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The area the incident took place

Out west, the people of San Ignacio and Santa Elena turned out in the hundreds to demonstrate against crime. But what culminated in the mass gathering at the Columbus Park started with a Sunday afternoon meeting not far from ground zero. Love TV's Patrick Jones and video journalist Brian Castillo were in Cayo for the event and bring you the following report.

The demonstrators got the requisite permit from the police department, and from early began to gather inside the town's main park for their protest. Although the demonstration was held in San Ignacio town, the message was aimed squarely at Belmopan.

The people of San Ignacio and Santa Elena are hoping for a response to their petitions by Wednesday. Failing a favorable response, they intend to stage an even bigger demonstration on Thursday, which should include a simultaneous shutdown of businesses. We'll keep you posted on developments out west.


Peace rally against crime in Cayo, Belize [VIDEO]

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The peace rally against crime in San Ignacio, Cayo District. We have the live streaming here.

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Cayo Community Unites! Will Criminals Take Heed?

Today, businesses and schools in the twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio were shut down and hundreds of citizens came out to participate in the Solidarity Peace Movement.

It was a peaceful but purposeful protest against crime - because while everyone knew that the strong showing wouldn't magically end crime - it is clear that the community wanted to be somehow engaged in something meaningful and cathartic.

Our coverage starts in Belmopan - where students at the University of Belize remembered their fellow students.

Jules Vasquez has the story:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
This morning at 8:00 UB Students gathered at the main campus in Belmopan to remember their dead, Norval Belisle and Suzenne Martinez.

The spirit was strong and there was prayerful reflection and a symbol of justice from Norval Belisle's mother.

Norval Belisle's mom
"I light this torch for justice and peace because in this country we have none."

She carried that torch in a procession through the streets of Belmopan followed by dozens of students and supporters chanting for justice.

Crowd Chanting; We want justice now!

The students got on busses headed for Cayo and the torch started out on a run bound for the Solidarity Rally in San Ignacio about 25 miles away. Norval Belisle's sister and neighbors started the run but out on the road, the long distance specialists took over a majestic image as they ran in cadence for a cause.

Waiting for them in Cayo was a large crowd - spread out across the downtown area around Columbus Park.

They had all kinds of signs - handmade, home-made genuine expressions of frustration with a violence epidemic that has spared no one.

Suzenne Martinez's mother was the most recent and everywhere we could see the remembrances of her daughter who they called purple; Purple ribbons, pictures, purple wreaths on the doors of closed businesses; Indeed a whole movement.

But there is no shortage of victims - so many of them - so many innocent that there could be enough candles enough to cover every square inch of this downtown area and here too the crowd was spirited and singing to life the spirits.

Indeed it was impressive - an energized, engaged populace - students full of passionate conviction - even with an 11 point resolution signed by three colleges but to what end?

Hope Amadi - President UB Student Body
"If you look at what is happening all over the world - the people that are taking a stand against any kind of situation are mostly the university students. We come to understand that this is the right time for us the university students to take stand and say enough is enough for all the nonsense that is going on in Belize."

"We came up with a declaration - we partnered with Galen University and Sacred Heart College to send a declaration to the government of the things we think should be address."

Jules Vasquez
"Do you think it is achieving anything?"

Juliana Guerra
"Yes we are because our voices have as much power as this little finger on Election Day."

Jules Vasquez
"There is a very palpable and a very strong anti-government sentiment out here. People want answers from the government and they feel they aren't getting any. They walked out on the Attorney General, your colleague last night. What do you feel about that anti-government sentiment?"

Hon. Elvin Penner, Area Representative
"I will disagree when it comes to anti-government sentiment because everybody I've spoken to except perhaps a few people who are perhaps using this as a political agenda. Most of them has nothing to do with politics, certainly they are not satisfied that the government is doing enough."

Juliana Guerra
"This is not a political thing you know Jules. Please this is not a political thing; we are asking our leaders to please listen to our voices. They can if they want, believe me, they can."

Jules Vasquez
"Did you attend the meeting last night with the Attorney General?"

Juliana Guerra
"Yes I did."

Jules Vasquez
"Were you satisfied with what he said?"

Juliana Guerra
"No sir, no."

Jules Vasquez
"Why not?"

Juliana Guerra
"Because at the beginning they started like this was a story then they took us for fools, then they told us that the Prime Minister said they we can do what we want, we are on our own."

Jules Vasquez
"That's the message you took from that event; you all are on your own?"

