelligent discourse. In this matter, however, the Barrow administration has exposed the fact that it is a player in the Senate Committee game, that it is actually leading the charge of those who wish to shut down Aldo Salazar’s inquiry.

We are minded, as a historical note, of the afternoon of Thursday, April 2, 1981. Belize was still a self-governing British colony. The British Governor, one Hennessey, declared a state of emergency after a murder in Corozal Town during a political march the morning of Thursday, April 2, convinced him that Belize’s socio-political crisis, precipitated by the Heads of Agreement, had entered a phase where followers of the ruling PUP and Opposition supporters had decided to fight violently against each other.

(Incidentally, to the best of our memory, there are seven Belizeans still alive who were members of the PUP Cabinet at the time Hennessey took charge. These are Fred Hunter, Florencio Marin, Sr., Valdemar Castillo, Mrs. Jane Usher, Sam Waight, Said Musa, and Assad Shoman.)

The Commissioner of Police at the time was Esmond Willoughby, and it was the feeling in the PUP circles, from before the state of emergency, that Willoughby was taking instructions from Governor Hennessey. Deputy Premier/Minister of Home Affairs, C. L. B. Rogers, was at personal odds with Willoughby. The ruling PUP was not happy with its own ComPol.

In the present case, that of May 2017 in independent Belize, there is no reason to believe that Commissioner Whylie is taking instructions from Governor-General Sir Colville Young, who is the Queen of England’s representative in Belize. On the contrary, there is reason to believe that the Commissioner of Police is acting in accord with what he perceives as the interests of the ruling UDP Cabinet of Belize. The ComPol has been politicized. This is not as it should be, and what the politicization of the ComPol does is exacerbate the socio-political tensions in Belize. The perception of the people of Belize, as we write, is that the justice system here has been compromised. This constitutes a socio-political crisis.

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