OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF BELIZE
AND LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
June 16, 2017
The Rt. Honorable, Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
The Honorable, Johnny Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
Belizean Citizens Abroad (BCA) is an organization committed to bringing together Belizeans living abroad in a non-partisan manner. Our goal is to empower and strengthen the democracy of Belize by working with ALL Belizeans at home as well as the Government of Belize on solutions and issues of concern to the community of Belizeans living overseas. As such, we are currently advocating for the equal rights of born Belizeans with dual citizenship.
We are asking for bi-partisan support for an amendment bill to remove the discriminatory provisions in our Constitution limiting the citizenship rights of born Belizeans who gain dual nationality and to reintroduce the same amendments as section 4 and 5 of the BELIZE CONSTITUTION (SEVENTH AMENDMENT) ACT, 2009 that purported to amend Sec 58(1) and 63(1) of the Belize Constitution. These discriminatory provisions in our Constitution limit the POLITICAL rights of born Belizeans and hamper our ability to solve many of the problems that Belize face in an ever-changing globalized world.
The Constitution of Belize contradicts the idealism of equal rights and equal protection under the law by establishing underclasses of citizenship. Furthermore, the Constitution is in contravention of the very idea of human rights. According to the United Nations Human Rights International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 25 – every citizen shall have a right to take part in the conduct of public affairs and to vote and be elected in periodic elections.
It is a travesty that foreign-born individuals who become Belizean dual citizens have more rights than born Belizeans who gain an additional citizenship. This literally means that born Belizeans are second-class citizens in our own country. Currently, there are thousands of born Guatemalans who have acquired Belizean citizenship enjoying more rights than born Belizeans who have acquired dual nationality. This is so even though our Constitution bars Belizean citizenship to members of any country that claims Belize. How can it be that despite a clear constitutional prohibition, a born Guatemalan with dual Belizean citizenship status can become Prime Minister, set policies, hold national decision-making positions determining Belize’s future, but a born Belizean with “dual citizenship” cannot?
BCA is ready and willing to work with both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to table a historic, bi-partisan legislation to remove sections of the Constitution that limit rights for born Belizeans. We further ask that individuals originating from any country that claims any part of Belize be prohibited from attaining Belizean citizenship with only few, if any, exceptions. BCA strongly believes that the ministerial discretion granting citizenship to members of countries that claim Belize should be restricted with much clearer and narrower guidelines.
Finally, we urge Belizeans at home and in the diaspora to contact their respective Area Representatives and encourage them to support a national bi-partisan effort to amend the Constitution of Belize protecting the equal rights of ALL born Belizeans.
Belizean Citizens Abroad
President: Mario Lara
Vice President: Joseph Guerrero
Treasurer: Al Smith
Communication Director: Debbie Curling
Secretary: Aria Lightfoot
Dear Teenage Girls of Belize,
There are a couple tragedies currently in the media that has hit close to home therefore I’d like to speak on one. There was a situation that occurred where a 13 year old female sent nude photos to a man and he then threatened to expose them if she did not have sex with him. Well she ended up having sex with him twice.
We live in a Society where men glorify women and their bodies but there is a very fine line between being human and appreciating a woman’s natural physique and then just being out right disrespectful. In Belize, most cases it’s being disrespectful. But as a child having your body go through changes, you’re left some what confused. Why should I as a teenager not show off my newly developed breasts if they’re so many older and more developed women on social media also showing off their bodies and getting glorified by not only men but other females as well. Do you see my point? Nudity has become a part of pop culture. Nudity has become art. Nudity has been accepted in every case EXCEPT when it has been shared against your will. The amount of guys I’ve seen preaching about “having self respect” and telling girls to stop sending nudes to young boys are the same guys I recall have asked me to send them a nude when I was between the ages of 12-16.
Almost every male will vow they’ll never associate themselves with younger girls but they’re so many of them who love it! It’s the idea of being with a female who doesn’t have a set of boundaries mostly because they don’t know what the boundaries should be. The idea of not being with a female you need to break all sorts of walls to get through to because she hasn’t been scarred by other men in order to build those walls up in the first place. And lastly it’s the idea of having a body that hasn’t been touched. The inferior feeling of taking it all away. Men love dominance.
Now let me redirect my energy. It’s not solely the men of our society’s fault but also the women. We should work hard as women to be advocates of true self confidence and self love. We should be more willing to reach out to the younger girls around us and be a big sister figure to them and be there to advise them so they don’t need to figure it all out on their own. This is very hard because there’s a lot of adult women themselves who don’t have self respect nor show true value of themselves as women but that’s okay! You don’t need to be in that space forever! You don’t need to be vulnerable to these men. You don’t need to use sex to feel powerful and you don’t need to showcase your body to get attention. You do what you’re confident with not what you feel is pleasing to others. Where do you think promiscuous women are stemmed from? Sexual acts that occur in early stages of life. Let’s make an effort to be the best examples to younger girls and to show them how they should react when put in compromising positions! You’re not alone!
From a young woman building herself back up,
Kiah Lisani Pastor 💓
A MESSAGE TO MY FELLOW BELIZEANS … who understand the context of the “rice-aflatoxin” headlines that keep popping up in our local Belize news. Note that some things are best expressed in a language that only Belizeans would understand, i.e. our “social glue” … the Kriol language.
