“Putting it on the Table” reshared with the permission of Carolyn Trench- Sandiford


Carolyn Trench-Sandiford

Covid19, a pandemic, is a potential disaster for Belize, and is beyond anything we have experienced before. Standard epidemiological models indicate that an uncontrolled epidemic could infect 60% of a country’s population, and it can have a mortality rate of 0.9%. For Belize, this means 245,093 persons could be infected (Estimated population of Belize as of 2019:408,487) and 2,205 persons can die. COVID19 does not discriminate gender, ethnicity, social standing, geographic location or age. This means ANYONE OF US can become infected and die.

COVID19 can be worse than Hurricane Hattie in many ways (which I will share some thoughts on in a subsequent posting), but primarily in terms of the potential death toll and occurrence and recovery period. In the case of the former, 400 persons or 0.3% of the population of Belize lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Hattie. They were primarily from Belize City and Stann Creek District. (Estimated population of Belize 1960:119,934).

In the case of the latter, COVID19 is not a few days, a one shot impact where the hurricane strikes one particular area and leaves, and thereafter a recovery period with local and global support. COVID19 is estimated to take its toll over a protracted period of 3 to 6 months over the whole country, and possibly another 6 months to ensure no re-occurrence. Furthermore, Belize will be competing with countries impacted also by COVID19, thus resources may become very scarce.

In addition, and more so than Hattie, COVID19 will force us to rethink governance and political systems, our economy, our socio-cultural values and practice and our relationship with our ourselves, our families and society, with the environment, and with the global community.

Fortunately, we are now positioned to learn from the experiences of other countries, and to be able to share ours with them as well. Similar to all countries currently affected by COVID19, we have started with one case with the likelihood of an increase in the number of cases in the days to come. Consequently, what can happen next will be up to EACH AND EVERYONE OF US.

So, I thought it important to use this platform to share a little bit more on the phases of the pandemic we are confronted with-COVID19 as I myself begin to learn about this novel virus. What phase we are in, what we can learn and adapt from others, and what our expectations should be, as we all work together, government and people, to navigate the way forward, and minimize the onslaught of a potential disaster.

(1) Testing and Tracing Phase-This is when there are a few cases of COVID19. Countries which have succeeded so far in limiting the epidemic (Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan) have done so by identifying and isolating the infected individuals and tracing the people they have come into contact with so they too can be either tested, monitored, and, if necessary, isolated.


In this phase, successful countries leveraged their public-health infrastructure and data analytics, affordable healthcare, and extensive educational outreach. This, along with inculcated discipline and socio-cultural practices contributed to their success. While Belize health care landscape may not be on par, we have other elements to leverage. I will share these in a subsequent post.

(2) Breakout Phase-This occurs when testing and tracing is lax. In Belizean colloquialism, this is the ‘WHEN SHIT HIT THE FAN” phase as what occurs is the spread of the virus to the community and the exponential growth of cases. Exponential growth means 1 person becomes 2, becomes 4, becomes 8, becomes 16, becomes 32, becomes 64, becomes 108, becomes 216, becomes 432, becomes 864, becomes 1,728, becomes 3,456, becomes 6,912, becomes 13,824…you get the picture.

China reported its first case January 11th, 2020, and since then, COVID19 has expanded to all parts of the globe, and now it is in Belize. As of today, 3 months and 14 days later, the global picture reports 436,379 infections and 19,638 deaths. That one case in Belize, and any other that may emerge, has the potential to expand to all parts of Belize and beyond.

The key to limiting the epidemic in this breakout phase is practice social distancing accompanied by some sort of shutdown in which all non-essential businesses are closed; events are canceled; public areas are cleared; and most people are ordered to remain in their homes. China implemented a stringent lockdown several weeks into the epidemic and not before.


As a note, all of us have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that the “SHIT NO HIT THE FAN” in Belize. If a shutdown is successful, it will slow the rate of the spread, and the data has shown that if carried out early enough and effectively enough, our health care system will not be overwhelmed (or to use the correct term-the curve will be flattened as the picture depicts), for if it becomes overwhelmed, as in the case of Italy, then it could lead to thousands of deaths. In this scenario, the state will be forced to start making hard and painful decisions as to who will live and who will die, or in our Belizean colloquialism ‘the state wah be God’ and a criteria will be set based on age, gender and pre-existing conditions, or it can very well be ‘who knows who.’

Undoubtedly, a national lockdown will be extremely costly, but it will save lives. I will share some thoughts on this in a subsequent post.

This time in our journey of nationhood too shall pass. We will bounce back. How fast, will depend on the action each of us take.

Jeffery Sachs in ‘Our best hope for fighting coronavirus’ in SDSN Global dated March 23rd, 2020
www.worldometers.info downloaded 03/25/2020
Statistics Institute of Belize, Abstract of Statistics 1991
www.sib.org.bz downloaded 03/25/2020

No photo description available.

Charitable Donation

Donating to the blog helps with administrative costs such as web fees, internet, time etc.


A Bastardized Democracy Will Never Lead to Nation Building by: Aria Lightfoot


Aria Lightfoot M.P.A

I recently listened to an interview where Godwin Hulse bragged to the media that Belize (assuming he meant Belize is part of the British Commonwealth) had more experience at writing laws than the United States and it was at that moment I realized that Godwin Hulse is clueless about Belize’s constitutional democracy, young existence and genuinely believes, though misguided, that the UK, Commonwealth and Belize systems are all equal.

A lot of people don’t know that the UK has no constitution. They have a document called the Magna Carta that has existed for centuries that acted somewhat like the first human rights declaration. After centuries of power struggles between the monarch, privileged classes (nobilities), churches and the poorer classes, the UK has evolved from a complicated intertwined system of turmoils, tradition, law making and landmark court rulings; however this concept of common wealth and common laws are nothing of the sorts.

During the entire period of slavery, slavery was forbidden inside the UK. In the colonies of the UK, however, there were no human rights, nor common wealth. The UK committed genocide against the indigenous people to steal their land and wealth; enslaved Africans, Arabs, Chinese and Indians, brought them into the Caribbean and Africa and then committed human engineering by shaming their cultures, appearances, traditions, religions and changed their native tongues to English. The UK extracted mass amounts of wealth while keeping the colonies in very under developed conditions that persists today. Today, Belize has rejected its indigenous and African History as an important education  tool to build our consciousness and nation.

The first US settlers rejected this UK wealth extraction model for themselves, threw some English tea in the water and fought them for Independence. They knew the Magna Carta existed and went on to write their own constitution with the spirit of the Magna Carta intact. They however committed the same crimes as their mother but their constitution, democracy and sense of their human rights remained intact and thru wars, civil rights movements, law making, constitutional landmark court rulings and a system that encourages its citizens to be vigilant and challenge injustices have made Americans fierce about their rights and the American constitution is designed for her citizens to keep seeking the ideals of justice and the perfect union.

The Caribbean and African colonies, whose purpose were only for wealth extraction were flooded with slaves from different regions of the world and then they were engineered to a system of white corporate supremacy, self hate, erasure of histories and mis-education to foster compliant citizens. The manufactured culture in the colonies had no Magna Carta to reference, were not as sophisticated because many people were brought in from different cultures to work only to extract the wealth on behalf of the UK. The engineering within the colonies was considered so brilliant to quell rebellions that Willie Lynch taught the slave owners in the southern states how to use a system of divide as an effective tool to curb slave rebellions. Centuries of engineering persists today, so much so that Godwin Hulse thinks that this concept of commonwealth is real and that Belize 38 years of law making is more sophisticated than the US 243 years of law making and is on par with the UK centuries of law making.

When the colonial model became an unmanageable task for the UK because of her over commitment to fighting in World War II, she decided to give most of her colonies Independence, not before she distributed carbon copy constitutions to capture some parts of the British legal and political system but failed to go far enough to help with development of colonies to first world status.  The evidence of wanton corruption and underdevelopment throughout many Caribbean and African nations that persist today is proof that the one true shared value of the Commonwealth is to keep wealth extraction in place for a few and thwart real development.

In the UK, Parliament is supreme. The UK attorneys and barristers study and practice law in the UK or commonwealth, but in the colonies it is the Constitution that is Supreme. Specifically in the case of Belize the attorneys study law in the UK, or other commonwealth countries such as Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica. The study of law in another nation presents a serious problem and may explain why Belize suffers from crippling destabilizing corruption.

The legal body of Belize has limited expertise in Belize’s law and constitution and our lawyer politicians are trained and indoctrinated into the UK’s philosophy of Parliamentary supremacy not realizing that Belize is a Constitutional democracy and so we find our leaders with a poor understanding of their own system and therefore remain in constant violation of Belize’s Constitution. All of Belize’s Prime Ministers were born and educated in a colony and even though we claim we are an independent nation we are proud to be an appendage to the UK but in constant need of aid.

I have pondered why these violations are so blatant and arrogant but I realize it is ignorance and colonial engineering that is destroying us. I also pondered why Belize loses so many international cases, but I realize now that when actions of those who think we are in a parliamentary supremacy is measured in a different environment where law is supreme, violations will keep haunting them because their ignorance keeps them in constant violations.


So what is the solution?

It is time to sever the umbilical cord and get to building the nation state of Belize.  We can start with a law school in Belize that is geared towards teaching Belize attorneys about a Belize legal system and a Belize Constitution.  All attorneys should be mandated to pass a Belize constitutional law class to practice in Belize.  We should be developing a curriculum about our history and shared values.

Ask yourself this important question: How can any leader develop their country when they do not know or study their own laws and history?

The solution means that Belize needs to do exactly what the US did –  reject what has been given to her and develop a Belize for Belizeans by Belizeans with Nation Building in mind.

20/20 should be about perfect vision!



More about the Magna Carta here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Magna-Carta


Donate here:

Charitable Donation

Donating to the blog helps with administrative costs such as web fees, internet, time etc.






