Belize’s murder count continues to mount and as I write, the number is
fast approaching the century mark and on pace to surpass even last
year’s alarming record of 132. Given Belize’s small size and
population, this is truly alarming. A recently released report placed
Belize among the top ten most dangerous countries in the world to live
or visit. This is particularly troubling given the fact that so many
of our people rely upon tourism for their livelihood. News this week
of a female tourist being raped and robbed as she peddled across the
country will not help and everyone agrees that something has to be
done and quickly.
Last week, Prime Minister Dean Barrow rushed back to Belize from a
totally unnecessary trip to St. Kitts. According to the PM, it was to
take him a week to travel to the Caribbean island for the inauguration
of the new President of the Caribbean Court of Justice; would not a
congratulatory call have sufficed? Many wondered about the timing of
this trip given the fact that all the signs were already pointing to
troubling times ahead. Remember, this was well after the
confrontation on George Street and even after the ‘not so subtle
threats”. Mr. Barrow however, has a flair for the dramatics and
revels in his role of “knight in shining armor” rushing to the rescue.
Sometime during the evening of Friday August 26th, a deadly
confrontation occurred between members of Belize’s dreaded Gang
Suppression Unit (GSU) and members of the George Street community;
shots were fired at the Police Station and a Molotov cocktail was
reportedly thrown inside. After it was all over, two persons were
dead, a young child was wounded and serious threats were hurled toward
the Police and “innocent citizens”. The Prime Minister’s name was
called several times by angry residents who named him as personally
responsible for all that had transpired.
A Police released sent out the following Tuesday seemed aimed at
justifying the Police’s actions by stating that “the Police has
received reliable information that rival gangs are in possession of
grenades and has intentions to use them during the September
celebrations". That was followed by another release supposedly being
issued by the gangs themselves. This has to be a first. I was
watching the news and almost fell off my chair. I cannot believe that
any media house would have reported that as a “press release”.
“Someone handed us a note” or “we were delivered a note” maybe, but
not a “press release”!
It was also unheard of and unwise for the Prime Minister to legitimize
the concept of gangs by sitting with any group purporting to represent
such. Someone from the Police Department or someone from the Ministry
even, but not the Prime Minister. Dean Barrow has tried this before
and it has not worked. It can never work.
Minister of Police Doug Singh has conceded that another harebrained
scheme by the PM to send high-energy criminals to rural districts has
backfired. Crime statistics in all three targeted districts have
soured and we hate to say but, “we told you so”!
Two things come to mind regarding Mr. Barrow’s latest folly. Number
one: if these gangs are as organized as we are making them out to be,
then we are in worse trouble than we can ever imagine. If they are
not, then Dean Barrow is playing a serious game and has done much to
push them in that direction. Whichever way, it spells bad news for
I do not believe that Belize has the gang problem that we are making
it out to be. We have pockets of young people who hang together and
sweat each other’s fever but that does not translate into a gang. Yes,
each and every one of those are capable of committing serious crimes
and even murder, but to suggest that it is some collaborated effort is
giving too much credibility to unorganized miscreance.
Those young men who allowed themselves to be drawn into the fray of
that political flimflam have also done themselves a disservice. They
are forever marked and added to the ranks of “usual suspect”. They
have practically accepted responsibility for anything before or
hereafter attributed to their respective gangs and will be the first
rounded up under the label of “criminal investigation or crime
Dean Barrow was hesitant to reveal what he promised the so-called gang
leaders but whatever it was, it can never be enough. Some of these
individuals make thousands of dollars in a single day and are by now,
quite accustomed to high living. They sleep late, drive fancy cars
and spend money as if it is going out of style. Does this man think
that he can coerce them away from illegal activity by promising some
infrastructure job that can pay at the most, a couple of hundred
dollars per week? This might work for a few who have “not strayed off
the reservation” or a few of the “foot soldiers” as Mr. Barrow has put
it but those already running the free range; forget it!
The root causes of Belize’s crime problem runs deep and complex.
Politicians have done more than their fair share in promoting the
violence and squeezing this toothpaste out of the tube. It will take
much more than the promise of a few jobs or the handing out of a few
dollars to re-tube this sucker.
When I write on issues like crime, I try to not only point out the
problem but to also try my best to make suggestions for reform. In
this case, I must beg an exception. This is a very serious
predicament that we find ourselves in.
There is an old saying that when you find yourself in a hole, the best
plan is to stop digging. We are in a deep hole but unfortunately, our
Prime Minister has dug us even deeper and continues to dig. He has
campaigned in poetry and has been governing in prose.
These young people are tired of hearing either of those. You need a
serious plan Mr. Prime Minister because your superfluous language and
shifty chicanery will not bail you out of this one.
Belize needs to take a bi-partisan, holistic approach to solving this
problem. It will require a wholesale awakening by just about every
Belizean man, woman and child. This administration’s policy of
victimization, polarization and political tribalism will seriously
impede this however. The cold naked truth is that this administration
lacks the necessary will, skill and wherewithal to solve any problem
or to move this country forward. They spend too much time peering
into the rear view and playing the blame game. They are too arrogant
to accept help or advice. There is but one solution; “this crowd has
G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world