February 15, 2016
Dear Mr. conscientious, self-proclaimed philanthropist, public health and nutrition expert;
Your persistent, self-serving, Belizean rice-aflatoxin scaremongering is not in the best interest of the Belizean public. As a Belizean health professional, I feel a sense of responsibility to weigh in on this matter, and put things in perspective.
My fellow Belizeans, the real threat to your health is not, and has never been rice aflatoxin-related (liver) disease. Our biggest food threat is our near wholesale abandonment of many healthy traditional food choices in exchange for the highly-processed foods found in supermarkets.
“Soh I really noh like how you come da my country, mek latta money from my people by profiting from your highly-processed food enterprise, and pan tappa dat, yuh di persist and di try tek my people fi fool.”
The scientific and public health evidence is clear. Highly-processed foods and sweetened drinks, with their toxic trans-fats, artificial additives, and excess sugar are direct causes of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. These are the number 1 food-related killers in Belize.
Belizeans, start eating more natural foods, avoid those foods that have labels on them (especially highly-processed foods).
Start to grow more of your own food, even in the city. Home boys, start organize yourself in the community and start planting, raise your fowl, go fishing, and barter with your neighbours. No shortage of work to do. Who come from country and have land need fi go back da country and plant. Stap di give people who no like unnu unu money. Deh no kay bout unnu. Stop being active participants in your own demise.
Your health is your biggest earthly investment. Remember, “Your Doctor Can’t Make You Healthy.”
Like a recurring nightmare, almost every week in the media, victims of serious medical problems are asking for donations from the Belizean population to assist with medical care. Many need long term life saving surgeries, cancer treatments, kidney treatments, or some major medical intervention. Treatments can cost upward in hundreds of thousands of dollars to a million dollars for effective lifesaving measures to take effect. It plays out as a desperate last ditch attempt from victims to save their lives; and in reality, the public could never realistically sponsor these cases unless of course there is some major overhaul in how we administer medical care to the public.
I recall my mother’s own plight with the Belize medical system. She initially received medical treatment in Houston and Canada because of help of her sisters but when she returned to Belize, I recall Dr. Pott telling my aunt that he would not “waste his time” to treat her (as he had promised the Canadian doctor he would) because she was going to die anyway. My aunt was devastated and in tears desperate for some medical intervention. It was the Belmopan community, her family, friends, church members and nurse Johnson, who helped my mother transition into the next world.
A few years later, my aunt lost her healthy baby boy at the Belize City Hospital, because she did not use the private hospital system. Her baby had a healthy heart beat at the doctors office however, he did not practice at the public hospital and when she went into labor, neglectful nurses were not around when her baby began to crown and the doctor who was expected to be there, was absent. It was a series of unfortunate events. The baby was perfectly formed except he was blue. When I was pregnant, my aunt gave me money so that I did not have my son at the public hospital. She did not want a similar fate and treatment for me…my medical care was excellent.
About three years ago, my cousin Albert who was my age, suffered kidney failure. He was retired early from the Government of Belize with limited money; but he needed $4000.00 a month for kidney treatment. More money was needed for his treatment than what he actually made when he was working fulltime. He needed three dialysis treatment a week but managed maybe one and not weekly. When finances ran its course, he died of kidney failure.
Currently I have another cousin undergoing expensive kidney dialyses; she is no longer working and her finances are depleted; her health continues to decline as she desperately attempts to save her life. I donated some money to her, however it felt like a symbolic act because it will not realistically cover even one needed treatment; she also needs three a week.
Recently Patrick Jones, journalist and long time media personality, is facing a fate of inadequate finances for life saving medical treatment and so he must turn to the public for intervention…I highlight these cases to demonstrate that we need a major overhaul of our medical system and we need to overhaul how we administer life saving medical treatment for all citizens regardless of their immediate ability to pay.
The private hospitals in Belize have found its cash cow and they are pariahs on society. Medical victims are in crisis and desperately in need of major medical intervention and doing everything to stay alive. They borrow, beg and sell all their assets and when they can no longer maintain financially, they die. The private hospitals with life saving technology will not treat anyone who cannot show cash first and foremost. Even more offensive is that tax payers money have played a major role in educating doctors and sponsoring private hospitals
What has the Ministry of Health in Belize done to curb this crisis? The entire medical system is shameful. I would argue that the practice of treating a patient to the point of bankruptcy and then no more offends the idea of medical care. Should medical care be a profit driven industry ?
Doctors in Belize seem to have forgotten their Hippocratic oath:
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
Months leading up to elections in Belize, the unions showed their strength by demanding pay increases and even Uniform allowances and most were successful in their demands; however none have taken up the task of universal health care or demand that doctors who practice publicly and privately offer the same level of care regardless of ability to pay or place of treatment.
Citizenship – Why I will vote on November 4th, 2015
I have never bore witness to a purer, more innate sense of patriotism than that of the collective Belizean people. Belize boasts a national haven of resource, both human and natural. “Mother Nature’s best kept secret” remains only on the fringes of secrecy, because our earthly divinity is rapidly becoming world renowned and internationally beloved. Who then, will be selected as caretakers of our Belize? Furthermore, who will be held accountable for those choices? How do we vet and vie the candidates who seek to subscribe to the guardianship over the “Land Of The Free”? Democracy – the process which harkens our participation and gives content to the speech of the populace; therein lies the engine of our governance. My vote is my voice, and I will vote on November 4th, 2015.