Hi Chiclero! written by: Howard A. Frankson

Reprinted with the permission of Howard A. Frankson 
Editor’s note: 
Howard Frankson provides a well  written historical journey of the Chicle industry in colonial British Honduras (Belize); he introduces us to the people, the cultures, the lifestyles and how artificial gum extinguished the trade and the ethnology.  He interconnects global warming, droughts and today’s refugee crisis at the US border and maybe  a deeper prognostication for Belize. 
Howard Frankson

Howard A. Frankson

My grandfather was not a fully-fledged Chiclero, but as a well-rounded farmer, hunter and bush ranger, he was immersed in their world and often represented them in their transactions with city folk and corporations. He would go with them to their camps in the forest, carrying ‘provision’ to maintain them through the season. In all this he was a quiet man, calm and unassuming, known to the world as “Boss Jim”. His wife, my grandmother, was the real power behind the scene, strong and assertive, she was the well-known matriarch “Miss Night”, and bore with combative composure, the weight of her large family on her small frame. At his farm in St. Paul’s Bank on the Belize Old River, or at his home on Cleghorn Street in downtown Belize City, where I lived as a child, while my father was completing his house in the suburbs, blocks of chicle stacked to the joists and attracted neighborhood kids by the dozen. The all-powerful company behind the industry is Wrigley, and their tasty products were called “Chiclets”. Chicle is the sap of the Sapodilla tree that was exported for the manufacture of chewing gum before the advent of artificial gum. Which supplanted tree sap gum and denied Belize a lucrative source of income. Processed in the forest, the sap was dehydrated by boiling, and formed into blocks of about forty pounds in weight. Appearing very much like the blocks of rock-salt that ranchers put out for their cattle, though more oblong or rectangular. Almost tasteless, we kids enjoyed slicing off chunks of chicle and chewing it for hours. My grandmother used to add sweetened condensed milk to the treat to make it more palatable. The sapodilla trees are long-lived giants of the forest, and to this day can be recognized by the patterns of crisscross scars carved into their trunks from repeated bleeding. The tree is a prime hardwood, which takes many years to mature, and so cultivating it was not an option. So the chicleros went into the forest, hunting out their locations and marking them for repeated visitation. Though the wood was of high value, their sap was worth much more, and the trees were never removed from the forest. The chiclero was a special breed of man who lived his life in the forest. Visiting towns and villages only as needed to refresh his stores, his ‘provision’, and collect his hard-earned pittance. As can be imagined, on such occasions groups chicleros gathered round tubs of rum to celebrate renewed acquaintance and exchange feats of daring, and exploits in the forest.


These men were not often large in stature, but wiry and strong, displaying scars of past misadventure in the forested interior of colonial British Honduras. They never dreamed, nor imagined the political intrigue that would one day transform their homeland into Belize from colonial British Honduras. And in the process, outgrow their wild and free nature. In the forest they would encounter jaguar, cayman, and snakes so large that they resembled the trunks of fallen trees in the undergrowth. They hunted tapir, known as mountain cow, deer, peccary, and wild birds beyond number. Beautiful creatures that today face extinction caused by excessive human intervention and increasing dislocation as their forest homes are cleared to make way for civilization. These men lived off the land and required little from the communities they avoided. A little sugar and salt, boots for their feet, working men’s clothes, a machete and scabbard. Shells for their shotguns, and rope to tie their bundles. They required a huge metal pot for concentrating their chicle, and wooden frames in which to mold it. All else they acquired from nature, and never took more than they needed. Strong men of honor, they lived by their wits and self-rule, and respected the law of the jungle, And woe be unto any man who would enter their forest and claim prizes for the sake of a trophy. The spoils of the forest were intended for man’s consumption, but only in as much as he needed.

The chiclero’s range was unlimited, he roamed wherever the sapodilla tree led him. Sleeping wherever night found him. Content in his role, a cog in a wheel he could never have recognized if it hit him. His produce traveled thousands of miles to satisfy the whims of a pampered metropolitan agglomeration. Which would eventually formulate its own rendition of the gum they chewed in distant contemplation of the little man who strove in fetid conditions, to make a life for his wife and his children. The chiclero was never anointed or remembered, but in his way, along with many other tradesmen around the world, built the foundation of an empire that spanned the globe. The British Empire was grounded in the sweat of small men who aspired only to fill the needs of each new day. To see their children grow and prosper, was all the incentive they needed to venture into the unforgiving jungle over and over, until the forest became so familiar, it represented home, and all they cared for. The chicleros were primarily descendants of the ancient Mayan Empire that occupied southern Mexico and northern Central America up to the year nine hundred AD when a great drought it is believed, subdued them. A people who mapped the stars and studied the solar system. Who created the long-count and three-hundred-and-sixty day calendars that foretold the passing of time with such impressive accuracy that they did not require a leap year to maintain their precision. The chiclero’s ancestry also included the descendants of African slaves who cohabited with the Maya in the seamless symmetry of life in the interior. In northern areas of the sub-continent, the assimilation has been so complete that not a visible trace remains of the Africans who once labored, side by side with the Maya, in service to European overlords.


In the years before the introduction of artificial gum, chicle was a primary commodity, and one of Belize’s chief exports. Belize, British Honduras, was an insignificant colonial outpost of the British Empire. The only English-speaking enclave in Central America, for years administered by Jamaica. Which was the most advanced of all the empire’s territories in the New World. Jamaica, and the city of Port Royal in particular, foreshadowed the development of North America, and was the launch site for expeditions to the various outposts of empire. While Belize, with a population under a hundred thousand, and in square miles more than twice the size of Jamaica, was an empty land whose great attraction was the incomparable figured mahogany extracted from her forests. Along with the mahogany came other hardwoods like pine, redwood, and zericote. It is believed that the indigenous Indians, while indentured to the service of the invaders, used to chew the sap of the sapodilla, and their oppressors appropriated the habit for their own distraction. Thereby introducing chewing gum to a receptive market, eager for dalliance in puny occupation. The Wrigley Corporation was once a big player in the administration of Belize. Along with the Belize Estate & Produce Company, BEC, they dominated the colony. BEC played a dominant role in every aspect of the colony’s daily ritual. The company exported the colony’s output and imported its consumer necessities. It held vast swaths of its territory through appropriation or lease and determined the course of its economic diversity. British colonial rule gave Belize security, and British Common Law ensured stability. In comparison, its Spanish colonial, republican neighbors live constantly in the throes of destabilizing revolution, and prided themselves in punitive machismo. Strutting bantams in a disheveled farmyard, dominated by an insecure plutocracy, from which its indigenous peasantry fled at the first opportunity.

In the years before artificial gum, when chicle had great value, the chicleros lived in or near the forest, and their lives were simple, rustic and ordered. Their children earned little education and so usually followed in the career steps of their elders. Their wives were the daughters of other chicleros, and their ambition, and that of their children, seldom excluded life the forest. When they were not bleeding sap from the sapodilla trees, they cultivated small plots or ‘milpa’. The ‘milpa’ were of corn, the staple crop of the Maya in the region, and they kept a few chickens and ducks. They had several dogs which accompanied them when hunting or visiting the sapodilla trees for bleeding chicle. A proficient chiclero usually had about a dozen trees in his region and complemented his production by venturing farther afield on occasion. These occasional ventures lasted several weeks, even months, and required much forethought and preparation. The heavy boiling pots were strategically positioned in convenient locations throughout the forest. Though a chiclero may have kept a small milpa, he was not a milpero by definition. A milpero’s corn fields were more extensive, he was domesticated in comparison to the chiclero, and slept with at least a thatched roof over his head, though adventures into the jungle were not uncommon. The milpero’s kids had educational opportunities, and many migrated to the cities. With the introduction of artificial gum, the chiclero’s lifestyle was extinguished, and with increasing commercialization of farming, the milpero’s too would soon follow.


Across the border in Guatemala, the milpas of yesteryear are today being consumed by a severe drought brought about by global warming. And as a consequence of excessive deforestation, which reduces the evaporation necessary for cloud formation. A predictable cycle of declination in the most impoverished communities lacking the technology to adjust to the changing climatic dynamics that foretell devastation. As the milpas burn, the milperos and their families flee, largely north through Mexico to America. Where tradition holds that the wealthiest nation on earth will afford them succor. But that was before a new administration that considering them less than equal confined them to cages on the border. Even though they may have had relatives in the country willing to support them. These relatives were not informed of their plight, or of their arrival. Nor of where they were being kept like animals. Families were divided, with the children kept separately. Children as young as six months old, deprived of their mothers, and kept in cages in filthy conditions with poor sanitation. Deprived of a proper diet or health care facilities. A fat-cat republican congressman observed in all his opulent obesity, that they were lucky to be where they were, as where they had come from was even worse. Yet, a girl-child refugee apprehended at the border when asked why she fled said simply, “food doesn’t grow there anymore”. She had had no choice but to flee the burning milpas, only to be caught in a cage along with thousands of others. Desperate human beings denied their dignity and forced to grovel for scraps at the tables of the rich. All in a place that once beckoned them with false hope and promise: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free……” To whom did those words refer? And now, a picture of a father and his daughter drowned in the Rio Grande has gone viral for all to see the desperation that drives these people to flee the climatic conditions in Central America that those in Washington fail to accept as pertinent reality.

