Monday, October 15, 2012

People on the Move for Justice

Introduction 

Since the recent murders in the Twin Towns, people in the Cayo district, and indeed across the country, have become increasingly vocal about their concerns to reduce, and if possible end, the hideous crimes afflicting our society.

Facebook, Patrick E. Jones
I extend my sincerest sympathies to all Belizeans who have had to experience criminal activity, especially to the families who have lost their loved ones recently in San Ignacio, particularly the Martinez and Lowe families.  No number of demonstrations, no whipping of criminals, no person hanged, will ever be able to heal the void left in the lives. The reason for standing up against crime is really to make sure that more families do not experience the hurt, frustration, suffering, and emptiness such families have had to bear.

Belizeans are on the move advocating for change. This does not constitute a movement. It is an early stage. It can either become something episodic and die off or mature and become effective in its cause. I hope it becomes the latter; and for this reason I shall refer to it as a Movement.

In this entry, I have decided to reflect on the discontent of crime in Cayo. I address concerns against the critics; highlight points left unmentioned in the media and project the challenges and opportunities for a reformist movement to drastically decrease crime.

The Movement

Facebook, Patrick E. Jones
The shut-down and demonstration on Thursday (Oct 11) had a massive turn out. The participation of students added to the great turn out. Some media have stated that it was thousands of people. However, a more accurate figure, in my opinion, was that published by the Star Newspaper which estimated 1,500 persons.

If the movement is to become effective it has got to organize. The eight point petition sent to the Prime Minister on Monday (Oct 8) was signed by the ‘Solidarity Movement forJustice and Peace’. While this term was used to project the unification of various bodies involved, the said group is not organized. Many of its supporters were given opportunities to talk at the demonstration; yet, there was no real talk of unification as the Solidarity Movement.

UB History Students Participate
The “Purple Movement” received most of the attention in the media. This movement is iconic of the discontent given the affiliation with friends and the family members of the late Suzenne Martinez. The demonstration was the culminated effort of various bodies desire to participate in a movement to make a change.

There is a need to establish a Committee which will have representatives from the various bodies of the neighbourhood watches, teacher’s union, and business community and so on. My suggestion is that the Purple Movement leaders take the initiative to develop such Committee, establish a clear vision, plan, execute, and develop means of sustainability. 

By the way, where is the NGO “Belizeans for Justice”? Not that I want Yolanda to push her PUP agenda, but where are Belizeans for Justice? * I understand that it has

The Only Positive Suggestion

At the Wednesday ‘Public Meeting’ with the Attorney General, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, in his response to a series of suggestions, complaints, and questions, the AG said that there was only one positive suggestion that he heard.

Facebook, Patrick E. Jones
That suggestion was to hold a telethon to raise monies for the establishment of an advance forensic lab. This understandably caused great discontent. After one and two attendants decided to leave, a group of youths at the back of the room also decided to march out, inciting others to “walk out”.

Interestingly, the young lady who gave the “only positive suggestion” is the president of the Purple Movement, Carmita Lemus, whose supporters were among the first to walk out. I have argued that this idea, while noble, should not be pursued. A better initiative is to raise funds for the movement to sustain itself.
More than that, according to 7News, the AG has stated that the walk out did not happen: “the reporter who obviously had his own agenda there reported that the people left”. Patrick Jones has made this known on his Facebook page, and most people are bewildered and outraged by such a statement by the AG.

Now, video footage do not lie, the people did walk out. It’s also on YouTube. 







Revenge or Justice

Lady with noose, 7News
As to the request for capital punishment to be implemented immediately, the AG replied "But I can tell you, I can tell you that only the suggestion of hanging a person that is made publicly in Belize, any suggestion that you make, we get all kinds of pressure from the people who keep us surviving". This caused an expected disapproval from the gatherers.

I believe there are many benefits in human rights initiatives. However, capital punishment, particularly by hanging, is one of the cheapest short-term means to create deterrence for the extreme violence in our society. Now, England, through the Privy Council, has blocked capital punishment in Belize and the Caribbean.