In direct opposition to the carefree cliché, ignorance is not bliss, certainly not when it comes to general elections. To abstain from voting when you possess the eligibility to cast a ballot is tantamount to being wilfully mute in the discourse of our national regime. Your voice is inevitably drowned amidst the ones of those who practiced their right and adhered to their responsibility to see the one, true victory present itself on Election Day: democracy. Some vocally defeat the value of their vote, convinced that their say will not sway an election. If I may contravene from a logically-parallel perspective: one vote is resonant in adding to or subtracting from the eventual majority or minority. If there is strength in numbers, then there can certainly be weakness in few. I, for one, crave progress so mightily for Belize; my vote is my strength, and I will vote. I would be remiss not to mention, however, that even in the abstinence of voting, the candidate who is elected is nevertheless your representative. Still, refraining from voting diminishes your stake in assessing the performance of your representative, for you veiled yourself in silence when the remainder of your fellow constituents lent their voice on your behalf. Ergo, accountability – your vote is your solemn invocation of your involvement in computing Belize’s prosperity.
Men and women who both possess and present the integrity, interests, goodwill, and compassion of Belizeans are oftentimes the ones who solicit our confidence. The Belizean citizenry, however, must confront the political stigma that concurrently connotes itself with elections; i.e., corruption. It can be defeated, but only when we are willing to inject the vaccine of diligent democracy to provide for governmental health. My vote is my vaccination; I will vote. Naïveté assumes immunity from corruption; national pride compounded by wilful virtuousness asserts the fervent combat against it. My vote is my fight; I will vote. My sincere respect for the legacies of great Belizean figures – Phillip Goldson, George Price, and even Antonio Soberanis – and my gratitude for the historic strides they effected, shames any inclination on my part to abstain from the rectitude of voting. My vote is my honour; I will vote.
While most people may assess any government on a utopian premise, I implore them to accede to the position which accepts that harmony is the ideal goal, but success through respect is the realistic one. Administrations will perpetually contain divergence – we toil for the attainable synergy of all comprised, which eludes us. Admittedly, in the history of Belize, we have elected both martyrs and tyrants to our government. I feel we have been too complacent in granting communal clemency to the latter. As for the former, I have bore witness to manifest proof of the absolute and inherent patriotism in the blood of the Belizean people. That bloodline must live on, and my vote is my life. I am Belizean; “I am Belize.” On November 4th, 2015, I will vote.
Jaime A. Burns Jr.
This is important. It is about domestic violence/ violence and abuse of women and girls in Belize. It is not pretty, and it is long, but I ask your attention.
FORCE RIPE BABY
“Every woman is entitled to the free and full exercise of her civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and may rely on the full protection of those rights as embodied in regional and international instruments on human rights. The States Parties recognize that violence against women prevents and nullifies the exercise of these rights.” Article 5, BELEM DO PARA CONVENTION 1994
This starts and ends with personal anecdotes but it is not about me. It is about the abuse that women in our Jewel have endured and still endure. It is about a culture, and it cuts across all classifications, ethnicity, economic class, education level, rural/urban. This does not present solutions. It is meant as provocation.
This is about unmasking. It is about facing our evil because I think we have lived with it so long, we don’t even really see it anymore.
At age 12, I had a young woman’s body. I don’t recall being proud of that fact, rather, instead of running around freely and energetically like the skinny tambran branch I’d been at 11; I began to slouch inward, and I stopped running. Generous breasts hurt when they bounce, and attract attention from people. People like your mother’s friends who call you “force ripe” in accusatory tones – as if you had wrapped yourself in brown paper with a banana to achieve ripeness. People like your father’s friends who suddenly began to ask for a big hug for “Tio “.
No, I was not hurt, but I was abused. Abusers by adults who could not leave my innocence alone anymore, because my body was “force ripe”. It didn’t get better either. It got worse.
Random men on the street would shout things, demanding acknowledgement , insisting that I smile at them, sleep with them, eat them, allow them to eat me – all without shame. And this was mostly when I was walking to/ from primary and secondary school in my white uniform. Comments about “poke” and “bread” were commonplace. No, I was not hurt, but I was abused. And I became an angry child/young woman with a smart, sharp, even vicious tongue. It was all the defence I had.
Why start there? Because a smart, sensible woman who is friend and mentor, seemed genuinely surprised that this vulturine hovering around girls who had developed early and could pass the 100-pound test, didn’t happen only in her home village.
What 100-pound test? The one where men consider you “ready”, she explained, once you weigh 100 pounds. But she seemed rather shocked to learn that an urban, middle class kid with educated parents had faced male abuse that was overtly sexual in nature, and the corollary female disapproval and suspicion that runs with it.
This came up because we were discussing the recent case of the 14-year-old Belizean child, found in Mexico, drunk, nude and raped. The question was asked – where were the parents? Her mother? Speculation about her background began. And somehow it ended up at my force ripe angry tween self and the 100-pound test.
That 14 year old child was abused, her faith, trust, and personhood viciously violated. She was severely hurt. And no one since has made any outcry, me included. What can we say? Better yet, what can we do? Do we even WANT to do anything? Are we unfeeling? Numbed into paralysis? Or is it something even more insidious, in our culture that still demands that women must be quiescent flesh, fair game for consumption of any kind by a man? Yes, that is angry feminist talk. But it is also true.