border crossingdrought

In my early years in British Honduras, in the years of the chiclero and the milpero, Belize was a smaller place, warmer and more intimate. Everyone knew his neighbor, and every neighborhood was a community. Where children frolicked freely, and the adults gathered frequently to exchange pleasantries, favors and gossip. The complicity of independence was a distant ambition visited most frequently by politicians. in the interim, they argued for internal self-governance and the right to determine our own future. And even after independence, the simplicity of existence was interrupted only by the certainty of hurricanes, which hit the country frequently, and Belize City every thirty years without fail. After the ‘sixty-one hurricane, Hattie, the administrative capital was moved inland to Belmopan. While the commercial capital remained in Belize City with the seaport and harbor. While still in Belize City, my father was the most senior civil servant in government, and after he retired, and became Director of US Peace Corps, we acquired a large parcel of land in the country with the intention of propagating citrus. To assist in its early development, we hired neighboring residents and complimented their income by encouraging them to cultivate their milpas on our land not designated for citrus. These milperos proved industrious, strong men of great integrity, and it was easy to imagine their predecessors hunting for sapodilla trees in the forest and bleeding them of their gum. Gathering round a fire, just as we did on the farm, and spinning wild tales of misadventure.

making chicle

One tale in particular, is of a wily chiclero who had done exceedingly well and bought himself a bicycle which he took into the forest. He propped it up on what he took to be a fallen tree on the forest floor and went in search of sapodilla trees to bleed for their chicle. But the log on which he propped his bike turned out to be a snake, locally known as ‘wowla’. A boa constrictor of great length and girth, the largest snake in Central America, and one of the heaviest in the world. Constrictors are slow and not venomous, but their mere size makes them intimidating. Chicleros are used to encountering such creatures in the wild, but what good would a tale be if it did not provide drama and suspense? And death by slow constriction must be raw, painful and horrifying;  so the chiclero in the tale ran screaming from the forest, and lost his hard earned bicycle in a place where it served no purpose. The moral of the tale being that one should never take such modern devices into the primitive jungle. Such tales, repeated often, gain an air of truth in the retelling. But no one could realistically imagine a chiclero being scared in the forest. He was born into its dark places and knew every one of its creatures and their habits. Hi chiclero, your time has passed, but your glory days will remain in folklore, fact and fiction. Small men of great stature, who knew no fear and paid no tribute to lord or master. Bra Ananci, were he not a spider, could well have been a chiclero, riding Bra Tiger’s back into the jungle, where his feats, though implausible, are recounted as for historic remembrance.


Howard A. Frankson — Belize

Hey America! by: Howard Frankson


Howard Frankson

Re-shared with the permission of Howard Frankson. 

An urgent message regarding global warming and rising temperatures. 

 My grandfather was a gentle-man, whom everyone called “Boss Jim”, a successful farmer, rancher, and chiclero, who never spent his time procrastinating about the supernatural, or wondering about things beyond his control. Yet one night while he lay dreaming, something or someone came a-calling, and prompted him to start muttering in his sleep, saying “ghost? ghost?” and then shouting: “Oh hell, ghost!” Startled from his sleep he awoke my grandmother, who was a practical woman, brooked no-nonsense, and was called “Miss Night” for her jet-black tresses that flowed down her shoulders, reminding everyone of the phrase “Black-as-midnight”. She was no gentle-woman though and brooked no nonsense from her husband or any of her five surviving children. It was not uncommon for women in rural Belize, then known as British Honduras, to have many children, and lose one or two in or around childbirth. And a primary ambition of youth growing into adulthood in colonial British Honduras was the urge to migrate to the United States of America, then simply called “America”. America and Great Britain were, and still are, inseparable friends, and neither us or them, could have imagined a Donald Trump ever assuming the presidency of that northern country, with his policy of “America first”, which in effect translates as “America alone”; misrepresenting the words of the Statue-of-Liberty which say: “give me your tired, your poor, your hungry, yearning to be free.” Donald Trump cares not a whit for the fortunes of others. And even though no American bank will advance him credit, in his son’s own words: “they receive all they need from Eastern European sources”; namely Russia. Through Deutsche Bank. The assets of Russian oligarchs support his questionable endeavors and give them access to American markets, in which to launder their dirty money. “It is no wonder”, the press says, “that he never questions, or objects to, (Russian President) Vladimir Putin’s adventures on the global stage”.

Speaking recently, someone said pointedly that “Trump seems to suck all the oxygen from any room he enters into”, in which statement I agree wholeheartedly, and wish we could shift our deliberations to other subjects, which are crying out for attention. Such as “Global Warming”, which is not a new topic, but it generally does not receive the attention it deserves. In February, twenty-twelve, Valeria Espinoza posted a blog on Belize hosting a workshop for scientists from the region who were studying the effects of climate change on small island states. Though Belize is not considered a “Small Island State”, we do have many small islands that are affected equally with our mainland by global warming. The purpose of that workshop was for scientists to share their findings on the effects of the global phenomenon, and how it was impacting small economies like Belize’s. While Belize, in nineteen ninety-two, became a signatory to the United Nations convention on climate change, and as a party to that convention, the country reports on steps taken to implement necessary controls of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the country has stated that it does not want to follow in the unsustainable footsteps of the developed countries in their use of fossil fuels, and in the way they utilize their land resources. So, we are saying, “Hey America, yes, we want to aspire to your ultimate goals, but we’ll do it with a much greater understanding of what is required”. And, “it is generally accepted that the major industrialized nations like yourself, are the culprits of the phenomenon — this global phenomenon called climate change.” In fact, Belize is contributing less than one-thousandth of a percentage point to global emissions of greenhouse gases, and is in fact, absorbing more than we emit. “So we are one of the good guys in the convention; but unfortunately, we are one of those countries that are suffering the most from climate change. Being a low-lying state, we face problems of erosion and sea-level rise. Climate change is warming our seas, and affecting our coral reefs. It has caused pine bark infestation that is decimated our pine ridge forests. And it is producing outbreaks of dengue in the country, so in fact, we are facing the worst part of climate change, though we are not doing anything to contribute to it. So, we might say, the international community has a moral obligation to assist Belize in overcoming climate change.” The United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change was entered into force on March twenty-first, nineteen ninety-four.

Here is a simple definition of global warming: And yes Mr, Trump, it is really happening. Over the past fifty years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. And experts say the trend is accelerating: All but one of the hottest years in NASA’s a hundred and thirty-four-year record have occurred since the year two thousand. Climate change deniers, like Donald Trump and his scientific cronies, have argued that there was been a pause or a slowdown. in rising global temperatures, but several studies, including a twenty-fifteen paper published in the journal “Science”, have disproved this claim, and scientists say that unless we curb global warming emissions, average US temperatures could rise by up to ten degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. In the United States, the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity is the largest single source of heat-trapping air-pollutants, producing about two billion tons of CO2 every year. Coal-burning power plants are by far the biggest polluters and the second-largest source of carbon pollution is the transportation sector, generating between one and two-thirds billion tons of CO2 emissions each year. Curbing dangerous climate change requires deep cuts in emissions, as well as applying alternatives to fossil fuel in industries worldwide. Hey, America, the good news is that thanks in part to new energy-efficient technology, and the use of cleaner fuels, we have started a turnaround in CO2 emissions in the United States, actually decreasing from twenty-0-five to twenty-fourteen. And scientists continue to develop new ways to modernize power plants, generate cleaner electricity, and burn less gasoline while we are driving. The challenge, to be sure, is to put these innovations to good use and have them adopted universally.

Scientists agree that the Earth’s rising temperatures are fueling longer, more intensive, heat waves, droughts; heavier, unscheduled rainfall; and more destructive hurricanes. In twenty-fifteen for example, scientists said that an ongoing drought in California — the worst water shortage in that state in twelve hundred years — had been intensified by over twenty percent by global warming. They say that the odds of similar droughts occurring in the future had doubled over the past century. And in twenty-sixteen, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, announced that it is now possible to state confidently that certain weather events, like soaring heat waves, can be attributed directly to climate change. Ocean temperatures on the Earth are also getting warmer. This means that tropical storms, like those that frequent Belize, can accumulate more energy. So global warming could turn a category three storm into a more dangerous category four. In fact, scientists have found that the frequency of North Atlantic hurricanes has been increasing since the early eighties. As is the number of storms that reach categories four and five. In twenty-O-five, hurricane Katrina, the costliest hurricane in American history, hit New Orleans, and the second most expensive, Hurricane Sandy, hit the East Coast in twenty-twelve. The impact of global warming is being felt across the globe. Extreme heatwaves have caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world in recent years, and at our current pace, some experts say, will cause sea-levels to rise several meters over the coming fifty to a hundred years. Each year, scientists learn more about the consequences of global warming, and many agree that environmental, economic, and health concerns are likely to increase if current trends continue.

Melting glaciers, early snow melt, and severe drought will cause more dramatic water shortages and increase the risk of wildfires in Western America. Rising sea levels will lead to coastal flooding on the Eastern Seaboard, especially in Florida, Belize, and in other low-lying areas such as the Gulf-Of-Mexico, and some Caribbean Islands, including Bermuda and The Bahamas. Forests, farms, and agricultural projects will face troubling new challenges, heat waves, heavy downpours, and increased flooding: All catastrophic factors that will damage, destroy, or displace agricultural projects, fisheries, and industry. Destruction of habitats, such as coral reefs and Alpine meadows, could drive many plant and animal species to extinction. Allergies, asthma, and infectious disease outbreaks could become more frequent due to increased growth of pollen-producing plants, higher levels of air pollution, and the spread of contagions, and conditions favorable to pathogens and disease-carrying mosquitoes. In recent years, China has taken the lead in global warming pollution, by producing about twenty-eight percent of CO2 emissions. And Donald Trump’s United States comes in second. Despite only having just four percent of the Earth’s population, it produces an astonishing sixteen percent of all global emissions, as much as the European Union and India combined. The United States has taken tentative steps to reduce global warming. But in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, it needs to do a lot more — together with other countries — to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, and to start using cleaner energy alternatives.