Some hope was increased for the penalty to be allowed since the Privy Council was replaced by the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final court of appeal (Amandala). However, with one recent case submitted by Jamaica, it appears that the death penalty will not be supported. Beyond that, as the AG says many international organizations will oppose. 

European powers tell us that it is uncivilize to carry out the death penalty. Paradoxically, these are the same powers who exploited land that were not theirs, enslave millions, colonized us to the point that they became today’s 1st World Countries and us the 3rd World. That's right, these are the same people who developed every possible law to keep indigenous and non-European peoples from being masters of their own destinies. Now, they want to tell us that is uncivilize to create a deterrence by us legally putting to death a few of the horrific criminals in our society. 

Capital Punishment is a desperate attempt to bring justice in the society and to deter others from pursuing a life of crime. I am truly not a big fan of capital punishment but when I learnt that Belize’s prison system is the most humane amongst the countries of USA, Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Lucia, I realize that it is one of the reasons we have so many repeat offenders coming in and out of Hattieville (Gayle Report, 2010).

On the day of the demonstration, I reasoned that it was absurd that most of us were hungry as we stood out there calling for justice while prisoners at Hattieville were enjoying their lunch. Shouldn’t the politicians and human rights group have supported the people with a meal or at least a snack?


Now, criminal activity is a multifaceted problem and therefore requires a multi-layered plan of action to be effective. This means that present structures of political authority, education, economic planning, religion, and social institutions must be reformed. This should also be part of the goals behind the Purple Movement. 

DNA Lab and the Telethon

While at the Meeting, one lady cautioned me that it would be better to establish the DNA Lab before carrying out capital punishment. In the US there are persons who have faced death innocently. Therefore, in Belize, there is a need to establish an advance forensics lab. The government has sent out a press release that it will do so. However, the Movement must push for this.

The AG told attendants at the meeting that this will require one million dollars. I say that Government should make it a pressing issue to get this by whatever means. Some people even suggested selling ministers vehicles, decrease their salaries etc. Why not?

The government can also start by incorporating forensic fields in the nation’s scholarship priority list. The listing should also include areas of research – history, sociology, psychology, criminology to increase the potential for Belizeans to become research based problem solvers. 

Cautions against Fundamentalism

There is a danger in allowing Christian fundamentalists too much voice in this movement for justice. The problem, for me, generally lies in the fact that they will be able to push their own agenda afterwards.

Also, for many fundamentalists, they generally believe that behind the criminal is the devil or some evil spirit.
Behind the criminals, however, is a major fault in the system and social structure, in which the church-state system is both a participant and product.

Some of the remarks I heard at the demonstration were unquestionably fundamentalist, such as the FECTAB’s President Tom Greenwood persuading the people that their voice represent the voice of God and that the government should take heed.

Also, members from Plus TV agitate for change but do so in a very zealous, confrontational and fundamentalist manner.  I predict that in a few years, their members will be candidates at both municipal and general elections. (**Patrick Andrew's has now joined the PUP). 

It is a scary thing when people begin to believe that God’s is on their side to fight. This was so in ancient times, the crusades, colonization, in the Middle East, and hopefully not in Belize. Therefore, the movement should by all means incorporate the support by religious groups, but must be sure to keep the movement on the issue at hand. 

Ignite the Peace Initiative


Torch Run, 7News
The Ignite the Peace Initiative was collaborative effort between the student bodies of Galen University, Sacred Heart College Junior College and University of Belize. The UB students had the greatest turn out. About 5 buses filled with UB students participated. Galen and SHCJC each had less than a hundred students representing.

The students, however, were not vocally active. They were mainly there in numbers. Most of them awaited the torch runners, and then proceeded to head on home after their arrival. Hope Amadi, president of the UB student Government, had to inform students that the buses would be departing about 30 minutes after the torch runners had arrived.

Jason Andrews, from Plus TV, challenged the students to realize that they are adults. He clamoured that they have the final say in whether they must attend classes or remain at the demonstration. However, by this time most students had already proceeded to make their way to the buses near Hodes Place.