Juliana Guerra
"They say that we are on our own. He says that the Prime Minister is not against demonstration, we can do what we want meaning we are on our own."

But no one felt alone or powerless, when the students ran across the Hawkesworth bridge at 12:30 - still carrying the torch four hours after they started - the energy and determination of these youth to make a difference did make it seems that change - is possible:

Hope Amadi - President UB Student Body
"Everybody today in Belize that is watching this news could tell that is one of its kind. This is to tell you that the people are tired of what is going on. The residents are getting tired. We started from Belmopan, do you know what it means to run all the way from Belmopan to Cayo just in one voice, in one unity, everybody is coming together. I think it is high time for the government to understand that this is the right time for us to change some policies in order to safeguard our future of the youths of this country."

Jules Vasquez
"So what's next?"

Hope Amadi - President UB Student Body
"When you have awakened you look out for some damages to be done. UB students are awakened; Galen University students say that enough is enough; Sacred Heart students say that enough is enough. This is not time where we are waiting for the labour department to say something. This is not the time we are waiting for the business people to say something. This is the time that the youths have realize that we have to take over - that we have to do something if we want the future of our country to be in safe hands."

Fortunately the giant didn't awake today - but he did stir which the officer commanding San Ignacio said serves a useful social purpose:

Jules Vasquez
"Is it an important event to sort of release the pressure that naturally builds up in any society where there is crime?"

Supt Ralph Moody - O/C San Ignacio
"Yes Jules they need to release themselves. They need to say how they feel and I believe that this way peacefully is very good for the community."

And it is a community that - has had enough - but truly their feeling of being fed up probably has little effect on criminals - and that's where the police come in.

And San Ignacio Police will be getting that help. Before 5:00 this evening, they received a new police truck from the Ministry of National Security.

As for the protest - it went up until about 3:00 pm - and at the peak - our estimate is that around 500 persons were out there. The shutdown lasted until shortly after that when, at around 4:00, businesses started opening up.

A statement issued from the Prime Minister's Office this evening congratulates and thanks those who participated in the San Ignacio/Santa Elena peaceful protest against crime.

Channel 7

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GOB To Cayo: Coming As Fast As We Can!

And that pickup truck is part of the official response to the concerns taken to the Prime Minister by the Cayo Neighborhood Watch Association.

They submitted a seven-point list of demands to the Prime Minister on Monday. These were taken to Cabinet on Tuesday and last night the CEO in the Ministry of National Security was supposed to present a progress report to the community at a town meeting in San Ignacio.

But, things never got that far, the crowd was antsy and impatient with Attorney General Wilfred Elrington who scolded them about kids not brought up right - and told them that in his Pickstock Division he has to deal with many more murders than Cayo does.

That was enough for the crowd, which just got up and walked out en masse on the A-G who was left at the microphone talking. It was an embarrassment beyond compare for the government - and more than that - it stopped them from getting the message out that many of those seven points would be dealt with - like - immediately.

Today, the CEO in the Ministry of National Security discussed the progress made on the registry of sex offenders with a monitoring system for those who get out on bail.

George Lovell - CEO - Ministry of National Security
"The second one had to do with that for the safety of our female folks, children and the community - a registry and monitoring system for the release convicts and offenders for crimes mentioned in the first petition which is sex offenders and or those repeated offenders of serious crime - be introduce to follow the whereabouts of these people once they are registered. I believe that that particular petition is not an unreasonable request. I don't see it as a unfair or unreasonable request and so we will seek to implement that right away. However what I and my ministry needs to do and this is just an implied task that we now have is to ensure that while we are doing so we are not infringing on anyone constitutional rights because we live in a country where we must have respect for law and order and the constitution being our most supreme law. Once we I check with my legal advisors and people and we find out that there is no problem with that then we can do that tomorrow. We can go there and ensure that the register and the monitoring system that we are talking about can be implemented immediately."

Another demand had to do with an urgent upgrade of the country's Forensic Services - and Lovell says that a 3-D ballistic analysis system is not only on the way, it's here! He explained:..

George Lovell - CEO - Ministry of National Security
"We are already along that road to ensure that we have the state of the art forensic laboratory system in Belize. This equipment will help us tremendously to develop that capacity that is needed. The capacity that people from the solidarity movement for justice and peace in Cayo and the people in Cayo are asking for."

"The second of that is DNA and it is my hope with the work that we are currently doing that we will see this particular discipline up and running in a very short time. We currently have discussions with our friends from the United States Government where we have an agreement for them to have assigned to us and our national forensic science services a DNA expert who will operate under two ways. The first will be for that individual to provide mentorship, the necessary training to add our local forensic specialist and secondly for him to provide that expert requirement that is needed in court for all the cases that involve DNA evidence."