In twenty-fifteen, the US Environmental Protection Agency pledged to reduce by nearly a third, CO2 emissions from power plants, by twenty-thirty through its ‘Clean Power Plan’ initiative. But under the Trump administration, the EPA proposed repealing this plan to curb climate change. And similarly, while under the Obama administration, the US Department Of Transportation, DOT, proposed CO2 pollution and fuel economy standards intended to cut emissions into the twenty-twenties, but under the Trump administration, the DOT is working to roll back those clean vehicle safeguards that protect the climate and our health. Fortunately, state and industry leaders recognize that clean transportation must remain a priority if we are to address climate change and protect public health. Regional efforts are helping to boost the electric car market, which saw a substantial increase in sales between twenty-sixteen and seventeen, and Wind Power employment grew by thirty-two percent, while solar-power jobs increased by twenty-five percent. Globally, at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, a hundred and ninety-five countries, including the United States, at the time, agreed on pollution emission reduction provisions, with a goal of preventing the average global temperature from rising more than one-and-a-half degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age average. As scientists believe we must remain below a two-degree increase to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts.

And while in twenty-seventeen, President Trump announced that his country was withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies, such as the Climate Action Plan”, the American people are forging ahead without him. Through initiatives like the US Climate Alliance and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, America is still participating. And Climate Mayors, state, business, and local political leaders have pledged to honor and uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement. More than twenty-five cities in seventeen states, with populations totaling more than five million, have adopted resolutions that will enable them to produce a hundred percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. Additionally, a new initiative from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has registered in Alabama to run for the presidency in upcoming elections, gives the urban sector of this movement a boost. He is asking mayors from the most populous cities in the country to share their plans for making their buildings and transportation systems run more cleanly and efficiently. The twenty cities that show the greatest potential for curbing dangerous CO2 pollution that’s driving climate change will share in a technical assistance fund provided by his philanthropies and partners. Individual efforts at curbing climate change can be achieved by making conserving energy a part of the daily routine. When shopping for refrigerators, washers, and dryers in America, or throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, choosing products with the US government’s “Energy Star” label that meet a higher standard for energy efficiency than the minimum federal requirements, can make an appreciable difference if a sufficient number of residents undertake to look for cars with the highest gas mileage and lowest emissions.

Howard A. Frankson — Belize



How is Belize Governed? by Aria Lightfoot


Ask the average Belizean about football or basketball rules or refereeing, especially when their respective teams are playing,  and you will get the most knowledgeable analysis of where the referees went wrong, what the players did wrong and what the rules are.   Ask the average Belizean if they have ever read their Constitution and you get blank stares, outright nos and many admit they have never seen it or know where to find it.   A country with a very young population and no idea what rules apply to the country, the leaders or any idea how the governance is structured or what rights are afforded to them should concern everyone.

I designed a course on good governance and of the 50 students I have engaged so far, less than 10% read the constitution or knew where to find the constitution. A few years ago the media visited tertiary level students and asked who was the first prime minster of Belize and many students shockingly had no clue. This cluelessness should cause deep shame on us all.

Constitution of Belize

Belize right now is operating with serious constitutional violations and the people of Belize have been less than vocal about these violations. The Referendum on the ICJ highlighted one of the worst abuses of voter disenfranchisement, voter mis-education and constitutional violations regarding our borders.  Belizeans allowed a large injection of foreign money from the US and UK; actions that would cause protests, court challenges from watchdog groups,  court injunctions, congressional or parliamentary inquiry within the US and  UK,  sailed thru without much fanfare in Belize. A friend advised that shouting constitutional violations to a people who have no clue about their own constitution is a waste of time.

In fact, it made me think deeply about this issue. If you think about it, no prime minister that have lead Belize or vying for leadership of Belize was born in an Independent country. They are all products of colonial governance and training. They have no idea or true consciousness around equality, human rights, constitutional supremacy, rule of law and ethics and every time they open their mouths to explain or excuse  their abuses, it shows.

Many of  our leaders, legal community and watchdog groups  were predominantly  shaped in a society of privilege, wealth and class. They are gate keepers who protect the status quo.   Our constitutional rights are a negotiating tool for them.  Our leaders exerted a great deal of effort to achieve Independence but had no plans for  post independent Belize; no vision went into building the nation state of Belize once Independence was achieved. Our country became independent of the colonial masters and then elected leaders worst than the colonial masters.

We should not be surprised when Prime Minister Dean Barrow threatened to cut off the head of corruption with his double edge sharpened machete but did not form any steering committee to actually tackle corruption. It should not be surprising that leadership is void of solutions for an independent democratic society. It is should not be surprising that the nation state of Belize is heavily indebted, poorly managed and infected with corruption and failing institutions.  For Belizeans “da just wah lee breeze”!

I challenge the media and voting population to ask every politician about their knowledge of the Belize Constitution and I would wager that more than 50% of politicians are themselves clueless about the rules that govern Belize and simply taking orders from the most dominant politicians.

This lack of knowledge about our governance also highlights a failure within our educational systems to teach our children about their rights and how the rules are structured. It is not surprising that a people so ignorant of their own rules are subjected to daily abuses, rising poverty and disillusionment about the system. It should not be surprising that Guatemalans are protesting on Belize soil while Belizeans have remained relatively quiet. It is not surprising that Guatemalans are illegally becoming Belizeans and running for national office. It is not surprising that the Cabinet is acting ultra vires of their constitutional powers by signing off on these abuses; and it is not surprising that all these abuses are met with inaction and tribalism. We should not be surprised that mostly foreigners are running all the money making industries and turning Belizeans into a service class.

Carl Sagan said “The gears of poverty, ignorance, hopelessness and low self esteem interact to create a kind of perpetual failure machine that grinds down dreams from generation to generation. We all bear the cost of keeping it running, illiteracy is its linchpin”. Belizeans are illiterate about their constitution, their rights and their responsibilities. If we truly want a corrupt free nation where leaders work for the betterment of society and work to build the nation we must attack this illiteracy with an urgency as if we truly want to save the nation state of Belize for many generations.

The constitution can be found here:  https://www.oas.org/juridico/mla/en/blz/en_blz-int-text-const.pdf


What democracy is NOT

Dangers to ICJ by: Dr. Theodore Aranda



Dr. Theodore Aranda

March 6, 2019

First and foremost, before Belize takes the very serious step of going into this dangerously risky ICJ/Guatemala/Belize case, Belize needed to have undertaken some very in-depth studies, analyses, research and investigations into all the possible flaws, weaknesses and vulnerabilities Guatemala could exploit and use to justify its claim to Belize.    It is a must for Belize to definitively survey, locate and demarcate its borders and territory.    Belize must secure and fortify its intelligence and defense to repel aggression.   Belize should also have undertaken similar investigations into the 1859 and all other Treaties, discussion, agreements and/or understandings with the other nations concerned in the case.

Powerful and geo-political nations, such as the US, Britain, Spain (that was the colonizer Nation of all Central America in the early 1800’s), NATO Members, Africa, India, Mexico, Canada, SICA, OAS, UN and CARICOM all make public and international statements to put themselves in favourable international light while for other reasons and confidential objectives of their own they support and even financed quite different positions.

In January, 1962, Francisco Sagastume Ortiz and some armed supporters – – Guatemalan Flag and Constitution in hand – – crossed into southern Belize.  The British were still around and repelled the intrusion, captured and imprisoned Sagastume and Gustavo Rosado.   But by December of the same year, Britain, under international pressure released them.   The question is what international influence(s) forced Britain to release invaders into a colony that by customary international standards it was obliged to protect.

For some years now the Adjacency Zone Issue has presented challenges to Belize, Guatemala and International Peace-making bodies.   Guatemala has not only defied the solutions attempted, but it has further advanced into additional violations at the Sarstoon, providing for itself a position of swapping Belize’s western border for southern Sarstoon.   We have had the 17 and 13 Proposals and the Heads of Agreement – all supposedly proposed as solution to the Guatemalan Claim.  But under close inspection, they were all paths to cede Belize to Guatemala.

Now, Belize is faced with and is contemplating going to the ICJ with Guatemala. Guatemala – – Constitution in hand, its Military behind and deadlier in purpose – – is coming at Belize, with an unreliable and unpredictable ICJ to adjudicate.  The Government Leaders of Belize, without the British to the rescue, are frustrated and confused about what to do, but yet are resolute and ready to lead the Nation into accepting to plunge into this extremely dangerous half-baked ICJ fiasco.   It is a gross misjudgment and irresponsible analysis of the facts, be they direct or indirect legal or circumstantial.

What vulnerabilities and flaws in the Adjacency Zone Discussions have not only hindered progress in those negotiations but have only more enabled Guatemala to advance into the Sarstoon?  One defiant and provocative incursion into Belize by Guatemalan officials may be considered a mere provocation.  But more progressively bolder challenges demonstrate Guatemala’s greater confidence in the validity and the rightness of its claim.

The defense and security of Belize is intended to be uncompromising, inviolable, protected by domestic and foreign policies, competent and efficient intelligence backed by experience for delicate judgement to inform of and ward off incursions, legislative and legal practices to defend against abuse of power by national leaders.   This held for Belize when it was a colony.  It still holds for Belize now as an Independent Nation, which should unite as an Independent People with the resolve to secure our national future and welfare.  Belize needs to declare emphatically and to aggressively internationalize that it is Belize’s basic and indisputable right and duty to maintain, nurture and cherish all its fundamentals and characteristics, its Sovereignty, Territory and Security.   Belize gives no foreign entity any authority, jurisdiction or power to interfere with, alter or modify any of its fundamentals in any way whatsoever.

Belize went into Independence with some unresolved British flaws and vulnerabilities which now threatens Belize’s very existence, national security, sovereignty, boundaries and territory.   It sounds so very easy that Guatemala will not recognize our flaws to take to ICJ.  Just the frightening opposite is the most probable.