Additionally, the two speakers being used were not effective and most of the people were hungry. There was no food to be purchased because of the shutdown. This is why the Movement needs to get funds, sustainability. High powered speakers were needed and food should have been made available.

I am encouraged by the increase in number of students who turned out. Last year, the University of Belize through the Student Government had managed to cancel classes to carry out a peace march in the central streets of Belize City. Only one bus departed from Belmopan, which was more empty than full. The number of UB students who participated in Belize City was extremely low. We were joined by the St. John’s students. UB students aren’t active. It’s sad, very sad.

Some students say that nothing happens by marching; I say a march can foster unity and propel us to challenge the status quo. Most students take occasions like these for leisure. Oh, and their lack of participation is not because they are too serious, academics not wanting to lose a day of class.

Partisan Politics

In the Gayle Report (2010), of 92 children of age 6-13,  51% knew precisely which political party their parents support. Some children even suggested that they already support their parent’s political party. These numbers increase as they get older. Belizeans are socialized to remain committed to their family’s political party affiliation. 

Also, according to the Gayle Report, the shift from paternalistic blind eye voting rates is directly related to the level of literacy and education level in the population. In 2010, only 7400 persons were enrolled at the tertiary level (2010 Census).

Torch run, Pandy Show
Some people have said that the Movement is primarily made up of supporters of the People’s United Party (PUP). This view is particularly recurrent on the Wave’s Radio talk show, whose speakers believe that everyone else except themselves have a partisan agenda. The reality of the matter is that on the day of the demonstration Hon. Elivin Penner (UDP) pledged to be a member of the Purple Movement. Also, several UDP councillors of the Twin Towns have been active spokesperson and organizers of the cause.

Yet, it cannot go unmentioned that PUP supporters will find their way speaking more often than others. This is because partisan politics is so influential in people’s behavior  Known UDP supporters have a higher chance of being victimized if they speak out. Community members and politicians will assume that they are UDP betrayers.

More than that, the young people if they speak out, will be confronted by their families who will warn them the dangers of victimization. Plus, the young people are yet to become conscious that they can be powerful agents of change. Young people rather go to parties and get high, failing to realize that so many of our brothers and sisters are falling to crime and that one of us could be next.

My hope is that, this movement can begin to challenge the general Belizean psyche that we are not entitled to question our representatives and keep them on their toes. We, the people have the power; power to the people.

The Purple Movement Committee, I am proposing be established, must establish rules about this. For example, if any member agitates for explicit UDP/PUP interest, he/she should be renounced publicly from being part of the movement. And also prohibit certain type of activities such as the musical presentation by the Mendez duo at the demonstration. Overall I like the composition and I have publicly told them this on YouTube comments. But “was George Price for us - Yes in God he trust” and those sort of phrases will give the PUP the upper hand. Let it be a movement for social reform. That song was good for the September celebrations. As much as possible, be bipartisan. If the movement will advocate for a particular party, let it do so for a new revolutionist party comprised of revolutionary non-conformist youth.

Thankfully, the Purple Movement has already made a press release with this similar goal. See the Purple Movement Facebook Page. 

Attack the System

Attack the system! Attack the System! – Both political parties have allowed the system to remain relatively intact. Our high criminal rates are the result of both Red and Blue. If you are going to attack the Hon. Prime Minister of Belize Dean Borrow, please remind Hon. Said Musa and his fellow companions that their actions have also led us to where we are. Don’t be fooled. Don’t run their campaigns.

Let me give to example of our faulty system. In education, 1/3 of our children are excluded from primary school; 60% are excluded from the secondary level; 2008 data stated that there is a 4% tertiary enrollment which gives Belize one of the worse rates in Central America and the Caribbean (Gayle 2010, p. 110-114). The 2010 Census informed us that only 2.4% of the population were enrolled at the tertiary level.  These are among other factors such as underpayment for teachers, overcrowded classrooms, lack of qualified teachers, complicated management of schools, and the colonial education structure which are interrelated issues which contribute to criminal activity.