Week after week, reports of men arrested for “having sex” with minors appear in newscasts – and those are the few who are caught. Inevitably the comments on social media get around to accusing the girl child of being “wah lee hot crutch”, selling herself for money and gifts, “wanting it bad”, of being immoral, force ripe, and reckless. It is standard commentary, virulent, heat seeking and laser-sharp. It is lacerating.
The men can be bad. The women commenting are worse. The victim is abused again, verbally raped by adults, all of who, in Belize are legally obligated to protect her. Yes, ALL.
The law mandates, albeit without penalty, all adults in Belize to report all forms of child abuse. Of course, we noh bizniz. Or rather, few care, fewer see, fewer yet do report.
Both men and women in Belize watch young girls like brown hawks riding the thermals on a lazy afternoon. Like the hawk, both see prey. Women with suspicion, men, avidly. This is our ugly truth. It is so etched in our culture that it is perceived as normal, natural, inevitable. We never question it, let alone condemn it.
Girls (and women) are reduced to the sum of their flesh, breasts and butts, legs and thighs like poultry parts. We are like that old Suzanne Vega song where “backs are cheap and wings are nearly free.” Hearts are offal, along with livers and kidneys.
No wonder, too many girls and women in Belize end up in violent, abusive relationships with men who repeatedly abuse their human dignity, denigrate them as persons, beat them unmercifully, rape and sexually assault them, isolate them, keep them economically vulnerable, hold them hostage to their children, imprison them in their home, stab them multiple times in front of their children, shoot them, kill them. All because they fail to be cooperative flesh for the abuser.
It isn’t about sex. Sex is the weapon. It is ultimately about power, specifically, male power.
That is why I co-wrote the first Domestic Violence Act. We had no specific law in Belize against any of this in 1988. It is why, with the support of Dorla Bowman and Women Against Violence (WAV), I drafted a model Sexual Offences Bill, and a Sexual Harassment Act in the early 1990s, the latter of which was passed, but has not, to my knowledge ever been used.
It is why I helped to push for, promoted and supported the creation of the Family Court. It is why I welcomed the fact that Belize was one of the signatories of the OAS- sponsored Belem Do Para convention in 1996, which states in Article 3 that “Every woman has the right to be free from violence in both the public and private spheres.”
And still we have failed to change our culture of violence. I feel that I have failed.
I thought, in the 1990s, that all this advocacy and legal work would help to change our culture. When my friend and client, Leslie Maud Smith was murded by multiple stab wounds at the hand of her violent abusive ex on a Good Friday at her home, in front of her mother and young children, days after I had obtained a protection order for her; I thought it couldn’t happen again.
I thought that we would wake up, cry out, shake the heavens and stop this. The outpouring of grief promised it, but did not deliver. I was fatally wrong. More women died, all over the Jewel in ways that were just as brutal.
And fast forward to more than two decades later, where in April 2015, Colleen Sharp was found, battered and shot in her own home at the hand of her husband who committed suicide thereafter. Then in July 2015, just days apart, we learned of the horrific murders of Juana Cardinez-Cowo and Keisha Buller at the hands of men who claimed to love them, in the sanctuary of their home. Ms. Buller’s grandmother and child were at home when the homicide occurred, and reportedly witnessed this traumatic event.
Two days ago, yet another woman, Merlin Elizabeth Herrera Mejia was found in her home with her throat slashed, and her ex is currently missing and wanted for questioning by the Police. She may have been murdered in front of her four-year-old son.
And there have been many, many more Belizean women murdered before them. Do we even remember their names?
And it’s not just the women who have been murdered…what of those who have killed after experiencing unrelenting abuse and violence, like Nora Parham, Cruzita Godfrey, Melanie Staine, Laverne Longsworth, and most recently, Keyran Tzib.
What help did they get? Who heard their cries? Who refused to help? Who said that “dah man an ooman” business? What physical and mental health assistance did those women get?
Yet, the Minister of National Security is proposing, as his sole contribution to deal with domestic violence in Belize, that women who seek to discontinue domestic violence cases should not be permitted to do so by the State, and should be forced to “mandatory counseling”. Why? Is serious counseling available to women before arrest or trial? Will it be available after? Is any form of protection available to safeguard these women who do proceed to testify at trial?
Why is it always the women/victims who are the ones who have to bear the brunt of the criminal justice system and its disadvantages? In an article on the Amandala about Ms. Mejia, the Deputy Commander of the Southside Belize City Police formation, says that “the situation is being monitored and that the Women’s Department is taking steps to address the troubling issue.”
Don’t you feel safer already?
I have had clients who have been isolated from family and friends and forbidden to make calls; who have endured psychological torture on a sustained basis; being called mule, animal and made to feel utterly worthless, ugly and fat despite being rail thin and model pretty. I have known women who have had to beg for money for food, and even sanitary napkins, while being forbidden to work. I know another woman who was locked inside her home and had to escape by tying a sheet over a concrete third story balcony.
I had a client whose senior policeman husband would play ‘Russian roulette’ with her, and who was dragged by her hair in front of her teacher colleagues out of a nightclub by him. She moved out of her own home, only to find him sitting on the bed in her rented room, and her landlord begged her to go back home to the policeman so he could avoid any reprisal. This same senior police officer told the magistrate in my presence that my client wanted no further action. She finally left, one day, in the middle of the day with only her handbag and the clothes on her back, on a one-way flight out of Belize to safety and has not returned since.
