Neighborhood Watches meet with Hon. Heredia to discuss crime

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 20, No. 12            March 25, 2010

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    A press release issued by the Government’s Press Office stated the following: “The Hon. Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, regrets having made certain comments during a Channel Seven News interview which have been interpreted by some to contain an element of racial bias.

    “The reference to the people of Creole decent was made merely to highlight the fact that when the draconian crime prevention tactic of deporting potential trouble-makers was last employed on the Island, it was criticized by some for its similarity to racial profiling.

    “Hon. Heredia wishes to assure all that while he remains passionate and committed to tackling the issue of crime on the Island, he has always and will continue to advocate for fair and equal treatment of all persons, a fact which is borne out by his unquestionable record of service to all manner of people.

    “Hon. Heredia is confident that residents, visitors and the police are all working towards the same goal of reducing crime and making our community safer, and is equally confident that we can and will find a solution to crime on the Island.” This clarification was issued after a national controversy rocked Belize after Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr. made a comment on National Television where he spoke of a drastic measure recommended to him by concerned citizens on Ambergris Caye.

    On March 19th, Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr. stated, “Many of the officers that were responsible for taking control on the island, that is what they used to do. Times have changed and it is very regretful because now with the human rights situation and so there are many people that – oh you are taking away the privilege of, in particular when it happens with the Creole descent. That is the first thing that you will hear. But again, I feel that if we have to do that, we have to do it because we have to regain our community. We see many unwanted persons on the island many times and again I have said let us ask the water taxis for a manifest that will probably question the people not really in a rude way but ‘Where will you be working? Why did you come to San Pedro? Do you have money to sustain yourself in the meantime?’ And those types of things probably will help. And that is what came out at the meeting. We have to probably recommend to cabinet that those are measures that we need to take on the island being the number one tourist destination, probably there are other alternatives that are not taken elsewhere that we supposed to take over here.

    “People might feel we want to be independent that is what they say many times. That is not the case. It’s because we are isolated from the main, many people feel that San Pedro doesn’t need any assistance, that we have everything over here. But we have always said, regardless of what, it might be true that we survive better than others, but again there are many other elements that we need to address and that takes time.”

    The recent chain of violent crimes plaguing the island forced leaders of the various Neighborhood Watches to call an emergency meeting with Mayor Elsa Paz and the Area Representative Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr. on Wednesday, March 17th, 2010, in an effort to address this very serious situation that has all very concerned.

    At 5:00 p.m., the office of Mayor Elsa Paz was the venue for this very important meeting. In attendance were Honorable Manuel Heredia, Mayor Elsa Paz, Deputy Mayor Pablo Ico, Councilor Justiniano Guerrero (responsible with the Security portfolio), Neighborhood Watches including South Ambergris Caye, Escalante, North Ambergris Caye, Alta Mar, Esmeralda and San Pablo/San Telmo, as well as the National Emergency Management Organization, San Pedro Business Association, Belize Tourism Industry Association, and the Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce.

    In a previous meeting, Neighborhood Watches expressed their concerns based on the incidences in their various neighborhoods. During the 5:00 p.m. meeting, solutions were presented. Some of the concerns were as follows: the system in dealing with criminals and punishment should be both increased and enforced; the loss of tourism due to crime is of national security concern; the decline in tourists’ arrival contributes to a loss in tax dollars, thus affecting the whole of Belize; there was also a major security concern for the upcoming Easter weekend. With the influx of tourists, both local and international, there is an increased need for proper security measures to keep all island visitors and residents safe during this time of celebration.

    During the meeting, there were also complaints of incidents involving residents being robbed in their homes and the fact that reports are being made with police officers, but somehow, are lost and not recorded at the San Pedro Police Department.

    Minister Manuel Heredia spoke on behalf of the Ministry and informed that he is presently working at the government level to achieve new law amendment for the enforcement of child curfew in San Pedro. Currently, it is only a viable law in Belize City.

    Honorable Heredia went on to inform those present that very soon there will be more BDF patrols and additional police officers coming to the island. “As long as they are needed, Government will send troops for patrolling,” he stated.

    The participants at this meeting also shared suggestions of possible solutions to some of these concerns. Elito Arceo of the San Pedro Business Association suggested, “Cut down on liquor licenses being issued; cut down on hours of operations for not only license holders but stores selling alcohol, enforcement of the law that prohibits establishments from selling to minors,” he stated.

    Mayor Elsa Paz mentioned that the Council is planning to hire two (2) police solely for the purpose of enforcing the hours of operation for bars and other establishments that receive extensions.

    One of the more notable suggestions, which is hoped to help to lower the increasing crime rate in San Pedro, is the implementation of a manifest program at the water taxi terminals. To this, Honorable Heredia stated that it falls under the legislation of the Port Authority, but agreed that it is a possibility. It is hoped that a manifest kept by the various establishments that offer transportation to and from the Island would serve in many ways. One would be to monitor individuals using the shuttles services in case of accidents, as well as for reporting purposes. This measure is hoped to discourage criminal elements from targeting the island. The next Mayor’s & President of Neighborhood Watch Meeting has been set for March 25th. Minister Carlos Perdomo and other law enforcement personnel will be invited to attend.
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