In the Southside of Belize City, one can immediately find the following constituencies: (1) Queen’s Square — won at every election for the past 40 years by Dean Oliver Barrow; (2) Mesopotamia —controlled by Michael Finnegan “from King Hatchet was a hammer;” (3) Port Loyola — dominated by Boots Martinez without order; (4) Collet Division – under the command of aspiring UDP party leader Patrick Faber; (5) Albert Division – a Philip Goldosn stronghold from time immemorial until Mark Espat won it, and now it’s in the hands of Tracy Panton; AND Lake Independence, which is the only PUP-held constituency by Hon. Cordel Hyde! Simply put, Southside is red… red for the UDP representation it has, and red, washed in the blood of countless murdered sons and daughters of the soil!
The UDP administration of Dean Barrow has been in office for the past twelve years and sadly, in all this time, the longest sitting administration since independence, there has been no work done to ensure socio-economic improvement of the marginalized people of the Southside, yet downtown Belize City, where all the merchants make their wealth, is on the Southside. That wealth, however, is NOT reflected in the socio-economic conditions of the majority of people of the Southside.
As a matter of fact, I want to go on record that I abhor this concept of Southside versus Northside, as if to create some superiority and outright class structure between the two areas. Just the making of the classification already creates a psychological division and attracts an outright difference in treatment of one over the other. The politicians have done nothing to end this divide and rather thrive on it.
There was a time when only the Albert Division, under the leadership of Philip Goldson, was not led by a politician in the party in power, but those days are gone. However, it was understood then, that he stood alone, and nothing would be done by the ruling party, to elevate that constituency. Interestingly, the Albert Division was then, as it is now, the centre of downtown Belize City, and the economic centre, housing the government offices and court house, and government house, the commercial banks, and the iconic commercial street, Albert Street, with the only department store, Brodies! Goldson’s constituency was still the powerhouse, even when he was the sole opposition member of parliament.
Today, the once patriotic, majority Creole people who sacrificed and struggled with dignity and pride to keep Hon. Goldson in power, have mostly died off and have been replaced with voters voting on the basis of who pays them for the vote. They curry favours with the politicians to get jobs, land, statutory appointments, money to pay bills, house appliances, phones, and all the material things. So many of the residents are only looking after their self-interest, and the politicians are just too willing to play along, all in the name of holding on to power.
Southside under state of emergency
From around 1995 it was Dean Barrow who developed this idea of targeting the Southside for crime and militarizing the fight against crime, instead of seeing it as the social ill it is as a result of poor governance and thus focusing on human development. Check any country in the world where crime is down and you will see that the one thing different is the equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity and enforceable laws against corruption, not the lip service we have in Belize! In 1993 the UDP, for the second time in history, formed the government under the leadership of Manuel Esquivel, and Dean Barrow was the minister of national security. His solution to crime was not to go to the root of it, but to instead put the heavily armed BDF soldiers in combat camouflage outfits, on the streets of Southside Belize. As a result of this approach, we saw the escalation of crime like we had never seen before. The youths who were born and grew up under this militarized system under which they saw guns in their faces on a daily basis accepted it as the norm and so psychologically had no problem with incorporating guns as a way of life into their daily routine. You see, they saw themselves living in a war zone and so, like street soldiers, they too equipped themselves with guns to survive in that war zone.
The Gayle Report, the Crooks Report and all the advice by the professionals mean nothing, if the government does not implement them. I can assure you that not one of these reports or professionals advised that you randomly just lock up suspected criminals for 30 days with no evidence of a crime committed by them specifically and with no attempt at proper investigations to find such evidence. None of those reports asked that police become more brutal and less community-minded. And I can categorically state that none of those reports asked that there be an outright targeting of Southside youth as opposed to Northside youths. This division does not augur well for the national psyche and the psychological development of our youths…. It’s tribal and it’s counter-development!
However, contrary to all the professional advice given by imminently qualified experts, the only measure used to suppress crime has been the violations of human rights by use of powers under the Constitution. Therefore, the focus has been, not on finding the culprits for each crime, but rather collectively punishing an already stereotyped group of young men. The most recent such measure was announced late Monday night, as a State of Emergency was declared on Southside Belize City for Tuesday 7th July, 2020, commencing at 3:00 a.m. According to News5, the SoE was prompted by the weekend murders: “Two men were killed over the weekend due to warring gangs and police intelligence suggests that more blood would have spilled in the streets in retribution of the murders of Raheem Faber and Raheem Miles. Since the crack of dawn, police and the B.D.F. were out in full force, rounding up the suspected gang members in neighbourhoods they are known to operate. Ninety-nine persons were detained and will be taken to the Belize City Prison for a period of one month,” stated the report.