I have physically gone to the home of women, and helped them to move out, only to watch them return – to abuse. And these are but a few, in my 25+ years of practice. And yet, I feel like a failure on the issue of violence against women, despite my advocacy and effort at law reform. One woman who I respect deeply, reminded me today that we are in crisis. In her small community alone, eight women in close proximity to her in the past seven weeks have been the subject of domestic violence. It is endemic.
You know a woman/girl who has been abused in her home. What have you done for her? If you did, did it matter? Can we change our violent culture? Do we want to? Or are we more interested in the juicy art of “shush and yerisoh” and the blood sport of “slut-shaming”?
And that brings us to that recent “sex tape” circulated on Face Book and elsewhere. How many of us watched it, instead of reporting it, sharing it, rating the ‘action’ and the ‘actors’ and commenting salaciously? How many condemned the girl?
What about the bullying/cyber bullying over nude photos of so many Jewelizean girls and women, most recently on the internet and in social media? From the one circulated to shame a female politician in the 80s, to photos of girls being circulated on Instagram, examples abound. Seven years ago, in 2008, nude photos of a young teacher on a website featuring Belizeans “babes” almost cost her job and took me about two weeks of persistent harassment of the web host to remove them. It was not obscenity concerns, but privacy considerations that made them remove the photos, because she had not consented, and we threatened to sue.
In so many ways, nothing has changed. In fact, we have gotten worse. We have new and creative ways, unrelenting in the public gaze, to shame and abuse women and girls.
So now we will have to accept that we are the evil. We are the wrong because we just tacitly accept it. We are silent about it. And no NGO/activist/law will fix this. Please don’t ask ME what to do. Ask what YOU can do, because we must all fix this. Fix this culture of treating our women like flesh to be consumed; like subjects over whom male power can be exercised at will.
I hope we want to change this. I hope. I’m not very optimistic, but I still have some hope.
That brings me to my closing anecdote. I was recently invited to a meeting – one where I sit at the table as an equal among equals. I am infamous at that table for my unvarnished speech and ‘firm opinions’. One misogynist in attendance who has long had “issues” with my facy feminist self, decided it was time to try the feel of his boots on my neck. He called me out on an issue, addressing me in that meeting as “baby” and when I protested, as “honey”. I exploded on his head. You might think it a small thing, but that day I was feeling powerful and at the same time, raw.
Raw from the constant battering that Belizean women get. Raw from being 51 and still being treated like “a girl” when I have earned my adulthood and I am due my rightful dignity. Raw, sick and tired from the constant grind of being a badass to just to survive as a woman in Belize without any visible male protector. And yes, I have survived. Survived and even thrived, in my own way – but at a cost.
To be clear: what I face is nothing at all compared to what my sisters face daily, but that day, it got on my last nerve, as we say and the kraken was released to roar in protest.
Men will continue to try to exercise power over women in the Jewel by whatever means possible – social, political, economic, sexual, religious; because that power is hard to relinquish. It is too hard to stop being a boss when society expects it of you.
As the feminist writer Chimamanda Adichie reminds us, it is not only that women have to raise our girls differently. It is also that we must raise our sons differently, or nothing changes.
Until there is a culture change, women and girls in Belize, indeed in the wider Caribbean, will continue to be force ripe babies, vulnerable to a power dynamic that see us a commodities for consumption in a society that thinks that is normal. And no. It is not. It is not normal. It is not acceptable.
Women are people too – people with dignity, worth and power. Stop trying to “strong” our power away from us, to mash it or beat it out of us. Stop trying to jack our rightful power.
Stop, think, change. Easy to say. Hard to do.
It is beyond an epidemic- it has to change. I dedicate this to the women who have died, who are suffering and continue to suffer…and especially Earlet
“… I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life.” Moses
Joseph Sanchez is dead but who am I? Who am I must be the one universal question we have all asked ourselves while staring at the reflection in the mirror staring back at us, mimicking our moves and sending back signals to our brains. We have tacitly accepted the reflected image is actually who we see. Some scientist believe that we would not be able to recognize ourselves if we could actually see ourselves outside of a mirror or picture. We see a face staring back at us and many times we are left with more questions than answers. Am I pretty? Am I fat? Why is that flaw so prominent? Who am I?
Many of us depend on the mirror to help us project the image we consider acceptable or want to share with the world. Most of us would never leave the house without visiting the mirror for confirmation that we have portrayed the right image. We take care in what we wear to fit into certain cliques, or professional groups; we look to the mirror to determine our ratio of sexiness or decency; sometimes we want to ensure we are emulating our heroes by copying his or her dress, or hair or make up; we sometimes want to seem intimidating; regal; sometimes we want to look “fresh” or stand out; but most times we just want to fit in. The way we choose to dress many times gives a glimpse into who we want to be but not necessarily who we are. One thing for sure, we all inhibit some level of insecurity about the image staring back at us, maybe wishing we had the money, or DNA, or will power to change it. And while the world can see the actual physical manifestation we ourselves cannot see because we can only see it through a mirror or picture; the world is not privy to our feelings, or thoughts not projected in our physical appearance.
