Reggae icon Buju Banton made an unexpected visit to Belize today - the guest of Leader of the Opposition Shyne Barrow.
Banton last visited in September of 2003 for a concert - since then, he has gone through his own personal travails - culminating in a 7 year stint in a US jail for drug trafficking.
He was released and sent back to Jamaica in 2018, and since then he has been touring the world with fervor and releasing critically acclaimed music regularly.
But, today he was in Belize plugging Shyne Barrow as the next Prime Minister - and doing some lightning shopping at the Michael Finnegan market. Jules caught him outside the market:
Buju Banton, Artist "It feels tremendously good to be back in Belize, wonderful. But the reason why we are here in Belize this time is much different from the last time we were here in Belize. This time its about supporting the next prime minister of Belize, making sure that the masses know that there is a movement that they need to get behind, because it involved all Belizeans for change."
Jules Vasquez "Now, I know as a Rasta it's not a normal thing to support a politician."
Buju Banton, Artist "Well, you see, my father King Selassie I was the greatest statesman you know and if we sit on the side-line and let people who all left on us mentally continue doing what they are doing in our region, what world are we going to have for our children, so we got to get us off our asses and get active like the brother is doing inside the region, not only in Belize, but everywhere and be the change that we want to see."
Jules Vasquez "Now how does it feel to walk down these streets that you've never walk before and everybody is saying your name, they know you, they recognize you and they make a connection."
Buju Banton, Artist "I man is a black man, I don't distinguish between earth and places. I man is a black man and I am in a black country right now with my people, multiplicity of nationalities, but never the less I don't feel like I should be running around and hiding from the people. I want to walk the streets, and reason with the people, hear what's going on in their minds, see if they are open to what's coming - the new wave. It doesn't matter where we are. As long as I am a black man, I am an African and once I see my people, I feel at home. We are coming to Belize to make something exciting happen. Stay the course and you shall see."
And while Buju was plugging for Shyne Barrow - we asked if there was any kinship in that both of them as Caribbean men did long stints in US Jails.
We alluded to Banton's recent anthemic hit, "Buried Alive" - but he played off the comparisons:
Jules Vasquez "Buried Alive is what you sang, you were buried alive. Shyne has gone through that in his own way."
Buju Banton, Artist "That is just a small synapsis of our life, because in reality we are all buried alive, you just don't know it yet. At least we are smart enough to wake up from that stooper and realize that we have to take back our life and rule our destiny. What about those who are still sleeping, that silent sleep, that perpetual sleep refusing to wake and come alive. There is rallying call, not just for those who are incarcerated, but look at your life, for the last 2 years the people of the global community have been buried alive. This is not an isolated situation. We need the people to wake up. This dormant passive mind set is what brought us here in the first place. Now we are alive."
Banton's trip has no known agenda or duration - and he flew in on a private jet.
Minister Musa was focused on gang leaders. The minister, along with reggae icon, Buju Banton and Leader of the Opposition, Shyne Barrow, were at the Old Belize today meeting with many of the city's gang combatants. It's yet another mediation session - only this time a global musical superstar was the one speaking with the men.
And while both the UDP chairman and the minister agreed that Buju's presence may have a greater impact than any old politician, is it enough to change the minds of the gang members?
Courtney Menzies was there today and has this story.
Reggae artist, Buju Banton, spent his second day in Belize - not at the beach - but among the gang leaders of Belize City. With the collaboration of Home Affairs Minister, Kareem Musa, and Leader of the Opposition, Shyne Barrow, Buju Banton explained that he had a heart to heart with the men following a violent weekend.
Buju Banton, Reggae Artist "It was a coming together of the young minds who are basically out there, needing guidance, hope, trying to understand, seeking to understand, from their perspective, what's going on in their mind, how they see themselves being a change that they want to see, how they see themselves being stakeholders in this great country as opposed to fostering a path of ruination for this great nation. So it wasn't a speech of someone beating a podium or a lecture, it was sitting down on the same level, talking as pairs, and adults about the current situation in the country and how they can better prepare themselves to be the change that they seek."