There is currently no trained personnel to operate the IBIS system, but Lovell says training is being arranged.

George Lovell - CEO - Ministry of National Security
"As early as the end of work day today - I was assured from the Ministry of Finance that that vehicle that I spoke about that will be given to them will be delivered to the San Ignacio formation and that will happen as early as end of work day today. I would have like to have it done while you all were out there and to take it to the crowd and have it delivered. But there are certain documentation that drags on and I couldn't get it done from the time I made the promise yesterday. But my promise is that it would have been done by Friday which is tomorrow. I am still ahead of the game but not as fast as the people would like to see it done."

And the third follow up has to do with that police truck - which, when we spoke to him this afternoon, was on the way. As regards other demands about the DPP's office, today's statement from the PM's office says that there will be the proper enforcement of the laws governing denial of bail in cases of sexual and other serious offences and greater coordination between the Police and the Office of the Director of the Public Prosecution to ensure more effectiveness in the investigation and preparation of cases for prosecution.

Channel 7

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Hon. Wilfred On The Fiasco In Cayo

And before going to Ladyville - Ablonczy visited with Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington.

That was an important meeting at this juncture - because Guatemala is trying to make an international diplomatic incident over the killing of one of its citizens in Belizean territory.

Letting her hear the Belize story first hand was important because Canada is a part of the "Friends of Belize" - nations that are trying to move along the differendum process.

But while Elrington seems to have gotten on well with Ablonczy, he made a major gaffe in Cayo on Wednesday night. That's when he hosted a town meeting and incensed the townspeople with his candid remarks.

He told them that Cayo parents were not raising their children properly, and that Government did not have money for a forensic lab, and that they, the citizens, had to do their own fundraising - among other things.

That prompted a mass walkout - but Elrington says the walkout that most of us saw on LOVE TV didn't happen. Here's his interpretation of the situation:..

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Attorney General
"No, that was not what happened. But the reporter who obviously had his own agenda there reported that the people left. I heard him saying that this is the straw that broke the camel's back. It was only one young man who seems to have carried a group people there. When you listen to that whole meeting I was so depressed to tell you the truth."

Jules Vasquez
"You are accused of making very insensitive remarks."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Attorney General
"Yes because I was so depress Jules because I was faced with a congregation of people who seem to have thought they could do nothing for themselves. They don't have as many murders in Cayo as I have right in Pickstock alone - the whole Cayo District are not experiencing many murders as I am experiencing in the Pickstock Division."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes but when people are experiencing grief and loss it is insensitive to say such things. If I went to the home of a grieving family and I say you all don't feel no way; a good friend of mine got killed the other day, this will pass. That is insensitive, that is not the right thing to say, it is impolitic."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Attorney General
"You see Jules there are so many impolitic things to say in Belize that you don't say anything. The other day I said that the border was artificial; that is the correct technical word. I know it, you know it, everybody supposed to know it but nobody wants to say that to the Belizean population. You have to educate your population Jules. You can't allow your population to remain in state where they don't know things."

Jules Vasquez
"You don't regret how things unfolded? You don't wish you had been perhaps less caustic or more sensitive in your remarks?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Attorney General
"My only wish is that we had the capacity to better inform and educate our people."

We also asked Elrington about the fact that none of the five UDP representatives from the Cayo District were there for the meeting. He said indeed they should have been because the townspeople are their constituents.

Channel 7

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Marty Offline OP
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HE SAID WHAT?: So, the Honorable the Attorney General Wilfred Elrington said the walk out by the people of San Ignacio did not happen at the public meeting which he attended. Mr. Elginton told Channel 7 news that the reporter, which is myself, Patrick E. Jones, had my own agenda. In order to remain respectful to the good gentleman, my only public response to that I will give is: INCREDIBLE! There are other choice words which I have; but those will remain between me and my God, because obviously Minister Elrington and I attended two different meetings. Television pictures do not lie, and if the footage of the people walking out in mass is not what happened, then what is?

Patrick Jones

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At the movies

Last week's closedown and demonstration in El Cayo might very well be, as one former politician put it, "previews of coming attraction." Belizeans all over are very fed up with the high rate of crime and the low rate of conviction. Over the past five years we have had well over five hundred murders. Barely into the middle of October and we are already way past a hundred for this year alone; with no sign of the violence letting up anytime soon. While the Police have been quick to make arrests in most cases, very few of those suspects ever get convicted. In most cases, Police are sure that they have the right person but more than 90% of the time, they are unable to secure a conviction. The reasons given for the dismissals run the gamut from incredulous to ludicrous. As Tom Greenwood once said, "we have replaced "sub umbra florae" with "nolle prosequi".