Joseph Sanchez was an 18 -year old gay teenager, barely legal and the same age as my son. He loved to dance in the Belize Carnivals and did very well in that element. He reportedly preferred to dress in skirts and dresses rather than pants…but think for a minute… so do Scottish men, many men in the Middle East, Africa and India. Here we have a teenager, terrorized by some members of Belize society and then executed. Joseph’s family told the media that he quit school because of numerous death threats and the constant hate he endured. He must have been assaulted on many occasions and decided not to report it. He may have thought his attackers were just another bullying incident he had endured many times. If being gay was a choice, who would choose to live under such constant threats, terror and judgment? Joseph was said to be mindful of where he went and who he affiliated with and yet he still was subjected to the brutality of a judgmental society gone berserk. Joseph was brutally murdered early Sunday morning January 12, 2014. A knife in his heart sealed his fate.
Growing up I was a tomboy. I loved playing sports. I personally hated dresses because it meant I could not run around and would have to sit properly or risk chastisement. I use to wear my brother’s t-shirts and shorts. I just cannot imagine that anyone would want to kill me, beat me up or terrorize me because of what I chose to wear. Joseph, a teenager barely into adulthood, digressed from what Belize’s machismo “God fearing” society thought was appropriate dress code and now you hearing the proponents begin to rationalize his murder. That is disturbing to me. For those who think that this young man was seeking special rights, then you are clueless about freedom and rights and you have no respect for it.
Freedom does not only encompass your happiness. Let me repeat. Freedom is NOT ONLY ABOUT YOU. Living in a free society means that you will be subjected to images, beliefs, opinions, people and lifestyles you don’t agree with; things and people you don’t like or support; but in such a society, the same freedom allows you to equally live your life as you see fit; offer controversial and opposing opinions and ideas; dress in a manner that expresses who you are; pray as your personal faith dictates; and be who you want to be, free from any fear or terror. Joseph was never afforded such freedom. The people who chose to rationalize Joseph’s murder are willing accomplices to his demise. Freedom is in serious peril when we are trapped in ideology.
Joseph Sanchez is today free from all the hate and anger. He is free from fear, he is free from judgment and he has left behind a society that has rationalized their own imprisonment. There is never, ever a rationalization to kill someone because you disagree or dislike who he or she is.
The Bible thumpers, who continue to quote death verses, consider that God gave Moses ten simple commandments to follow. Thou shalt not kill was one of the commandments. He did not say thou shalt not kill those I agree with or like. There was no caveat to the commandment. Thou shalt not kill was a commandment handed down by God himself. Yet the self appointed religious leaders and arbiters completely ignore a direct commandment of God and direct their followers to verses in the Bible interpreted by priests who themselves have blatantly ignored and rejected God’s commandment of thou shalt not kill and encouraged their followers to kill in the name of God.
I am completely disgusted with those people in our Belizean society who attempt to rationalize the murder of Joseph or the murder of anyone for that matter and especially those in the LGBT community. How dare you use God as a foundation for your personal hate? Joseph was just a kid. He was somebody’s child. He was a fellow citizen and human being and he deserved life and respect even when you disagreed with how he chose to express himself. We are on a slippery slope Belize when we rationalize murder of those we don’t like.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. When you have lost your empathy for human life, when you rationalize bad behavior, when you have selective morality- don’t be surprised when injustice meets you next. We need to honor life and investigate death in such a manner to prove that we actually honor life. We live in a diverse world and only people who believe in acts of genocide, dictatorships and totalitarianism reject the idea of diversity.
You are now at peace Joseph…let those who revel in your death feel the wrath of their own conscience … God please help us find our moral compass because we are lost sheep!
It was not the type of news that I was prepared to receive on December 1, 1998. But then, who can ever predict what will happen each day or any moment in life? The only permanence in life is its impermanence. We know not the day or the hour.
“Hilá numada” (My friend is dead) was all I could say when the Garifuna helper at my home wondered why tears were quietly streaming down my face as I reclined silently in my living room sofa with eyes closed trying to fathom the news of passing of my friend Julian Cho. She quietly handed me a glass of water and a handkerchief. After that hour of mournful reflection I emerged with a resolve to continue supporting friend’s work. It’s why I became a Board member of the Julian Cho Society and supported the struggle through the courts.
Julian’s life was cut short at 36 years old, during the prime of his leadership in the Toledo Maya Cultural Council (TMCC). His unanimous election as Chairman of that organization in December 1995 had turned the tide of the history of his people’s struggles.
For the first time in their history, the Mayas had found from among themselves, a highly educated, astute, and determined leader dedicated to social justice and human rights. His wasn’t the type of education that makes some academics live in their heads with apathy, egotistic detachment, fear and complacency. His formation fired him to a life of service. Hardly anyone realized the weight of his position. As a family man and with the full time high school teaching job that Julian had, the extra demands of voluntary work as Maya leader could stretch one beyond limits. The land rights struggle was local but its context global, stemming from centuries of a deeply entrenched system.
In his own unassuming but shrewd manner, Julian pursued a mission that was rooted in his history. He was born in the Maya village of San Jose in the Toledo District on April 6, 1962. As the sixth child of his family he was determined to overcome the cycle of poverty through education. We first met at St. Peter Claver College, a Jesuit high school in Punta Gorda. He was in first form when I was in fourth. (My other friend the late Andy Palacio, was in third form then.) Julian went on to further studies at SJC Junior College. As he contemplated the Jesuit priesthood, he pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy at St. Louis University, in the US. After a few years in the seminary, his path changed. He returned home, taught at St. John’s College, Sacred Heart College and Toledo Community College (TCC), and in 1992 became married to Magdalena Coc, Cristina’s eldest sister. They had two children. The height he reached was rare for any Maya of Toledo.