Way forward

  1. Every single one eligible to vote to:

Register to vote

To save Yourself, Family and Belize

  1.        How to vote:

No to ICJ

To save Yourself, Family and Belize from Guatemala

  1. Negotiate to strengthen the borders of Belize

So we are no more a Colonial Football

  1. What next:

Work along with Competent Leaders

To develop Belize, You & Family

DELAY THE VOTE by: Nuri Muhammad


Nuri Muhammad

How naive were we to believe that government would ever provide resources for a balanced educational campaign going up to the Referendum, despite their promise in 2013. What made us think that, after signing the Special Agreement with Guatemala, in 2008, to take the matter to the ICJ, that government would ever consider allowing counter arguments equal space to show why there are problems with the Special Agreement. Wouldn’t this be counter-productive on their part?

The Government of Belize believes it is fulfilling its responsibility, by international standards, to provide its citizens with valuable factual information before the Referendum. So while they have launched a “be informed” campaign with only one side presented, in their view, it can still be justified that Belizeans were given all the “fact” they needed to make an informed decision. And of course, the only informed decision is, a “yes to the ICJ”

But there are loud voices of dissent that are present but are under resourced and depend on outlets like Facebook, newspaper articles, morning talk shows, and community forums to voice their dissenting views. Nowhere will you see sophisticated TV commercials on the no vote. Nor will you find massive posters throughout the country saying ‘no’; not even one of the icon of the nos, Mr. Goldson, saying: “The time to save your country is before you lose it” Not a banner, a poster or a placard. And you won’t find schools being told to direct their student assemblies where the ‘nos’ are the main presenters nor are the ‘nos’ invited to all presentations made by the Referendum unit.

Clearly the playing field is uneven and the promises of 2013 that Belizeans would be given access to all sides of the argument so that they could make an informed decision on the Referendum, has been set aside for blatant one-sided propaganda.

But it’s not only the ‘nos’ that are not given space to express themselves but also those who are crying out for more time to get a better understanding of what they are being asked to vote for. This is a loud voice that is brushed off casually as, “it’s your fault that you didn’t read all the information that has been out there”. By doing this the government is attempting to absolve itself of the responsibility to ensure that people have a good grasp of what they are going to vote on and what the implications are. No doubt some will say, what good will delaying the vote be, six months, six years, it will be the same. But this dismissive response is part of the problem.

Delaying the vote to a reasonable date is not a futile exercise, especially if attention is given to specific issues to be addressed during the interim of a year or two. This is one of the most historic vote in the history of the country likened to historic decision of 1798 and I can see the correlation on a purely existential level. We should not be plagued by immediacy and think delaying the Referendum is somehow sacrilegious, we are a sovereign nation and have the right to say: we have some in-house business that we have to deal with before we decide to proceed to a Referendum. This would demonstrate the principle of self-determination and that we could exercise our right as a member of the United Nations to take as much time as is necessary to get it right.

Here are some things we can work on in the interim:

• taking the Special Agreement to the House

• correcting the issues at Vital Statistics

• passing legislation to allow Belizeans abroad to vote in the referendum

• Correct constitutional issues regarding Belizean-Guatemalan right to vote

• Political parties must publically stand down immediately and withdraw from promoting a party vote to promoting a conscience vote.

• Expanded the education program to be equally accessibly to both sides of the argument; dissent must be respected and given ventilation

This vail of secrecy and mistrust must be lifted to let the fresh air of trust and confidence and clarity back into the conversation to give our people a breathing space to exhale the negative elements that has clouded the atmosphere surrounding this debate.




Disenfranchised Belizeans living abroad

A Theoretical Analysis: Why We MUST Vote NO to the ICJ Rabbit Hole – Opinion piece by Debbie Curling

debbie curling

Debbie Curling

Many Belizeans continue to be puzzled by the constant drumbeat of YES to the ICJ being promoted, not just by the Government of Belize, but their surrogates (lawyers and past Foreign Ministers among them) who continue to wax poetic about Belize having an “ironclad case” therefore we must go.  To be clear, no ethical attorney should ever give a client, let alone a nation, ironclad reassurances simply because…no amount of brilliant lawyering can predict, or get inside the head of a Judge or Jury to determine how individuals may think, or rule on the merits of a case.  None!

GOB and their surrogates are pulling out all the stops for a YES vote invoking the words “our children” (playing on our rawest emotions and basic instincts to protect our innocents), telling us we owe it to the next generation to solve it NOW.  Let’s not kick the can down the road they cry; the facts and his-story is on our side, and if not NOW, when?  They posit that the international community will turn on us and aid will stop flowing (perhaps into their corrupt pockets) if we don’t try to solve this NOW!  Guatemala will invade us, the incursions by Guatemalans in Chiquibul will escalate and, if we are to take them seriously, our nation is doomed to a life of misery.  The fearmongering list goes on and on and on…  Hell, GOB even dug deep and uprooted Assad, the Shoman, ensconced in Cuba for many years, parading him in front of us as the preeminent voice and scholar on all things ICJ related.

But I would argue that this so called “ironclad case” our politicians and some of Belizean legal eagles speak of is nothing more than a rabbit hole that has been engineered for quite some time.  Let’s start from the beginning shall we: in the 1859 Treaty between Her Majesty’s Government and Guatemala, Guatemala agreed to recognize the borders of British Honduras, now Belize, and Great Britain promised to build a road from Guatemala to Punta Gorda, BZ that would give Guatemala access to the Caribbean Sea; no territory was ceded and our borders were clearly defined.

But much of the period after and between 1940 and 1981 saw Guatemala once again assert its claim to Belize over and over again, occasionally even threatening to invade us, but backing down at the sight of UK military reinforcements.

Nevertheless, one hundred and three years later in 1962, the United Kingdom and Guatemala entered into negotiations again, this time with delegates from Belize permitted to participate in the Anglo-Guatemalan negotiations; Belize was not yet self-governing.  The main thrust of the negotiations was to seek a solution to the dispute through economic cooperation.  In 1965, Britain in consultation with Belize agreed with Guatemala to have a mediator appointed by the United States Government. The U.S. mediator, Bethuel M. Webster, delivered his report in 1968 which became known as the Webster Proposals, a draft treaty with the main provisions quoted below (the bold emphasis is mine):

  1. Article 1 of the draft treaty provided that British Honduras would be granted independence under the name of Belize not later than 31st December 1970.(82)
  2. Article 2 obliged Belize and Guatemala to grant to each other’s goods free entry through their ports and free transit through predetermined routes of each country.(83)
  • Under Article 3, the port of Belize city would be declared a duty-free port for the benefit of Guatemala and placed under the control of a supra-national Authority. Guatemala was obliged, at the request of Belize, to provide similar facilities for Belizean goods.(84)
  1. Article 4 guaranteed nationals of each country free movement in the territory of the other as well as the right to the same treatment as was accorded by each country to its own citizens. This included the right to freely acquire and dispose of personal real property.(85)
  2. Under Article 9, Guatemala and Belize agreed to establish a supra-national Authority to be charged with the responsibility of carrying out certain powers and functions including the supervision and control of free ports, as well as the designation of transit routes. Britain was required to pay to the Authority US $4m. to assist the Authority to perform its functions under the Treaty.(86)
  3. Article 10 provided that Belize, would join CACM before 31st December 1970 with financial assistance from Britain.(87)
  • Article 13 obliged Guatemala and Belize to consult and cooperate with each other on such matters of mutual concern in foreign affairs as may be raised by either government.(88)
  • According to Article 14, the defense of Belize would be handled within the framework of the Inter-American Treaty of 1947, to which Belize would accede. In that event it would not be necessary for Belize to conclude bilateral defense arrangements with any other country.(89)

The kicker and deal breaker in this master plan was that “it placed the defense, foreign affairs and, to a certain extent, the economy of Belize under Guatemalan control after independence.  The normal channel of communication to international bodies by the Belize government was to be through the Guatemalan government.  (…)  In sum, it is believed that the proposals exclusively committed Belize to a hemispheric destiny as a satellite or department of Guatemala.”   You can read the Webster Proposals here in its entirety: http://www.belizenet.com/bzeguat/chap7.html

Belizeans, not amused, stepped in to save our country!  Upon disclosure of the Webster Proposals, Belizeans became livid, took to the streets, and completely rejected the proposals derailing it, forcing the proposed treaty to die a natural death.  But did it?  I am more than convinced after reading these proposals, and comparing it to future proposals and agreements, that the Webster proposals have greatly influenced future negotiations with Guatemala, and in many ways opened the door to the flexibility of movement we now see at our shared borders, and the integration of Guatemalans not only in our body politic, but how many are now living in and shaping our society.  If you pay close attention, you will see how the rabbit hole emerges when you realize the master plan envisioned for Belize and Guatemala is slowly coming to fruition as the blending and integrating of Guatemalans into our Belizean culture is fused, or is it the other way around?