99 men will be 30 days without freedom!
It is amazing that the masses are generally quiet over the detention of 99 citizens without proof of a crime, all because a misguided police high command considered them criminal elements. This goes against the constitutional tenement that “YOU ARE INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUITLY” and negates the constitutional duty of the police to investigate and provide evidence to prosecute criminals for crimes proven.
However, what is even more frightening about this situation is that these men are not being arrested and charged for a specific crime committed; rather, they are just being picked up and locked up for 30 days, with no due process! I as an attorney am even more flabbergasted that this is the idea for crime prevention by a commissioner of police who is a trained attorney, sanctioned by an Attorney General, who is another trained attorney, but both of whom obviously missed their Constitutional Law classes. When ComPol Chester Williams spoke about the basis for the SOE, he did not even sound like my learned colleague:
“This morning, we launched an operation headed by Mr. Vidal and that operation was to go after those persons who we believe are involved in the recent spate of violent crimes in Belize City and to some extent across the country because it is not just about the shootings but also the robberies that we are seeing across the country that are brazen robberies with people carrying firearms and pushing firearms in the face of people. Those were committed as well by some of the same persons that we targeted this morning. Now in terms of why we decided to go into this state of emergency, the minister has covered most of it, but you all would recall that when we had the previous one in March, when they were released from custody they were warned and they were told that if it they decide to start their foolishness again that we will be coming back for them,” he said.
This is so illegal! If, as the Commissioner says, they know that these are the persons responsible for the crimes, why are they not investigated, arrested and charged and prosecuted for the specific crime? Why just pick them up, lock them away for 30 days, warn them and release them three months later, just to have them picked up again, locked up for another 30 days and then released again, so the cycle could continue? Sorry, but nothing about this strategy is legal, strategic or effective! Rather, it is creating an explosive situation where suspected criminals are being groomed to become more retaliatory, vicious and uncontrollable! This cannot be an effective police strategy, and rather it is a concession by government that it has failed to combat crime and in desperation has created an untenable situation. When I first heard about this abusive use of an SOE, this was my immediate response:
“I know many of you support the use of brutal force and the violations of constitutional rights of our black Southside men because you have likewise been indoctrinated to think, that if we lock the perceived criminals away the problem is gone. It is not gone … you only making it fester more and the children of these same men are likely to be next in line. You are just hardening the community against the police and the politicians get away with using these same criminal gangs come election but not being accountable to provide them with better opportunities. Then, the rest of us who think we better than them, sit in our ivory towers thinking it’s best to lock them up, Caz, after all, they just criminals, when the worse criminals are the ones we give our votes to.
“Those politicians have robbed our children of their future, indebted generations to come, thrived on political tribalism and now, have sanctioned the abuse of the Constitution against our young black men. Yes, many of our men are not saints and yes murders keep occurring, but so do drug planes keep landing and so do our politicians keep allowing bloated contracts, especially for roads. No one has been locked up for the proven illegal issuance of 55 thousand passports as disclosed by the Auditor General and no one locked up for the illegal spending of $1.5 billion dollars by PM Dean Barrow as determined by the Supreme Court. The PM has NOT been arrested and charged for meeting in secret with Lord Ashcroft in Miami … yet our black southside men who are disenfranchised from true developmental opportunities are locked up! These same monies could have been used to uplift our southside communities!”
My people, your minds are screwed up, we are brainwashed and pathetic! It is pathetic, that a disgraced politician like John Saldivar, who had to resign from leadership after the UDP convention, is still allowed to run again in the same convention, yet nothing has changed to show he has been exonerated; rather, the court ruling in Utah only confirmed, as he did, that he took a large amount of money without disclosing or declaring it…under our laws that is illegal. However, the same Marco Vidal who led the early morning raid of the Southside, has been incompetent at likewise scooping up and capturing Saldivar! Shame on us for allowing them to keep shamelessly conning us!