Editorial — 08 September 2018
The Southside: cancer and matrix

The problem with treating cancer cells is that they basically live within a healthy matrix in the human body, so that attempts to destroy cancer cells cause collateral damage, in that the surrounding healthy matrix also comes under attack.

Leadership of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) Cabinet of Belize passed from Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, area representative for Queen’s Square in Belize City, to Deputy (Acting) Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber, area representative for the Collet constituency in Belize City, on Saturday, September 1, when Mr. Barrow flew to Havana, Cuba, to undergo major spinal fusion surgery, performed on Tuesday, September 4, in Havana.

Acting Prime Minister Faber on that said Tuesday morning, September 4, chaired a Cabinet meeting which authorized a Statutory Instrument, No. 49 of 2018, to be signed by Governor-General, Sir Dr. Colville Young. The Cabinet, on the advice of the Police Department, featuring Acting Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, as the result of several shooting murders over the weekend, had pinpointed the Banak Street and George Street areas as hosting gang cancer cells. The two areas which came under a state of emergency as a result of Statutory Instrument No. 49 are centered in the electoral constituencies of Mr. Faber (Banak/Collet) and Mr. Barrow (George/Queen’s Square) and include a section of the electoral constituency of Hon. Michael Finnegan (Mesopotamia).

Between Monday night, September 3, and Tuesday morning, September 4, the Banak and George Street areas were attacked by ferocious police raids, but the residents had not been informed of Statutory Instrument No. 49. (They were not so informed until Wednesday morning, September 5.) Law-abiding citizens in the matrix of these two heavily populated areas of the Southside were caught in Monday night’s draconian assaults by the security forces. This in itself is a dilemma for the Police Department and the UDP Cabinet politicians who represent these populations. The matrix had been included in the cancer.

There is a larger dilemma here, and it is the fact that the primary reason for S.I. 49’s state of emergency is to protect the business/commercial interests and activities which are ongoing, will be perhaps peaking this weekend, and will continue in high energy until September 21 – Independence Day. The Southside population, famous as a merry-making, consumerist population, are always expected to be the source of profits for the merchant class during these September celebrations.

48 years ago, administrative power in the self-governing British colony of Belize was moved from Belize City (formerly Belize Town) to Belmopan, a new capital city constructed in the wake of 1961’s devastating Hurricane Hattie. Belize City remained the population center of Belize. Even today, with all the growth Belmopan has experienced since 1970, the Belize City population is five times greater than Belmopan’s.

If you factor in all the surrounding villages and suburban areas which have essentially become part of Belize City’s banking, education, medicine, and commerce with the improvements in the George Price and Philip Goldson highways, the financial importance of Belize City in the September celebrations for special interests becomes striking.

When Belize’s government departments moved to Belmopan in 1970, it was a time when the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) was focusing on rural development and agricultural growth and diversification. Belize’s had been a forestry economy during colonial days, but this was changing rapidly in the 1960s. Our forests had been depleted.

Real estate had always been expensive on the Southside, because what you had was mangrove swamp which had been reclaimed by various and sometimes exotic landfills over the decades and centuries. Before you built, you had usually incurred major expense to reclaim. Belize City’s alleys were tight, the streets were narrow, the lots were congested. This was the nature of Southside, because it cost too much to reclaim swamp land.

In the 1950s and 1960s, a movement of citizens such as senior civil servants began to the newly reclaimed area we now call King’s Park, on the Northside. (This used to be known as Hone Park.) It became the trend in the 1970s, and ever since, for Southside families who came into higher income brackets to move to the  Northside, and to the new suburban housing areas (West Landivar, Coral Grove, Buttonwood Bay, Bella Vista, Vista del Mar, Los Lagos, and so on.)

As Southside properties became available, they were grabbed up by Chinese and Hindu business interests. In Belize City, the foreign immigrant business people are parasitic, in that they extract profits, but they do not contribute anything to the community in which they operate. For protection from the Southside community which was becoming more and more destitute and desperate as time went on, the immigrant businessmen have donated to the ruling political party and to the police.

It appears that by the late 1980s, the Belize City gangs which are being targeted by S.I. No. 49 had become organized, primarily on the Southside. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, then, the Southside had changed from a working community to one increasingly troubled by criminality and violence.

S.I. No. 49 is an attempt to save the 2018 September celebrations, for the benefit of the ruling politicians and the special business interests on whose payroll they are. We have no reason to doubt that the celebrations will be saved. But the methods being used by S.I. No. 49 and the police are not sustainable. If you incarcerate 80 or 90 gang leaders for weeks, for instance, a younger, lower level of leaders will rise to the decision-making top. One also has to note that modern communication devices make it so that leaders, while detained, can remain in contact with their organizations.

Along more bread and butter lines, readers should understand that gangs are economic enterprises which use criminal methods to generate their liquidity. The authorities and security forces are justified in seeing the gangs as cancer cells, but inside the Southside matrix, enough Belizeans are so hungry that they do not ask about the sources of bread and butter when these become available.

Academics like Dr. Herbert Gayle have explained to the authorities exactly how it is that places like Banak Street and George Street became the way they are. It is not that the ruling politicians do not know what time it is. That is precisely why they used the Petrocaribe moneys to provide “Band-Aid” solutions in order to win the November 2015 general election. Real solutions for the Southside problems would not have blossomed and borne fruit before the 2015 general election, and that third consecutive term in 2015 was an important ego trip for you-know-whom. Now the Petrocaribe moneys are exhausted, and the Southside problems have returned worse than before. On Monday morning, however, the UDP Cabinet will be singing, “Hip, hip, hurray”: they will have S.I. No. 49 to thank for that hurraying.

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Deshawn Swasey

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