In 1981 as Belize moved towards independence, I would argue the Heads of Agreement was just a softer, gentler re-mixed 2.0 version of the Webster Proposals.  By all appearances, as long as our fearless leaders were not conceding “one blade of grass” to Guatemala, everything else remained on the table.  The Heads of Agreement fell just short of ceding territory, but had it prevailed, would have awarded a whole host of privileges to Guatemala.  Henceforth, Belize continued down the path of conceding more and more and bit by bit.  Some HOA clauses are listed below, but can be viewed here in its entirety; the highlights are mine along with the bracketed side notes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heads_of_Agreement_(1981)

  1. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall recognize the independent state of Belize as an integral part of Central America, and respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with its existing and traditional frontiers subject, in the case of Guatemala, to the completion of the treaties necessary to give effect to these Heads of Agreement. (no treaties; no recognition)
  2. Guatemala shall be accorded such territorial seas as shall ensure permanent and unimpeded access to the high seas, together with its rights over the seabed thereunder. (we are hell bent on giving them sea and seabed)
  3. Guatemala shall have the use and enjoyment of the Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes, and rights in those areas of the sea adjacent to the Cayes, as may be agreed. (Guatemala in their ever-changing demands are now including as far north as the Silk Cayes; these islands are the livelihood of the South for fishing and tourism)
  4. Guatemala shall be entitled to free port facilities in Belize City and Punta Gorda.
  5. The road from Belize City to Guatemala shall be improved; a road from Punta Gorda to the Guatemalan frontier shall be completed. Guatemala shall have freedom of transit on these roads.
  6. Belize shall facilitate the construction of oil pipelines between Guatemala and Belize City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda. (this confirms we have oil?  Is this whole charade about oil?)
  7. In areas to be agreed, an agreement shall be concluded between Belize and Guatemala for purposes concerned with the control of pollution, navigation and fishing. (an open ended tricky one!)
  8. There shall be areas of the seabed and the continental shelf to be agreed for the joint exploration and exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons.  (economic opportunities; where there’s oil, there’s trouble)
  9. Belize and Guatemala shall agree upon certain development projects of mutual benefit. (drill, baby, drill)
  10. Belize shall be entitled to any free port facilities in Guatemala to match similar facilities provided to Guatemala in Belize. (any takers?)
  11. Belize and Guatemala shall sign a treaty of cooperation in matters of security of mutual concern, and neither shall permit its territory to be used to support subversion against the other.
  12. Except as foreseen in these Heads of Agreement, nothing in these provisions shall prejudice any rights of interests in Belize or of the Belizean people.
  13. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall enter into agreements designed to reestablish full and normal relations between them.
  14. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall take the necessary action to sponsor the membership of Belize in the United Nations, Organization of American States, Central American organizations and other international organizations.
  15. A joint Commission shall be established between Belize, Guatemala and the United Kingdom to work out details to give effect to the above provisions. It will prepare a treaty or treaties for signature by the signatories to these Heads of Agreement.
  16. The controversy between the United Kingdom and Guatemala over the territory of Belize shall therefore be honorably and finally ended. (hmmm…an unfounded claim is now reduced to a “controversy”?)

Belizeans not amused by their foolery took to the streets again!  “Public reaction was muted at first, but the Public Service promptly denounced the agreement as a giveaway and promised strike action. The Government’s pleas that nothing had actually been agreed on fell on deaf ears.  Another group responsible for the anti-Heads reaction was the Belize Action Movement, a youth movement featuring young people who saw the need to fight to ensure that Belize did not fall into the hands of Guatemala. The BAM and PSU coordinated a nationwide strike and protest on March 20” and Belizeans once again stepped in to save our country.

I would argue the Governments of Belize (both past and present) have capitulated to Guatemala and continue to compromise Belize at every juncture.  In 1992, the Government of Belize took us further down the rabbit hole.  GOB consulted with the Opposition and introduced a bill in the National Assembly that would allow Guatemala access to the high seas “as a sign of good faith on the part of Belize to pursue negotiations with the Republic of Guatemala in search of a settlement of the outstanding dispute.”  Once again, our leaders fell over on their backs and capitulated ceding maritime waters in order to open negotiations with Guatemala?  Imagine that!  Before negotiations even begin, our fearless leaders concede maritime waters to show good faith?  Let that sink in.

Guatemala then declared that “it recognizes the right of the Belizean people to self-determination” and announced it will continue “negotiating and will exhaust all legal and proper procedures which lead to a definitive settlement of the territorial dispute.”  Britain then agreed to commit 22.5 million pounds sterling to extend the road-network linking the two countries, Belize and Guatemala announced the establishment of diplomatic relations, everyone declared diplomatic and political victory, and after the kumbaya moment was over, the original bill then became an “amended bill” in which, you guessed it, Belize conceded AGAIN.  The amended bill manifested itself as the Maritime Areas Act of 1992 which “declared a territorial sea of twelve miles, except for an area in the south from the Sarstoon river, Belize’s southern boundary with Guatemala, to the Ranguana Caye where a territorial sea of only three miles is proclaimed.”

In a nutshell, Belize is entitled to 12 miles but capitulated and ceded 9 to Guatemala, leaving us with only 3.  Which begs the questions: on whose behalf are these jesters acting?  Whose interests are they serving?  I’ve yet to see a benefit in favor of Belize.  If these capitulations and concessions don’t make you question their motives, or spit fire and venom, I don’t know what will!  It is abundantly clear that as Belize capitulates and concedes, Guatemala edges closer and closer to its ultimate goal.  Do you see a pattern emerging yet?  But wait, there’s more!

Another noteworthy section of the Maritime Areas Act often overlooked perhaps because it is so convoluted is the Delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zone, Sections 6 and 7 (3 through 4) being subject to 6, that delimits Belize even further, “less than 200 nautical miles” to be exact, aside from the 12-mile exception already conceded.  In Section 7, Sub-sections (3 and 4 a through c) are particularly significant: (a) provides that “Belize shall claim less than what it is otherwise entitled to claim under international law, or” or (b) the exclusive economic zone of Belize shall not extend to any specific area of the sea, seabed or subsoil that would otherwise be included therein by virtue of Section 6, or; or (c) there shall be joint exploitation or participation within Belize’s exclusive economic zone shall be subject to approval of the electors in a referendum.”  I am completely baffled by the wording of (c) which appears to mention another referendum among other things, but (a) and (b) are pretty clear: Belize shall claim less and the exclusive economic zone of Belize shall not extend to any specific area of the sea, seabed or subsoil.  Basically, Belize agreed to be left with nothing but crumbs and agreed even further that our “exclusive” crumbs was subject to limitations.  If one considers that there is oil and minerals under our seabed, crumbs is what Belize will get (if any)!

In a published Joint Statement between the Governments of Belize and Guatemala dated July 31th, 1992 regarding the “negotiation of a definitive agreement to end [our] differences,” it also states that “such an agreement will only be definitive and valid after it has been approved through a referendum” in accordance with Guatemala’s political constitution, and in Belize in accordance with the “political commitment existing between the Government and the Opposition.” It is noted that while Guatemala is following their Constitution to the letter, it is clear our jesters are working in consortium with each other, are playing it fast and loose, and display no accountability anyone or anything!

As a point of reference, did you notice the date this statement was signed by Said Musa?  This is not a joke; it is so stated I swear.  Let’s label this a lawful error because we are not quite sure on what day this statement was actually signed.  Was it signed on July 30th or July 31st?  Mistakes like these don’t generally stand up well in Court because it speaks to the validity of the document as well as the carelessness of the signatories so don’t laugh, it might just be our saving grace. This particular date is significant because of its disclosure that we are headed to the ICJ with a referendum coming down the pike!

As I further scrutinize the Joint Statement, I noticed that while Belize and Guatemala were “strengthening the bonds of mutual cooperation,” apparently a disturbing revelation suddenly emerged: “Guatemala and Belize, as two sovereign States, have not yet signed a treaty between them finally establishing their land and maritime boundaries and that such a treaty is one element of the expected outcome of the negotiations.”  May I ask what the other elements are?  Also alluded to at the bottom of the Joint Statement is “existing reference monuments” on which the “execution and implementation will be based.”  Where do these “monuments” exist?  Where on paper can we find them?  Or are they shrouded in mystery?  They seem important!  

 Two years later, in a letter dated 4 March, 1994 from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala addressed to the Secretary-General, he makes reference to the Belize-Guatemalan Joint Declaration also dated 31 July 1992 in which he states, “both States recognize that their territorial and maritime boundaries are not defined.”  Really?  This is outrageous!  How did we go from an 1859 Treaty that clearly defined our borders to both states “recognize they are not defined”?  This is an outright betrayal of our trust by our leadership.

But there seems to be some kind of disconnect here: the date the Guatemalan FM cites on the Joint Declaration is the same date on the Joint Statement, but the Statement speaks of “establishing” boundaries while the Declaration “recognize” undefined borders.  Both ideas are equally compromising and repulsive, but I highlight the differences in wording because it suggests the existence of two separate documents?  Is there another document or is the FM conflating the two?  Did they sign a Joint Declaration and released a Joint Statement on the same day perhaps?  Could the “Declaration” contain the monuments?  We don’t know, do we?

What I do know is: all declarations are statements, but not all statements are declarations.  A declaration (also called a sworn statement or a statement under penalty of perjury) is a document that recites facts pertinent to a legal proceeding.  It is very similar to an affidavit, but unlike an affidavit, it is not witnessed and sealed by an official such as a notary public.  I have seen a copy of the Joint Statement and I can assure you, it is not sealed or signed by a notary, but would the Declaration be?  Who knows?  We are too deep inside the rabbit hole is all we know!

In 2003, the Secretary General of the OAS jumped in the fray and took Belize further down the rabbit hole with discussions “aimed at concluding an Agreement to Establish a Transition Process and Confidence Building Measures between Belize and Guatemala within the framework of a just, equitable and permanent solution to the territorial differendum between the two countries.”  (Is differendum even a word?  Google it!)  Belize once again capitulated by now agreeing to move our borderline conceding but not totally conceding ground by way of an “Adjacency Zone.”  A cleverly slick move by any stretch of the imagination!

The Parties agreed that the General Secretariat shall establish an office in the Adjacency Zone with the following functions:

  • To organize and foster community-to-community contacts across the Adjacency Line;
  • To develop and execute activities designed to improve relations, confidence and cooperation among the inhabitants of the Adjacency Zone;
  • To verify incidents which may occur in the Adjacency Zone;
  • To verify transgressions by the Parties of the confidence-building measures contained in this Agreement;

The reasons given are as phony as the paper it’s written on, but you can read more here: http://www.oas.org/sap/peacefund/belizeandguatemala/Agreement2005.pdf

I am completely baffled why, and what merited an Adjacency Zone in order to “confidence build,” but Belize once again capitulated and compromised a piece of territory to Guatemala, and now Guatemalans are occupying it without enforcement!  This brazen move is significant because it led us further down the rabbit hole: five years later in 2008, Belize and Guatemala agreed to “submit Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).”  I would argue this whole spectacle was nothing more than a ruse: while Belizeans got upset and focused on the Adjacency Zone, we overlooked the most egregious, compromising aspect of this “confidence building” measure: the terms and conditions stipulated therein if Guatemala wins at the ICJ, but stipulates nothing if Belize prevails.  Article 5, of the Special Agreement, often referred to as The Compromis for good reason, is really what should send shivers up and down our collective spines, because in my opinion the fix is in.