As a Maya leader, Julian had a remarkable ability to mobilize his people to voice their concerns over disregard for their rights to land. Callously and without consultations, the Government of Belize, in 1993, granted long term logging concessions to a foreign company Atlantic Industries, to exploit timber in lands near and around Maya villages. There were great concerns that massive deforestation would threaten the resources that the Mayas traditionally depended on to sustain their way of life. While the people were (and are) consistently denied their rights to communal land rights and opportunities to benefit from the bountiful natural resources within their area, secret agreements were very often made to benefit foreign corporate interests. (Ironically, amidst these injustices, Maya archaeology, history and culture have become hallmarks in the promotion of Belize’s tourism industry.)
Julian was also able to mobilize alliances and draw international attention and support to challenge the government in court. Under international pressure, government’s agreement with the Malaysian logging company was finally terminated. One of Julian’s crowning achievements was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on November 25, 1998, with the Prime Minister of Belize to negotiate a solution to the Maya land rights struggle. One week later he met his untimely death.
Julian’s struggle for his people went far beyond the discriminatory ways in which successive UDP and PUP government administrations have treated the Mayas. It represents the historical global struggle of indigenous peoples against the injustices that are deeply rooted in Western capitalism – a system designed to fulfill a certain class dominance while exercising subjugation and dominion over indigenous and Afro descendant peoples.
At the core of this system are racism, greed and blatant disregard for the well-being of people and nature. Its legacies are deeply entrenched throughout the Americas, Africa and wherever there are people of color. The massacre of Native Americans for the expansion of North America, the centuries of brutal transatlantic trading of enslaved Africans, the invasion and banishment of the Garinagu from St. Vincent, the brutal oppression and genocide of indigenous peoples in Guatemala, the alienation, marginalization and mass poverty of indigenous peoples all over the Americas, are all manifestations of that system.
There are still “leaders” in Belize who bear the mental shackles of this system. Under their leadership, our independent state is not meant to produce a new system or to radically improve the current one. Rather, it was designed to reproduce the same structure that perpetuates these inequalities. That’s the hypocrisy of our democracy. Therein lies the essence of the struggle that Julian took on his shoulders on behalf of his people.
Through Julian’s friendship, I understood in a personal way what leaders experience when they seek to break the oppressive grip of a system that tramples the dignity and rights of people for the profit of a greedy and oppressive few. Quite often, he received death threats. While the circumstantial details of his passing remain interred in his bones, we know that leaders such as Garvey and Mandela were jailed, others such as Ghandi, Archbishop Romero, Martin Luther King, Che Guevarra and many others assassinated as they fought against exploitative and oppressive conditions and for the rights of their people. Bob Marley echoed it best when he asked, “How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?”
My friendship with Julian intertwined in many ways – professionally, historically and socially. Only three days before his passing, he and I had one of our usual lighthearted but insightful conversation that makes one least suspect that life is not forever. He was advising one of my U.S. university students for a research assignment on the Maya land rights. In the early 1980s, we were both served as teachers at Toledo Community College. We were part of the SEARCH youth group around the same time. In 1993, when I served as a consultant for the US-based Center for Native Lands to map out the extent and boundaries of Garifuna and Maya land use in Belize, Julian provided key insights. From 1995 to the time of his passing, he had served as a lecturer of Maya History and Culture in the School for International Training program, in which I was serving as the Academic Director.
As one becomes more aware of life’s synchronicity there is a realization, as Paulo Coelho notes, that “important encounters are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.” My in-depth understanding of Maya life and culture came through my own family roots. In 1907, my grandfather Andres P. Enriquez opened the school in the village of San Antonio and served as school Principal there for 28 of his 45-year teaching career. He was highly respected and revered among the Mayas. My grandmother whose first five children were stillborn due to inhospitable living conditions in that village, later became a renowned midwife and traditional healer. My father and his five siblings grew up in San Antonio and were well known in the Maya communities. Like other families of Garifuna teachers, they were also steeped in Maya cultural traditions. In the 1970s & early 80s, my father served as interpreter of Maya at the Supreme Court. Our home in PG always welcomed visits by Maya villagers. When I was a boy, my parents shared our home for about eight years with a homeless elderly Maya man, Mr. Telesforo Paquiul, the son of one of the founders of San Antonio Village. Mr. Paquiul became our adopted grandfather; his evening stories from his hammock enhanced the rich diversity of my childhood experiences.
The friendship I shared with Julian emerged within these encounters and grew during early adulthood when we attended regular Jesuit vocation retreats as we both discerned whether the priesthood was our calling. He entered the seminary for a few years; I didn’t. My path weaved its own form but we maintained contact. While I was studying at Minnesota State University (1986-88) Julian and Lawrence Mangar (another Belizean Jesuit seminarian at the time) visited from their seminary base in Omaha, Nebraska. Our discussions at the Jesuit residence in Mankato, MN where they stayed during their visit, had sometimes left me tempted to return to that path.
Julian’s leadership was groomed by his Jesuit formation. His life demonstrated that once imbued with the Jesuit spiritual tradition, one becomes more critically aware of individual and social evils and of the need for discernment and responsible action. It is a spirituality that empowers people to become leaders in service towards building a just and humane world. Contrary to the pervading individualistic, materialistic culture of our society, the spirituality brings out a profound set of human values, attitudes and insights that empowers one “to give and not count the cost, to fight and not heed the wounds, to labor and not ask for reward” – for the greater good. The struggle continues through emergence of new leadership including his sister-in-law Cristina Coc, Pablo Mis, Greg Choc, and other emerging Maya leaders who were inspired by him.
