Prime Minister, Police Ministry and United Gangs meet
Prime Minister Dean Barrow cut short his trip to St. Kitts and returned to Belize to diffuse the ongoing tension between the gangs and the Gang Suppression Unit. Last Friday, the GSU mounted a violent confrontation with the George Street Gang following the funeral of Charles Woodeye and in the process many innocent persons were brutalized. There were subsequent threats of retaliation in the aftermath of the incident which sent shudders throughout the community in light of the approaching celebrations. Soon after his return today, the prime minister and a high level team including Minister of Police Doug Singh, Brigadier General Dario Tapia and Dr. Herbert Gayle headed to the IT-VET where he had two separate meetings; one with gangs not affiliated to George Street and another meeting was held exclusively with George Street and its affiliated gangs. Hattieville inmates who are associates of known Belize City gangs were also included in the meetings. Just before six this evening, both meetings concluded. The prime minister in an interview with the media discussed the possibility of a truce between the rival gangs.
“Well the meeting came about after I spoke to the Minister of Police from abroad when I learnt that there had been the threat issued on the media and when I learnt from the Minister that there was information to suggest that the threat was real. I felt that it necessitated me 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 to diffuse the situation in terms fot he 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 two sets of meetings. The minister arranged for everyone else other than George Street to come one-thirty and we spoke to them and then of course we had the meeting with George Street and its affiliates at three-thirty. We 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 and 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 expressed that willingness to talk about exactly that objective. Whether we will actually be successful coming out of that meeting on Sunday is another matter, but given where we are, it is 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, 7 News
“With Respect sir, you’ve been here before. We 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.”
“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 improved and so we will continue to go with it a will. There is a difference between this time and last time—these were far larger groups. Both the earlier group at one-thirty and the second group at three-thirty and there were many more of the major players. In fact, all the known leaders as far as I can tell were present except for people who might actually in jail—and I think we even brought one or two people out of jail. So 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 by the commitment freely given after I had proposed this dialogue—freely given by the leaders of George Street and Affiliates this afternoon. So far as I can judge, I am convinced that there is a willingness to help 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.”
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Police issued a release saying that it had received information that several gangs had grenades that they intended to use during the celebrations. On Thursday, four affiliated gangs rejected that allegation and today the rival groups all agreed to hold their corner. Minister Doug Singh told the press that aside from the customary increased patrols, there are other security measures being put in place to ensure the safety of citizens during the September Celebrations, particularly the Carnival Road March to be held on Saturday.
“Well the usual heightened security measures are going to be in place. I don’t know if the minister wants to reveal his plans. That might not be the wisest possible thing but I suspect the point you would want me to make is that there will not be any lessening of the stepped up efforts that are always put in place at this time of year even though I believe that the commitment made on the part of George Street and Gill Street and the others not to cause any trouble; not to attack anyone and especially innocent civilians; I think that that commitment was made absolutely in good faith 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 to make sure that the measures are in place.
Doug Singh, Minister of Police
“We’ll take every effort to ensure that the public is safe. We’ve made it clear to all parties involved that if anyone breaks the law, that we will have to take proper measures; there is no easing in context of the policing that has to be done. We understand the circumstances and the heightened circumstances. While the carnival is important and it’s one of those events that require a lot of officers, other events through the September celebrations also will. Some of them are a little easier to contain such as the Expo, such as the twenty-first celebration which is concentrated in a specific area. But all measures will be taken—we’ll have people in plain clothes, we’ll have uniformed officers along the route as we always do. We will have the bus following the carnival which is there to pick up people who are disorderly or not acting in the proper or who are disruptive and 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 faith to ensure that there is no violation to anybody’s rights and that we will meet on Sunday to work through things.”
This is the second time that the prime minister has met directly with the gangs. In the first instance, in January 2010 the truce lasted overnight and rival factions resumed the bloodbath on the streets.