Here’s what Article 5 states, and the Government of Belize agreed on: “The Parties shall accept the decision of the Court as final and binding, and undertake to comply with and implement it in full and in good faith.  In particular, the Parties agree that, within three months of the date of the Judgment of the Court, they will agree on the composition and terms of reference of a Bi-national Commission to carry out the demarcation of their boundaries in accordance with the decision of the Court.”  I would argue the assumption and idea behind this wording is significant because, based on how the ICJ works, they can rule but cannot necessarily enforce, so from the standpoint of Guatemala, it is important to add an extra safety net by securing in advance an “ironclad” and binding agreement from our jesters that does not provide an escape route for Belize!  I will address how the ICJ works later.


Subsequently, in 2013 Belize and Guatemala agreed to a joint ICJ referendum date, but Guatemala postponed the date and pushed to rectify our referendum threshold claiming that because Belize changed its Referendum Act to a 60% threshold, they would not go.  Guatemala wanted a simple majority and, yes, you guessed it, Belize once again capitulated and changed our referendum to a 51% threshold: a simple majority!

If anybody, after ready this chronology of events that leads us to the ICJ, thinks the people of Belize are not being bamboozled into going deeper into the rabbit hole, I have land in Florida I’d like to sell you.  I would argue the road to the ICJ has been calculated, methodical, disingenuous, and deceptive.  I conclude this simply because our leaders cannot possibly be this collectively stupid, naïve, incompetent or unknowing so we must ask ourselves what compels their behavior?  It is abundantly clear that time after time they have not made decisions n our best interests.

I would also argue that with all the capitulations and concessions already made by Belize to Guatemala, the ICJ judges will have no difficulty making a decision favorable to Guatemala.  The evidence will show Belize has never put up a fight to protect her territory, they have given Guatemala all the leverage they need to argue their case, and the idea that this is a dispute is a moot point.  How can we now go to Court and argue we are being wronged?  How do we go back on our word after making concessions?  Would that not be perceived as dishonesty?  As being disingenuous?  Time after time the stage has been set by our leaders in favor of Guatemala.  As a matter of fact, the ICJ likes to appease both sides in a dispute, and Belize has already shown our willingness to capitulate and appease so there’s that.  Belize has been Guatemala’s greatest champion and advocate to their cause thanks to our leadership!

We’ve been led by these jesters right down the rabbit hole and now they have the gall to say to us trust me our case is “ironclad”?  They have the gall to try to coerce us into a YES vote?  Simply put, going to the ICJ is just another manufactured ploy to get us to lose more territory to Guatemala in my opinion.  When the ICJ ends badly for us, it gives our leaders an out: the first thing you will hear them say is, “Da noh fuh we fault! We put it to a referendum and dah unu vote for it!  We neva know dis mi wah happen!  Da unu vote for it!”  Then they will walk away blameless and happy with their pockets full of money…I do believe that!

So exactly how much donated money did both Parties receive to sponsor this referendum?  The numbers floating around for Belize, based on hearsay, is around US$10 million and for Guatemala around US$40 million.  Let that sink in!  Should we not demand budget transparency; a full disclosure of how this money is being spent, who is on the payroll, what the money is being used for?  If GOB really wants us to believe in their integrity, disclose who is on the payroll.  Let’s have full transparency.  I bet many of them would run for cover.

With that said, I am now forced to take into account not just their capitulating and conceding behavior, but also their apparent lackadaisical attitude toward all arguments made regarding the risks of going to the ICJ, the Constitutional violations pointed out to them, the one-sided educational campaign that favors the YES vote, the lack of interest in knowing what evidence or arguments Guatemala will be bringing to the table, and their lack of concern that so many Belizeans are being disenfranchised from participating in the vote.  Let me address some of these issues that should be of concern to all Belizeans:

 First, the Belizean people have not heard one word from the brilliant, international lawyers who will be representing Belize at the ICJ.  It would be nice to hear their arguments, assessments and perhaps their reassuring voices that our case is “ironclad”, but I have a sneaky feeling they will not be getting on TV to make any such pronouncements.  Once they present themselves to us, we should assess their capability, their integrity, their experience, their knowledge of the 1859 Treaty, their opinion on The Webster Proposal, The Heads of Agreement, The Maritime Act, the Special Agreement/The Compromis, and everything else in between so We, the People, can assess exactly how the actions of our Government over the years have compromised our case.  We would also want to know how many cases they have argued in Court, their track record of winning, their track record of conceding territory, along with what they had for breakfast (I’m not kidding about that either).

Secondly, it has been suggested that Belize has no idea the extent of what exactly Guatemala will be claiming when they show up at the ICJ.  Is it the whole country?  Is it half the country?  Is it more maritime waters?  Seabed?  What?  Does GOB know?  I’m hoping the answer to that is no, but then again one must reflect on their past behavior.  No one in their right mind agrees to show up to Court not knowing the scope of why s/he is there?  Or not knowing what evidence the opposition will produce and present?  Should we not know the answer to this so we can prepare our counter arguments?  Or do a risk assessment based on evidence, claims, or whatever?  But these are the circumstances under which our government is promoting a YES vote!

For the record, in the common law of jurisdictions, discovery is a pre-trial procedure in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, obtains evidence from the other party by means of discovery meaning GOB can ask for production of documents.  It is aptly named “discovery” because it often turns up facts and documents that were previously unknown to the other party.

The idea behind discovery is that both sides should share information before going to trial.  That way, a trial can proceed smoothly, without parties requesting information from each other and otherwise holding up the process.  During the pre-trial phase, you will be asking for information from the other party and responding to their inquiries as well.  If you go to Court not knowing what the other party will present, it becomes trial by ambush!  How stupid can we be?  It will make us look fool-fool!  A bloody joke!  Cunumunu!  Just like Nigeria lady said their country looked and felt.

Thirdly, many Belizeans cannot vote in the ICJ referendum because GOB has not made an effort to include the diaspora in a very important vote that will determine the future of our country: will our borders remain 8867 square miles, along with our shortened, 3-mile maritime waters?  More egregiously, Guatemalans who have acquired Belizean citizenship “illegally” and in violation of our Constitution, will be able to vote not only in Guatemala’s ICJ referendum, but they can also vote in ours.  Yet our leaders continue to whistle pass the graveyard tone deaf.

Our Constitution clearly states that citizens from any country that claims Belize cannot become naturalized Belizeans, which would ultimately give them not just the right to vote, but the right to run for office and the right to lead our nation.  Indeed, Guatemalans can become Prime Minister, but some born Belizeans cannot.  Resident cards yes, but our Constitution says NO to citizenship! Why are our leaders capitulating to Guatemalans while ignoring our Constitution?  Are we hell bent on our Belizean identity being absorbed?  Our Belizean culture annihilated?  Our Government is asking Belizeans to “trust” them and vote yes to the ICJ when all we have to go on is evidence of their compromise and failed leadership!

To be clear, I am not calling anybody a traitor, but the definition of one is a person who betrays a friend, a principle, stops being loyal to their own country, or is false to an obligation or duty!

Finally, Belizeans need to understand a few things about the ICJ and what “arbitration” really means:

  1. The ICJ won’t take a case unless both nations admit there is a dispute. Therefore, Belize should never have agreed there is a “dispute”; it is OURS and as the saying goes “possession is 9/10’s of the law.”
  2. In cases where disputes are difficult to resolve, the ICJ generally makes a “compromise ruling” or what lawyers in child custody battles refer to as “the splitting the baby” i.e. Belizean leaders love capitulating and compromising so Guatemala will either get territory or maritime waters and we already know they want from the Silk Cayes down to the Sarstoon..  And just as a perspective, the Silk Cayes and Ranguana Cayes are not out there in the great blue beyond; they are 40 minutes from Placencia, are much-used tourist diving, fishing and snorkeling areas and the entire area is the life blood of its neighboring communities.  My fellow Belizeans, when you show up to vote in the ICJ referendum on April 10th, just imagine Guatemalan gunboats patrolling and kicking our fellow Belizeans out of this area. Another side note:  In a similar dispute between Chile and Peru in which the ICJ ruled, experts had estimated the fishing catch alone in the disputed territory was worth US$200 million per year.  Let that sink in!  Besides fishing and the tourism industry in southern Belize, imagine what this would mean for Belize as a country if oil and minerals exist under our seabed?  Why risk losing that economic benefit?
  3. The ICJ is a very sophisticated “political” environment and a “Permanent Court of Arbitration.” (Political meaning there is always the possibility that backroom deals and negotiations are being brokered that we may not be aware of. We are dealing with Judges from other countries who may need a favor in exchange for something more important to their country than anything Belize has to offer.  An example is China’s dispute with Japan over territory: Japan refuses to go to the ICJ because they recognize China’s economic power which is far greater and far-reaching than anything Japan will ever be able to muster up, therefore, they refuse to take the risk; Japan is being smart!
  4. So what exactly is arbitration? Arbitration is a simple way to resolve disputes. It is voluntary, but the result of an arbitration is binding. The charge frequently made is that arbitration generally results in some form of compromise ruling to appease both sides.
  1. The submission of a dispute to arbitration means the two parties have agreed in advance to comply with the award or outcome whether you agree with it or not. Proponents also point to the greater flexibility with which parties in arbitration can “fashion the terms and rules of the process,” which is what Guatemala appears to have done. (I refer you to my earlier argument regarding Article 5 of Special Agreement/Compromis.)
  2. Ultimately, the decision to use arbitration “cannot be made lightly.” Parties who agree to arbitration are bound to that agreement and also bound to satisfy any award determined by the arbitrator(s).
  1. MOST IMPORTANT: arbitration allows “little or no option for appeal,” expecting parties who arbitrate to “assume the risks of the process.” The stakes are much too high for Mickey Mouse lawyering.
  1. Generally speaking, in some cases judges are often guilty of partiality and corruption. (Politicians too!)
  1. The ICJ cannot enforce its will on any nation that has the ability to defend itself. An example of that would be the Israeli/Palestinian dispute.  If Palestinians take Israel to the ICJ and the ICJ rules against Israel, it means nothing because Israel can defend itself and does not have to abide by the ICJ ruling.  Belize is not in a position to do that against Guatemala.