Too often, as stated in the wisdom of indigenous Cree: “When the last tree is cut down, the last river is poisoned, the last fish is caught, then only will they discover that they cannot eat money.” We ought not to wait until then. A transformed consciousness and a paradigm shift is what we all desperately need for a better Belize.
Julian Cho’s service to his people is a stellar example of dedication to rid unjust systems and practices that are still deeply embedded in our nation’s institutions and among our leaders. The bigger struggle continues. For the sake of our children’s future, we must continue. Through our homes, our schools, our work, our churches, communities, and political party affiliations, we must work assiduously to transform this nation. Indeed we must. Yes we can.
(Channel 5 News 6/22/1999 Channel 5 News Archives 22825 ) In December Belizeans were shocked to hear that a young and vocal activist for Maya rights had died suddenly at his home in the Toledo District. Although it appeared as if Julian Cho had fallen from the roof of his home by accident, his family, in particular his wife Maggie, believed he had been the victim of foul play. But this week the case of Julian Cho appears to have been finally laid to rest as a coroner’s inquest in Punta Gorda on Monday ruled his death an accident and that no one is criminally responsible. Cho’s body was found on December 1st, 1998. Reports at the time indicated that Cho had been drinking over the weekend and failed to report for work at Toledo Community College that Monday. Maggie Cho and his close friends, however, insisted he was not a heavy drinker and wanted the matter investigated further since they claimed he had received death threats from workers displaced by the suspension of the Malaysian Logging Concession, an operation Cho had opposed. Maggie Cho’s efforts led the Ministry of National Security to exhume the body and bring in an independent pathologist who performed a second autopsy in February. His findings concurred with those of Dr. Mario Estradabran who ruled the death an accident. Apparently Punta Gorda Magistrate Clive Lino, who presided over Monday’s inquest, also agreed with the medical authority and police findings.
“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.” Nelson Mandela
It was reportedly a stormy late night January 7th or early morning January 8th, 2013, when several people (likely men), entered into the apartments of Keino Quallo; Anthony Perez, Albert Fuentes and Leonard Myers and brutally, savagely and gruesomely murdered them. Although the houses in that neighborhood practically sit on top of each other, no one heard or saw anything.
It may be a coincidence that the police visited the house the same night and broke a lock the assailants came through; and it is plausible that the police surveillance camera was not working that night; Belize get equipment donated without technical support. What was unimaginable were the the heinous crimes splattered all over the media; showcased by the police; and hurriedly theorized by media as gang affiliated murders. Evident were the unprofessionalism and incompetence on proud display. The murder scene quickly turned into a public spectacle filled with reporters, onlookers and police officers; treating the crime scene as a blood filled sideshow; trampling through an unpreserved crime scene; with no regard for family and friends who looked on in horror. It was a very disrespectful and unethical event behaving as if the lives taken meant nothing.
The murders shocked the core of citizens, friends and strangers; it almost caused a riot and created such a volatile environment that even the US Embassy issued warnings. Fingers began to point, accusations ran rampant, gunshots rang out; residents were visibly upset and a standoff between the residents of the area and the Gang Suppression Unit played out on the news, social media and YouTube. After the drama subsided, four men not only died but also joined the ranks of more than a thousand unsolved and un-investigated murders in Belize.
The sad reality is that the lives of those stolen means absolutely nothing to a good portion of Belize Society; the powers that be; the police force, who seem to have stalled on a disinterested investigation; the media, who just needed their sensationalism fix for the week and the government of Belize who have treated the death of our troubled youth population with disdain; keeping intact a DPP and Attorney General inept to address the failed criminal justice system.
So a year later, the death of Keino Quallo remains un-investigated and unsolved. No updates, no witnesses, no claim about ongoing investigations. I really don’t think they care. It is this exact unprincipled attitude that is creating a ripe environment for criminals in Belize. I ask everyone reading this… what does it say about our society that does not respect the lives of its own citizens? What does it say of our society where citizens cannot seek justice for their injustices? What does it say of our society where murder is so rampant that it no longer offends our moral compass? Unfortunately, we have seemingly evolved into a society where many Belizeans are bedazzled with pageantry, position; the rapture and pettiness to grasp the magnitude of one thousand unsolved murders; too docile to hold our government accountable for the incompetence of the criminal legal system and too aloof to feel empathy.
Murder is running free in Belize; acting irresponsible; choosing randomly; acting irrationally and violently… he has an unquenchable and unrestraint thirst; he is no longer confined to the Southside of Belize City; he no longer thirsts for only the poor and disadvantaged; he has expanded his scope. Recently three Canadians killed or missing…when he visits, we still remain numb to his pain, oblivious to the path of self destruction…Can you see our shameful and disgraceful shell of a justice system?
Keino, my friend, you can never die when your memory lives. Your life mattered! The state is responsible for investigating your death and the death of every person whose life is ripped from them. The government has a duty to ensure the safety of citizens and visitors to Belize. The government should put the mechanisms in place to bring murderers to justice; to give family members closure; and to hold each and every life in the highest regard regardless of status or stature. One year later and no answers…