Mediation Meeting Between GOB, GSG and Other Gangs

Prime Minister Dean Barrow left for St. Kitts on Tuesday to witness the installation of the new president of the Caribbean Court Of Justice. But he never got to that ceremony; as soon as he got to St. Kitts, he had to turn right back around because of the domestic situation in Belize.

The Prime Minister came home to hold peace talks with the gangs. The meetings were set up on Wednesday - that's after key figures in the George Street Gang made history by going public, expressing their grievances against the GSU and making blanket threats against innocent civilians and public safety.

And then, the police came out with a release saying that the gangs had grenades and, quote, "(have) intentions to use them during the September celebrations."

Despite that frightening declaration, a remarkable release from George Street and its allies yesterday disavowed any involvement with grenades and pledged that they will cause no trouble for the September Celebrations.

Still, the notion of a grave danger to public safety persisted and so peace talks with the gangs were held today to try and de-escalate tensions.

This afternoon at the TVET building in Belize City - two sessions of meetings were held. The first was for the leaders and key players in gangs which are not allies of the George Street Gang. That included Back-A-Town, P-I-V, Kraal Road, Taylor's Alley, and SSG. Some leading gang figures including Darren Banks and an associate were even brought down from prison for the meeting. And two of the Meighan Brothers were brought in from police detention.

And from the government side, the Prime Minister arrived and he was backed up by Police and Public Safety minister Douglas Singh, Edward Broaster of the CYDP, The Commissioner of Police, Crispin Jeffries and the Commander of the BDF, Dario Tapia. Violence anthropologist Dr. Herbert Gayle - who has done the most comprehensive research on gangs in Belize was also flown in for the mediation session.

That meeting lasted for about an hour and forty - five minutes and when the first crew was gone - the George Street crew started to arrive at about a quarter to four. They were represented by the Tillett brothers, Shelton Pinky Tillett, along with Gerald Shiny Tillett, and later Troy Tillett and other George street personalities notably excluding "Bobo" - who had made the most caustic remarks on Monday night's news.

That meeting also went for about an hour and forty five minutes - and at the end of it - the Prime Minister spoke very cautiously about the results, saying it is a start:...

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"There was information to suggest that the threat was real. I thought that it necessitated my coming back to Belize and cutting short the mission I was on in St. Kitts. The Minister agreed, he put together `the logistics of the meeting - extended the invitation to the gang leaders. The primary purpose was of course to diffuse the situation in terms of the threat that had been issued. By the time I got here this afternoon I learnt that a press release had in fact been given to you yesterday and that the George Street and affiliates had already given an undertaking. it was nevertheless necessary to confirm that undertaking in today's meeting and to go beyond that. We had 2 set of meetings, the Minister arrange for everybody else other than George Street to come earlier at 1:30 and we spoke to them and the of course we had the meeting with George Street and its affiliates at 3:30. We've agreed with both sides that there is a need for a face to face dialogue and all parties meeting with government of course with the state acting as facilitator on that will take place on Sunday. The idea is to try and forge some kind of a truce and that was made clear to both sides. Both sides express a willingness to talk about exactly that objective."

"Whether we will actually be successful coming out of the meeting on Sunday is another matter but given where we are its certainly worth the effort and I certainly am absolutely committed to investing my time in the process to try and achieve the outcome that we all desire."

Jules Vasquez
"With respect sir, you've been here before. You remember January of 2010 it had reached a similar head and you had a meeting with some of these same players and again it unfolded into chaos."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"Well if I have to be here again in a few months' time, I will be. The point is that we have to keep on trying. We acknowledge that in fact the situation has not improve and so we will continue to go at it with a will. There is a difference between this time and last time though. These were far larger groups both the earlier group at 1:30 and the second group at 3:30 and there were many more of the major players. In fact all the known leaders so far as I can tell were present except for people who might actually be in jail. I think we even brought one and two people out of jail. The point I want to make is that I was cautious and in fact factual in terms of telling you that what will come out of Sunday afternoon's meeting is anybody's guess whether anything will come out of Sunday's meeting is anybody's guess but the effort has to be made. Certainly I was extremely impressed with the commitment freely given after I had proposed this dialogue - freely given by the leaders of George Street and its affiliates this afternoon."

"In so far as I can judge I am convince that there is a willingness to make the effort. Government is prepared to offer a number of things if this truce can be reached and so we will make absolutely a determined effort on Sunday to come out of the meeting with something in terms of a way forward."

Geovanni Brackett, reporter "You've address the issue of gang rivalry but tell us did the matter fo the GSU - the incident that occur Friday night which we believe started this whole news cast - was that being address here today?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"But started what? The fact is as Jules has pointed out, we've been having a problem in terms of the gang warfare - the rivalries and the shootings and the murders for a while and the incident with the GSU was spark by the fact that there was a spate of shootings around that time. But to answer your question directly yes of course we discuss the fallout from that incident. All I will say is that the fact of the incident having happen certainly did not lead to any reluctance in the end on the part of the George Street people to continue to engage in a dialogue with government and with the other side. So I don't think we want to spend too much time rehashing the situation with the GSU if the George Street people can say we are prepared to move on then I think all of us have to take precisely that position. Let's move on."