Of course, murder is only one of the serious crimes currently plaguing our once peaceful haven of democracy. Attempted Murder, home invasions, robberies, rape and burglaries are common place and even when someone is caught, the chances of getting off are far better than average. Many of these crimes are committed in broad daylight since most folks are terrified of going to court to testify. And with good reason for if statistics were available we'd be horrified at the number of witnesses that have come up murdered just for even thinking about giving testimony. While eyewitness testimony is still assumed to be the more reliable form of evidence, modern technology provides us with other means of solving crimes.

That is why a National Forensics Laboratory was constructed during the last administration. It sits in Ladyville adjacent to the BDF Price Barracks; practically vacant and unused for the past six years. An existing building on the property was to be used for a Police Morgue; a service that is still sorely lacking. Apparently, this government has refused to allocate the funds necessary to furnish the lab with neither equipment nor trained personnel. As for the Police Morgue, it is hardly even discussed anymore. The last budget saw cuts for forensics, the courts and for community projects; and we can almost understand for things have been tough. There was no paucity of funds however, for posh vehicles, lavish junkets abroad and bloated contracts for cronies; seems our priorities are way out of whack.

During the time I spent with the Police Department, much progress was made in the field of forensics. A Scenes of Crime department was established and many persons were sent abroad for training. A modern Automatic Fingerprinting Identification System (AFIS) was bought and brought on-stream and all stations and substations were computerized and connected to Headquarters via internet. An Information Technology (IT) unit was established and given required funds to bring the Police up to date with modern technology. Much of this was abandoned and left by the wayside following the 2008 elections.

One of the demands handed to the Prime Minister by the people of Cayo is that this government "create a DNA equipped Forensic Laboratory". The Prime Minister has promised to comply and if he keeps this promise, it will mark a milestone as the first that he has ever kept. Even so, it seems that he is now set to go about re-inventing a wheel that was already around and rolling.

We are pleased that the Canadian people have seen fit to donate an Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS). Interestingly it seems that this gift was apparently already in country but neither Sedi nor CEO Lovell had a clue. It was apparently only after the ill-fated and infamous meeting in San Ignacio that either became aware of this.

Nevertheless, I do not think that it will be enough to satisfy the people's demand for it will be years before it can be brought on-stream. The people of Belize are looking for immediate action. The IBIS is able to match slugs and expended shells to firearms but the Police must first compile a data base. Again, just before the last election, a plan was in place to create such a database but that was also abandoned. Unfortunately, this will take lots of years, lots of effort and lots of money to realize. The UDP simply do not have the will, the brainpower or the time.

Another requirement from the people is that sex offenders be registered. That certainly should not be difficult and one can only wonder why such a plan was not already in place.

The demand that will give us some trouble will be the demand for the death penalty. Too many people in too many countries around the world are now dead set against the death penalty. (pardon the pun) This might have been the only point on which Sedi could have made some sense and some headway, but he did a [#%!]-poor job of explaining himself. He was too busy being condescending and insulting to the people in the audience. The matter of capital punishment is rather complicated and will require much more thought and dialog.

A demand that can be met, but one which the government seems intent on not even considering, is for the removal of the DPP. This took center stage at meeting in El Cayo and the people seem unyielding on this one. The Prime Minister and Sedi Elrington seem equally inflexible and are trying to convince us that the constitution does now allow for a removal of the DPP. Is that a fact? Then what happened to Lutchman Soonandan and to Kirk Anderson and to a number of DPP's before them? When this government wants to remove, not even a Chief Justice or a Governor General is safe.

Another demand from the people out west is that bail be denied for any person accused of a sexual offense or other serious crime. Seems lately, quite a number of persons have been accused of repeat offenses, shortly after meeting bail. Something has to be done but let us be sure that the terms are clearly defined. This one too closely resembles Barrow's "preventative detention" proposal.

Benjamin Franklin who once wrote, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Be careful how we surrender liberties. This government has shown too much of a propensity to play politics and to misuse whatever authority is placed in their hands. Maybe a "three strikes and you're out" rule would be more in line with what is needed. Let us keep our eye on the ball and make sure that in this "coming attraction" that we preview, we will be featured as the stars and not as the usual "cast of thousands".

G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world

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