Another sensational murder, another press conference; and on the surface, life goes on in Belize City, and in the nation of Belize. But with each passing day, it seems to some of us, that we as a people are getting nearer and nearer to a “point of no return;” where there is the potential for violent mayhem to explode with any incident that serves to ignite the smoldering tension and anger in the oppressed class of poorly educated, extremely frustrated people, who are increasingly within easy grasp of guns and other lethal firepower.
The assassination-style murder of well-known activist/taxi driver Albert Cattouse last Thursday night has shocked the nation, already traumatized by the continued occurrence of unsolved murders in gang-infested neighborhoods predominantly on southside Belize City. And, for the sake of maintaining the uneasy equilibrium in our social and political life, we all hope and pray that the true explanation of Bert’s demise will be revealed, and that it will point to a private misunderstanding or personal gripe or grievance; and that it is not, as some have speculated, in some way connected to the political activism that Bert had displayed throughout his life, and most vociferously only a few days before his cold-blooded murder.
There was a palatable explanation given, if such is possible, by the eloquent Mr. P.M. Barrow at yesterday’s press conference; meaning, it is one that, however abhorrent and disgusting, would at least not point to a political dimension. It would be mere coincidence, then, that one of the government’s most vocal critics was assassinated by individuals who were not robbers, but who had nothing to do with the politicians so harshly criticized by Mr. Cattouse.
So, the lid remains on the simmering pressure cooker in Belize; and we may still have a chance to make constructive changes to activate the release valves available in our social structures, so that an explosion may be avoided.
Gangs/street criminals on the one hand; selfish, greedy and crooked politicians on the other; would that these two thorns of society would remain apart, and not somehow find common ground to serve each other’s ends. For all our sakes, we pray that Bert’s murder had nothing to do with his staunch political activism. But if it did, then Belize needs to take stock, and realize that if this cancer is not now exposed and uprooted, it will spread; and that could lead to the end of any hopes of recovering this once “tranquil haven of democracy.” The police have a big job to do.
Turf wars among gangs is a logical extension of illegal business competition; and, if it shocks our sanctimonious anti-marijuana religious leaders, it should be no surprise to the increasingly militarized law enforcement authority. Despite all their vehicles and patrols, they can’t stop it. With unemployment at an all-time high; primary school and high school graduates at an all-time low; and the sale of marijuana one of the few profitable enterprises around, it follows like night to day, that unemployed young men will be drawn to the weed-selling business. And many of them are. And, since the possession and sale of marijuana remains illegal, despite the proposed “decriminalization” law, it stands to reason that no seller can complain to the police that another seller is trespassing on his selling area; or has stolen his bag of weed.
All the “policing” of the weed-selling business has to be done by the sellers themselves,because marijuana remains illegal, and will remain illegal after the passage this Friday of the “decriminalization” law. So, the gunshots will continue; and the murders on Southside will continue. Are you happy, pastor?
It may be that the “intervention” program that was once spearheaded by Assistant Commissioner Chester Williams had the effect of gang members from different areas respecting the turf of their weed-selling competitors, without resorting to firepower as before. The intervention must have involved some intelligence work; and it was apparently effective in significantly curtailing the murders and the mayhem enveloping neighborhoods on the southside, even if it couldn’t stop the sale of weed. Nobody, not even the mighty USA, can stop that – the sale of weed, that is.
Ever since Asst. Commissioner Williams was relocated to Belmopan, and Superintendent Vidal took charge of southside policing, with a disregard for any semblance of maintaining the détente among competing gangs, the situation has escalated. Superintendent Vidal seems to be operating on the premise that he can stomp out weed-selling, because marijuana is still illegal. He cannot; and if he still thinks he can, he is terribly misguided, to all our detriment. Not only has he failed to stop the rampant sale of marijuana; but his reluctance and/or inadequacy at “intervention” has meant that we are back to square one, where the gangs’ policing themselves is concerned. And thus the murder rate has escalated. All because we are afraid to “legalize it.”
In a climate of murder, life becomes cheap; and men with habitual use of guns find ways to keep their guns busy. Enter the world of politics, crossing the line into the world of gangs, where men with guns are there to be hired, and the potential is ominous.
With the murder of Bert Cattouse, this is the first time in memory that a prominent, outspoken Belizean activist has been killed with no indication of robbery being a motive. There are many questions, and if adequate answers are not forthcoming, one can easily visualize how a nation, our nation, could slip into the abyss.
When mercenary-style cold-blooded killers are running loose, and tactfully, with precision and careful cover, carrying out their bold work of death and terror in a community of peace-loving people; it is not hard to conceive the frustration and righteous indignation of authorities leading them down the winding path of tit-for-tat retaliation in the form of unpublished, unannounced, illegal state-sanctioned executions. It is a dangerous, slippery path, with huge political implications. There is protection of endangered species; but when an alligator or jaguar crosses the line and becomes a killer of human beings, there is little remorse among the citizenry when they are eliminated.
When avowed and proclaimed violent terrorists, whose cold, calculated pronouncements against the nation state of the U.S. were backed up with large-scale violent murders, and these people boldly claimed responsibility for these acts of war, who can fault the leaders of such a nation state for authorizing the hunting down and executing of such self-convicted killers of innocent citizens, whom the nation’s leaders are sworn to protect?
Terrorists who have identified themselves and publicly condemned themselves by their words and deeds, which constitute a declaration of war against a nation state, have to expect war-like retaliation, without the niceties of “due process” and “human rights”.
But criticizing politicians is part of our democracy, and calling out corruption in all its forms is the highest form of activism that benefits all citizens of the nation. Those who would physically attack and hurt an activist, attack us all in the nation. And he who hired the killer, if that was the case, is a killer also.
There will be social repercussions for these young men who have crossed the line, and made murder their way of making a living. They have lost their humanity somewhere along the way; and it is said, when a man kills for money and gets away, he will likely kill again. It is only a matter of time before the vigilante mood begins to express itself among the desperate male population, who are becoming emasculated by our inability to protect our women and children from the predatory killers in our midst. So, shall we all become killers?
A few decades ago, a notorious “cattle rustler” in the Crooked Tree area was killed by a shotgun blast; and nobody was ever accused, much less convicted of the murder. Sources say some people knew who did it, and many similarly frustrated cattle owners had quietly vowed among themselves to “get him” whenever they caught him stealing their cattle again.
When the established state authorities seem unable to cope with a situation, there is a tendency for jungle law to take over. It’s a natural but very dangerous extension of the principle of self-defence enshrined in our laws. And the possibilities are frightening.
The police must be empowered to do their jobs, without political interference. And an impossible law, like the weed law, which is making a mockery of our police force, and leads to our young men murdering each other and terrorizing the rest of the community, must be revoked. The police, with more time on their hands without the distraction of chasing weed, must then be empowered to arrest wherever a crime has been committed, even if it is by a politician or minister of religion.
Either our elected government will apply vision, courage and wisdom to this delicate and complicated problem, and safely diffuse a potentially explosive situation; or they will continue on their self-righteous, bull-headed path, leading us to God knows where.
Belize is on the brink.