There is a way to address the pain of our mothers with sons. We can do so by electing capable, caring leaders.
Belize’s sons fought in the two great wars in the last century — the 1914-1918 war (World War I), and the 1939-1945 war (World War II). Belize’s sons have also fought in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all those wars we fought alongside the Americans and the British.
Hundreds of our mothers sent sons away to fight in World War I. Jamie Bisher, in his story, “World War I in Latin America (World War I in Belize)”, published on the website ww1latinamerica.weebly.com, reports of two contingents that left our shores, 129 in 1915, and 404 in 1916. At that time the population of Belize was less than 50,000.
The 18 to 25 age group (the age when men are most likely to be called to war) comprises about 10% of a population, and 50% of our population being women, the pool in Belize from which those contingents were drawn, would have been about 2,500. That works out to over 20% of Belizean men in this group going off to fight in World War I.
Belizean mothers of that time were living in hell, but after a few years they would get relief because the war would be over. Bisher says, “On July 8, 1919, 339 Belizean soldiers of the British West India Regiment returned from the Mesopotamian Front of the World War,” and we can imagine what the reception was like when they reached our shores.
The suffering of the mothers of Belize was great during those frightening days when their sons were involved in World War I. Fathers of sons suffer too, and suffering not being something tangible that we can measure, no one can say that fathers don’t suffer as much as mothers do. It is accepted, however, that mothers feel more pain, and we are not about to query that.
Belize has little involvement in organized war at this time, but the mothers of Belize are experiencing as great a pain as the mothers who had sons fighting in the first World War. These are terrible, terrible times for Belize. It shouldn’t be so in peace time.
The murder rate for Belize and many countries in our region is over 30 per 100,000, among the worst in the world; there are a number of countries in our region, however, that have not fallen to violent crime the way we have. Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Barbados, and Guyana are not insulated from the problems in the region, yet these countries have less than 50% of Belize’s murder rate.
Three big issues facing Belize are a poor economy, our being on the route of cocaine to the USA, and the fact that we are terrible in delivering justice in murder cases. Looking at the economic factor, Costa Rica, Panama, and Barbados have better economies than we have, and this definitely makes for a better state of mind of the citizens in those countries. Guyana and Belize are on par with per capita incomes of about US$4,400, and Nicaragua operates under an economic system that is easier on the minds of human beings.
All five countries —Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Barbados, and Guyana – are on the cocaine route, like us. They must be doing something better than we are, because they have not fallen from the realm of civilized nations as we have. It has to be much less stressful to be a mother in those countries than it is to be one in Belize. There was a time when we were a tranquil haven. That idyllic place disappeared from us three decades ago.
The response of Belize’s justice system to murder is woeful, an abject disaster: it could hardly be worse. The most recent report says that less than 10% of Belize’s murderers are brought to justice. The following information taken from the website of the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) reads like it was taken from a study done in Belize:
The PADF commentary is on Jamaica, a sister country that has fallen to crime as much as we have. The PADF noted that a “well-functioning criminal justice system is one of the biggest deterrents to crime and violence in any country.” The PADF said the conviction rate for murder is low in Jamaica, and one of that country’s big challenges is inadequate forensic capacity, so it depends on “public witnesses, testimonies, and jurors.” The PADF said that “widespread public fear and distrust prevents citizens from testifying in court.”
It would be a frightening exercise to find out what percentage of Belizean mothers have sons that have been murdered, or have sons who have become murderous. It is real hard on the mother of a young male adult in Belize today. Mothers with daughters are stressed too: young women are increasingly becoming casualties in this disaster we are going through. The tears of our mothers for their sons, however, are gushing as though we were living in war times.
In the midst of all this pain we can’t be happy with the performance of our elected leaders. It is possible that they don’t have the capacity to address the problem. Our leaders blame our geography — Belize being on the transshipment route for cocaine going to the USA. We noted previously in this editorial that there are countries along the same route that have far lower murder rates than ours, so there’s proof that better can be done.
It is possible that our leaders are failing because they are so focused on enriching themselves with the spoils of the political system and the drug trade that they have become blind to the suffering of the people.
Belize does not have a history of being hard on its leaders, but there should be a limit to our tolerance. We accept that there can be hard times under the best of leadership, but we cannot allow leadership to consistently be so feeble in their response to our young men following a path of destruction. We know that young men weren’t born to make their mothers cry, but in these last few decades, that is too much the story in Belize.