Criminals must be laughing when they see peace-marches, shut downs, and protests. They may even become more agitated. These initiatives then must be directed against the system. Politicians who are the principal policy makers must be advised and pressured to make the necessary reforms to create a more inclusive and stable society.

Voice your Concerns and Challenge the System. Evan X Hyde recently questioned if Belize has achieved a better of quality of life since independence (Amandala). When one inspects that there was little change in many of the core intuitions established during colonization, one realize that very little was achieved. We are in a state where a real revolution movement must take place to challenge the neo-colonial order that is not benefiting the public.

Belizeans, Belizeans, my dear Belizeans, think, think, think, and then act. Oh yes, act, we have got to realize that our realities depends on our inactions and ACTIONS. 

Preliminary Success

  • One added police patrol vehicle to the Twin Towns
  • The Ballistic System donated by the Canadian government was inaugurated Friday (Oct 12). This however was not as a direct result of the protest. I mean com’on, this certainly was the result at least of several months of diplomacy. It is off course a much needed and well received donation. Thanks Canada.
  • Press Release, Belmopan, October 11, 2012

Press Release, Belmopan, October 11, 2012

The Prime Minister of Belize, the Hon. Dean Barrow, has offered his congratulations and thanks to the thousands of Belizeans from the Cayo District and across the country who participated in the San Ignacio/Santa Elena peaceful protest against crime. The Prime Minister views this latest mass action against the greatest scourge in our country, as a continuation of the same Cayo spirit and resolve that he highlighted in his Independence Day Address.

The Prime Minister also acknowledges that it remains Government’s primary responsibility to safeguard citizens in Cayo and all of Belize. He therefore reiterates the commitments he made in his meeting with the leaders of the Solidarity Movement for Justice and Peace. Accordingly, the Government of Belize will:

1. Immediately provide additional resources (including vehicles) to the Cayo Formation of the Belize Police Department;
2. Implement a sexual offenders registry and monitoring system;
3. Operationalize immediately after the official handover of the technology and equipment by the Canadian Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this Friday, the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS);
4. Ensure, together with the Magistracy and Judiciary, the proper enforcement of the laws governing denial of bail in cases of sexual and other serious offences;
5. Fast-track the efforts with the Government of the United States to finalize arrangements for an expert in DNA Science to be attached to Belize’s National Forensic Science Service to mentor our local analysts as well as to act as a professional witness for cases having to do with forensic evidence.
6. Strengthen the Police Prosecution branch and institute 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.
In ending, the Prime Minister reassures the Cayo communities and the entire Nation that the war on crime will not slacken but be heightened by increased human and material resource allocation.

*Also see the post on the Purple Movement's first general public meeting. 

Key References:

Census Summary: Main results of 2010 population and housing census. Belize. Statistical Institute of Belize. Available at: http://www.statisticsbelize.org.bz/dms20uc/dynamicdata/docs/20110511165337_2.pdf

Gayle, Herbert and et. al. Male Social Participation and Violence in Urban Belize: An Examination of Their Experience with Goals, Guns, Gangs, Gender, God, and Governance. Belize. Available at: http://dbzchild.org/uploads/docs/complete_pgmale_social_participation_and_violence_in_urban_belize_grand.pdf

1 comment:

  1. I also stand corrected on the view point that members of the Purple Movement had walked out prior to some of us instigating a walk out. For me this was not intended for the Movement to appear too radical as some people have interpreted it. It was rather a partial understanding of the phenomenon happening. It happened about a minute or two after I had talked and encouraged the audience to view the shut-down as a protest for social justice. The AG then went to try to pacify the discussions. Then one member in the audience got up, raising his hands in disbelief. A few seconds after, several of the young people at the back, where I stood, began shouting walk out. This instigated the crowd to walk out. I assumed that this walkout came from members of the Purple Movement, as I had taken note that this was where many of them were standing. But this is not their position. However, I am not sure what their position is of the walk out. Maybe, the dilemma is that I interpreted that they had led the walk out and this makes them seem oppositional to the UDP; whereas I am told they had left/walked out before, though not in radical rejection.

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