Isani Cayetano, reporter "In terms of the September celebrations with the carnival` tomorrow. What are some of the measures to be put in place going forward?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"Well the usual heightened security measures are going to be in place. I don't know whether the Minister wants to reveal his plans - that might not be the wisest possible thing but I suspect the point you perhaps would want me to make is that there will not be any lessening of the step up efforts that are always put in place at this time of the year even though I believe that the commitment made on the part of George Street and Gill Street and the others are not to cause any trouble - will not attack anyone and especially innocent civilians - I think that that commitment was made absolutely is good fate and I accept that they are serious about the commitment. Nevertheless we have to do what we always do at this time and the minister is going to ensure together with the commissioner that all measures are in place."

Jules Vasquez
"Would you speak on those measures?"

Hon. Doug Singh, Minister of Police
"Certainly we will take every effort to ensure that the public is safe. We've made it clear to all parties involve that if anyone breaks the law we will have to take proper measures. There is no easing in context of the policing that have to be done. We understand the circumstances and heightened circumstances. While the carnival is important and is one of those events that require a lot of officers - other events through the September celebrations also will - some of them are a little bit easier to contain such as the Expo; such as the 21st celebration which is concentrated in a specific area. But all measures will be taken. We will; have people in plain clothes. We will have uniform officers along the route as we always do. We will have the bus following the carnival which is there to pick up those people who are disorderly and who are not acting in the proper way and who are disruptive or breaking the law. So there is no easing in context of what has to be done from a policing standpoint but we have come to an understanding that we are going to work in the best possible fate to ensure that there is no violations to anybody's rights and that we will meet on Sunday to try to work through things."

Rowland Parks, Reporter
"In light of the incident on Friday in the George Street area. Will the GSU methods be different from what happen on Friday?"

Hon. Doug Singh, Minister of Police
"Well I think you are making some assumptions and let's just leave it at that."

Geovanni Brackett
"But would you agree that when we were out there - there were physical bruises and not only bruises but evidence of broken arms and broken jaws. Would it not assume that......"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"I am saying that nobody has asked the people from George Street to give up any redress of their rights that they feel might be warranted but I am telling you that if we focus on what's really important they have agreed to move on so that we can have this dialogue - this meeting on Sunday. I really don't see that it will do any good to try and rehearse what happen on that fateful day. Like the minister - I don't think we want to go into that - it will not be helpful and we will not do it."

Jules Vasquez
"Some will criticize you for negotiating with people who have made threats against the citizenry at large or indirectly against yourself even. What is your approach to opening a dialogue after threats were made?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"Well I am here aren't here and have cut short my trip in order to be here and so obviously as far as I am concern life is real. These people not only made threats - they had wherewithal - they still do to carry out those threats. If it required my presence to diffuse the threats to get rid of the threats then it is my job and my duty. The fact is - let me leave it there. The notion that we are engaging with people that we ought not to engage with make no sense. They are here; they are part of our society. There is a huge problem that involves them. I am always going to be prepared to get involve personally if that can help to lead to a solution."

Jules Vasquez
"Finally how would you characterize the atmosphere - the tone of the meetings? What was the exchange or the repartee like?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"There was a frank exchange but all's well that ends well. I am saying that the George Street people in particular who were the key cards certainly with respect to the worry about security over the carnival weekend were amazingly ready to confirm that no matter what innocent civilians should not be put in harm's way and are amazingly ready to say 'we've spoken to you about what happen, you've heard our complains - we are happy to move as per your suggestion, we are happy to engage in a dialogue that might bring about at least the start of a solution to the larger problem. I've got to be extremely satisfied that that was how things went."

Jules Vasquez
"However you would agree that philosophically a gang is organized to protect turf and make violence - he organizing principle of a gang is that and you cannot have a civil state co-exist with those who exist for the purpose of defending turf and making violence."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"That's why we are talking about trying to put an end to this whole gang phenomenon admittedly it is a extremely tall order. It might be mission impossible but we have got to try and I am saying that it certainly seems to me that we made a start this afternoon and that the meeting on Sunday could just might provide some kind of a break through. Of course there can be no quick fixes. Both the minister and I said to the groups 'you know there would be no GSU if there were no g's' (there would be no Gang Suppression Unit if there were no gangs) if we can work to achieving some kind of understanding that would cessation of hostilities between the rival groups. We would have pull off a small miracle. There is no point telling me that miracles don't happen in modern times. I have to have faith and I have to believe. Thank you."

And so, the attention next turns to Sunday, September fourth when efforts will be made to hammer out a truce. A government statement issued this evening, says today's meetings were set up at the request of the Prime Minister. It says quote, "Sunday's meeting is forge a truce and put an end to gang related violence," end quote. On Sunday, we'll tell you how that went...

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