"Poverty is everywhere. Hopelessness is everywhere. We don't come to dwell on that because I come from poverty and I come from place of no hope but I rise above these two elements that are manmade because you might be poor in the material thing but you are rich in your spirit."
"Also the empowerment of the people is also important. When you hear the young man and a young woman cry about not having the basic necessities at a hospital to heal, to save a life, it touches you and then you realise that people turn to other alternative ways to express themselves which most times are violent. Violence, they expressed themselves because of a lack of a channel to express themselves a lack of opportunity to focus on something else and these are some of the issues present in the more impoverished communities that are looked down upon as the dregs of society so to speak but they have never really been addressed to see the core concerns or try to remedy them in any way and we found out that also there's a trend where these are natural resources to further commit crime for those who can't commit a crime themselves for lack of a better word."
And while the cameras weren't allowed inside the mediation room at the Old Belize, Minister Kareem Musa didn't miss the photo opportunity and explained that someone as influential as Buju might be able to get through to the young men.
Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs & New Growth Industries "I would like to characterise this engagement in several ways. One, no doubt it's not lost on anybody, the power and the influence that somebody like Buju Banton can have especially on the lives of our young men from Belize City and so it certainly was a surreal exchange but at the same time a very real and very raw exchange and I think it was a really good idea for us to not have the cameras, I know the media is not fond of that but at the same time there needed to be that type of real discussion and I definitely appreciate having been a part of it. I know that at times, as politicians egos can get in the way and that sort of thing but at the end of the day, crime is everybody's business and so when the leader of the opposition contacted me yesterday, I didn't hesitate, I said we had to have this meeting, whatever we can do to stem the tide of violence that rears its head every so often, we have to bring in those people who can influence and change the mindset of our people."
But what's the difference between this mediation and every other one that governments have held with these men? Well, Minister Musa said that the PUP is doing it differently.
Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs & New Growth Industries
"There is a difference in my opinion in this new approach in this administration, you may see you've seen it before but to be quite frank and honest we've never had this type of buy in from the members of the Leadership Intervention Unit, totally non political, you have people in there who support the UDP, who sit on that board, and who advise and give us that guidance and so I definitely see this as a bi-partisan effort, this administration has implemented and you won't see the dividends now, that's what I think everybody wants to see, answers and solutions now and results now but this is a work in progress,"
But the Shadow Minister for National Security, Michael Peyrefitte, isn't so optimistic.
Michael Peyrefitte, Shadow Minister, National Security "I am not a big fan of these meetings, I've never supported them in the past because I believe that nothing really comes out of them but I really wanted to have a say to the influencers today in the streets, as we believe they are, in the presence of Minister Musa and my party leader, Shyne, that listen, we want to hear some solutions. The presence of a person we all know, Buju Banton, hopefully that would have gotten their attention but in the presence of all of them, I let them know from my perspective, that you cannot negotiate with guns in your hands. Nobody will listen to you and nobody will hear what you have to say if you're killing each other. I think based on what I was hearing is just complaints, complaints, complaints, complaints, and we want to hear some solutions."
Reporter: "Complaints on whose part?"
Michael Peyrefitte "On the area leaders part. Complaint about land, complaints about this. We had to remind them that lands have been given to them before, jobs have been given to them before, business opportunities have been given to them before and still it hasn't stopped so what is it that you really really want? And it was a tough discussion but a meaningful discussion and if it is going to lead to reduced violence, then I'm all for it. Time will tell whether or not the commitments that we've made today will come to any sort of fruition."
And while the gang members chose not to go on camera, they weren't too happy about the outcome of the mediation, saying that they felt they were being preached to rather than listened to.
To stem the City’s uptick in violent crimes the Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow invited Reggae icon Buju Banton to speak with a few Belize City gang leaders. The meeting was held earlier today at the Old Belize compound and lasted for a little over two hours.