Editorial — 28 September 2019
USA disrespected Belize because our leaders disrespect Belize

Belize’s Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, said at a recently held press conference, where he covered a range of issues that the USA had acted disrespectfully toward Belize in a matter involving Mr. Reynaldo Verde. Mr. Verde was taken into custody in the USA while transiting to Belize from Brussels, Belgium, where he had gone to attend a tax conference.

The PM said that officials from the Belize Embassy in the USA were denied access to Mr. Verde, and this is “a well-established international obligation.” He intimated that he would have understood the USA’s behavior if the matter had something to do with the Patriot Act (terrorism), but the allegation against Mr. Verde had to do with extortion, “a regular, almost garden-variety type of criminal offense.”

As has been the norm for years at ruling party press conferences, the overwhelming majority in the room were supporters of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP). The media was sufficiently well- represented, and how that group must pray for the day when Belizean leaders face them in an atmosphere that is not oppressive or actually intimidating, one where they get the respect deserving of members of this critical arm of our democracy. The Prime Minister, in concluding his commentary about the treatment the USA doled out to a Belizean citizen who had gone abroad on business for the Government (and people) of Belize, did not hide his bitterness.

“My God, man,” the PM said, “we have an obligation to all our citizens and furthermore, Mr. Verde is innocent until proven guilty … I do complain bitterly … we both were disrespected by this failure, this refusal on the part of the US authorities to allow our consular personnel to have access to Verde until way down in the week …” (all quotes taken from a Sept. 20 story in the Amandala by Rowland Parks)

The present president of the USA, Donald Trump, has described countries such as ours, as sh_holes. The present US president has drawn serious criticism on a number of fronts from many detractors, but no one calls him out for being deceitful when he describes his opponents and other countries. Donald Trump is a man who speaks his mind and what he feels about countries like ours is, in common parlance, nothing nice. We do not recall that his remark elicited any kind of response from our leaders.

The Belizean people resented the US president’s description of us, and we are angry with our political leaders for exposing us this way. The Belizean people have been clamoring for years for serious governance reform, to uplift our democracy, but our calls fall on deaf ears. We are sure our leaders heard what was said of us, but their lack of response indicates that it entered one ear and went out the next. The criticism rolled away like water off a duck’s back.

At that recently held press conference the PM said the USA disrespected Mr. Verde, and us. This is not new news. Mr. Trump assessed us more than a year ago, and he did not respect what he observed. The PM said the crime they charged Mr. Verde with was a mere “garden-variety” crime. It wasn’t “something to do with the Patriot Act,” he said. We understand the difference between extortion and terrorism, but we regret the PM’s description of the charge.

Belize’s Prime Minister must be familiar with the saying, “A thief is a murderer.” Any crime for which perpetrators can go to jail if they are found out, could lead them to commit murder to cover their tracks. Belize has been crying out to its leaders to fight corruption and run a respectable democracy. They do not heed. Mr. Verde could very well be innocent of the crime he is charged for, but because he comes from a country that has not earned the respect of the Americans, because he comes from a country whose leaders are failing, he was disrespected.

Belizeans pay much attention to what goes on in the USA, and we see political leaders in that country trying to corral their political system to advance economic philosophies, maintain/overturn cultural norms, and defend/topple religious beliefs. In Belize, we see political leaders manipulating the system for personal gain, glossing over graft, and for perpetuating power.

The only explanation for insisting that the government side controls the Public Accounts Committee and the Senate, and for keeping the seat for the Contractor General vacant, is so that government ministers and their favorite public officials cannot be controlled or properly investigated.

In a land where there can be no thorough investigation of wrongdoing, everyone is innocent. In 2019, Belize is a courtroom, and the judge is the PM and his bloated Cabinet. In our country, morality is of no concern: everything is good if it is legal. It doesn’t matter how a government minister or their cronies come by what they have acquired.

In the world presided over by the UDP, we got a disgraceful passport scandal, a Sanctuary Bay scandal, retroactive laws to make right what a court would likely have declared wrong, highly suspicious registrations, a BTL telecommunications negotiation that saw us lose hundreds of millions of dollars, interest piled on so high on a suspect UHS private hospital deal we find ourselves unable to respect a court order, land scams, bullying of the media, and contracts only for cronies, and we get little interest in solving murder cases.

We proudly say we live in a democracy because we have elections every five years or so, but our tongues would stick to the roofs of our mouths if we dared to say that our elections were fair. The government refuses to introduce campaign financing laws. The government gerrymanders. The government misuses public personnel and public properties to advance its chances at the polls. Those do not fit the description of “fair.”

Mr. Verde may be innocent of extortion, but he is not innocent of being from a country whose leaders have no respect for their citizens. He is a citizen of a country whose government creates an environment ripe for extortion and other forms of corruption, a country that turns a blind eye while citizens from the USA get bilked by one of their own doing business here.

We hate not being able to join with the PM in saying that the US treated our citizen, and us, wrongly, disrespectfully, and  that we didn’t deserve to be treated so. We can’t join with Mr. Barrow, because respect has to be earned, and we fail in the first step to that end. Our leaders must stop harming this country. If they don’t, they will provoke our people to abandon the hopes of democracy.

We are being run by a party that said they heard our cries for transparency and accountability in government, a party at whose head was a leader who said he wielded a sharp double-edged machete. What we got was a party that doubled back on its promises, thus leaving us exposed, wide open to be disrespected on the world stage.

Our leaders must make every effort to repair their wrong. Then people in other nations, seeing that we are a nation that is worthy of respect, will treat us accordingly.

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Deshawn Swasey

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