This brings me back to my “puzzlement” and me trying to decipher, unravel, uncover, the reasons why GOB is so hell bent on taking us down this rabbit hole we call the ICJ.  I’ve been contemplating this tangled web for some time now and so many what ifs continue to plague me: What if Belize had better negotiators representing us?  What if some of our politicians were not so corrupt that we could actually believe in their integrity and take them at their word?  What if they didn’t capitulate and concede so many times?  What if we did not suspect that GOB may not be acting in the best interest of our country?  What if we could be a fly on the wall when they negotiate with Guatemala?  What if there are backroom deals being made?  What if we had the capacity to “follow the money” (that famous dictum from the Watergate era)?  What if there are rich minerals and oil under our seabed that’s being negotiated away?

BELIZEANS, once again it’s up to us to stop this train wreck.  I appeal to all my fellow Belizeans to please register to vote and on April 10, 2019 go out and vote Hell NO to the ICJ!



Editor’s Note:  Dr. Bulwer  highlights the toll on the medical system when he was the Director of Medical Services at the KHMH in 2010 and signaled then a great need for an economic  impact study created by this violent crisis facing the nation of Belize.  Since 2010 the rate of violence has increased significantly, more than doubled with a person becoming victim to a violent crime every two days. 

 (Original Publication date: April 26, 2010 – Belize newspapers) and reprinted with the permission of Dr. Bernard Bulwer 

Dr. Bernard Bulwer

Dr. Bernard Bulwer

It’s not just the victims who “get shot.” 
“We, as a nation, “get shot.”

Last week, it may not go down well with my mom that I took a walk after dark (alone) in my old neighbourhood, down Rivero Street, through Kraal Road, unto Faber’s Road. (For those unfamiliar with this neighbourhood—Kraal road is synonymous with the current scourge of gun violence; this is the very street I spent countless hours playing draughts [checkers] during high school.)

Last week, Dr. Alain Gonzalez, one of our bright young doctors at the KHMH, made a timely presentation of the 2009 statistics on gunshot wounds at the KHMH. The numbers go beyond those killed and the incalculable loss of life. The numbers go beyond those maimed, or the physical scars.

Last week, a twenty-eight year old Cuban volunteer doctor, came all the way up from Big Creek to Belize City to attend the Annual Scientific Congress of the Cuban Medical Brigade—an annual newsworthy event that doesn’t make news headlines. What she sustained, however, was not a positive scientific onslaught by her fellow colleagues. Instead some debased young punk with a knife, attacked this beautiful woman … with intentions to rob and kill. She ended up maimed, requiring immediate surgery. Her fellow Cubans rallied to her bedside—they did it all, both the nursing and the surgical care. She now bears these scars for life, and with it, some unpleasant memories of Belize. I apologized on behalf of my nation.

If you’re versed in ancient hospitality, it is bad when your own gets hurt. It is worse when you do it to a stranger—worse still when it’s a stranger who volunteers to look after your sick … and a defenseless female at that. (As I don’t consider “him” a man, I entertained unmentionable thoughts about prescribing for “him” a surgical procedure commensurate with this assessment).

Face the facts. We have become a violent nation. This violence is not confined to guns and knives, but this broader definition is beyond the scope of this brief article.

We don’t need to wait for the definitive research. The cost of crime is not just the incalculable loss of life for the victims and their families … I know.

My eldest brother loss his life on his Camalote farm, and worse still, it was at the hands of a convicted murderer who was supposed to be behind bars. The fallout from this tragedy to his family and children continues.

Therefore, it’s “not just the victims who ‘get shot.’” We, as a nation, get shot.

As one on the frontlines of this fallout, I say to Belize: It’s not just the five-, or ten-, or twenty- or forty-thousand dollars of your taxes that goes into emergency medical care, surgical care, nursing care, medications, medical equipment, and hospitalization (for each gunshot victim) at the KHMH—it’s the incalculable loss of life, and the near resignation of us as a people to this seemingly never-ending tragedy.

Belize had 95 murders in 2009; the KHMH recorded 91 other gunshot victims who showed up alive at the emergency department. (Barbados, with a population the size of Belize, complained about their high murder rate totaling nineteen [19] murders in 2009).

Complain, but know this … Sometimes up to two dozen medical staff (and more) gets involved with each gunshot victim. It’s not just the emergency room doctors and nurses … but also the surgeons, critical care doctors, operating theater staff, ICU staff, laboratory and blood bank technicians, ventilator and respiratory therapists, attendants, and people who are tasked to deal with this violent fallout.

Multiply this by the number of gunshot victims and other violent acts—and you then begin to understand the burden imposed on your hospital—the KHMH—which receives almost every accident and gunshot victim in this city.

Complain, but know this … BECAUSE violent crime and accidents often leave the emergency cupboard bare—and where expensive medications, instead of going to the sick, end up diverted to the victims of violence … which causes you more frustration with your medical services—since victims of violence take priority over your child who is sick, or you with abdominal pain, or your high blood pressure or diabetes that’s out-of-control.

For this very reason, you and your children and family may go to the KHMH Emergency Room where you may wait and wait, and get angry and frustrated.

It’s not just that granny can’t go out to exercise in the cool of the evening because she is afraid of being robbed, or shuts out the nice sea breeze because of fear … or that we must spend several thousand dollars on fences, burglar bars, and other security gadgets. Left unexplored are the psychological and business costs of living in a violent city.

Deng Xiaoping, one of China’s transformative leaders in recent history, is credited with the saying, “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, once it catches the mouse.” Perhaps, we need a Cuban-style approach to tackle violent crime (this was the essence of a remark by a Cuban volunteer in response to the violent attack on their colleague).

When my dad was alive—he spoke of this coming scourge of crime. He often said that the problem of our neighbourhood (which was peaceful back then) was a “problem of parenting”—and that if your parents didn’t look after you … then the law would. Although he himself was politically opinionated, he decried the culture of “dependency on politicians.”

He was a real man—he raised (not just fathered) twelve kids with his wife, my mother. He abandoned none of them, nor made excuses for why he couldn’t look after them. He didn’t finish primary school. We lacked much—but he built a roof over our heads.

He told us we were never born slaves. He taught us the value of hard work, of honesty, and respect for others. He decried idleness, and I learnt early that “the devil finds work for idle hands.” He worked “cabinet” furniture, supplemented his income by building cement blocks the old-fashioned way.

He acquired two small farms in “Boston” on the old Northern road where we spent most weekends. When I asked to play sports at Yarborough (now Yabra) field, he called that “pappysho”—and he said the best way to get exercise was for us to go to Boston, do some planting and reaping—and at the end of the day, you won’t just burn energy. You’ll end up with more than exercise … you’ll also end up with food on your table (This was the mindset of my self-employed father who took seriously the reality of having a home with several mouths to feed).

Mr. B. liked to share, but often lamented that some neighours would never once ask to go with him to the farm—yet they were quick to beg for farm produce when he returned from Boston.

My mom—who I only recently learned made more money than Dad—ran a successful food business for many years. What I learned from her is incalculable, but that’s for another place, another time (Call me sexist if you want, but the evidence is that “it takes a man to raise a boy”—and raising boys lies at the heart of Belize’s gun problem).

We have to find a way to “outlaw” idleness. All able-bodied young men and women should be in school or at work. There is no shortage of work to be done in Belize. We have an “employability” problem, not just one of employment.

We have a nation to feed and a nation to build. The Mennonites aren’t known for their educational status, but they are by far, the richest people in Belize. Ignore their example at our peril (I’m referring to the over-emphasis on “book” education).

We need to halt the spread of Belize City slums—where an entrenched sub-culture of violence and the stuff that feeds it, have taken root; places full of “mud-ah-waata, London bridges and mosqitto”—places where poor folk end up spending the little money they earn to fill tiny house lots where they can’t plant food or raise chickens—perpetuating an environment and a cycle of deprivation, dependency, and frustration.

Worse still, too many of our children are being born, but not “raised.” Listen to the words of 2pac’s “Brenda’s got a baby”—the fallout is devastating. Just look at who bears the brunt of the death statistics or end up in jail.

Belize a very special place. It may not float on as much oil as Kuwait, but we have natural stuff that oil money can’t buy. The richness of a nation, however, lies not in its geography, or simply in its economy. True wealth lies in the soul of its people.

True wealth is like when the Germans and the Japanese—despite being militarily conquered and physically destroyed barely sixty-years ago—rebuilt themselves as leading nations … rebuilding not just their physical infrastructure, but also the heart and soul of their people.

Shame on us as a nation! We are all, wittingly or unwittingly, presiding over its slow demise—especially the demise of those who call themselves natives.

Many of us are pursuing our little narrow agendas … carving out our own little corners … while collectively we are losing (or have lost) our soul as a nation. The best way to boil a frog is to put him in cold water and then slowly turn up the heat. He ends up dying (comfortably) and without a fight. Belize, the heat is on.

Some of us continue to fiddle while Rome burns. Many of us are being anesthetized, trying to find refuge in extraneous pursuits, entertainment, carnivals, foreign television, and stuff that is “easy on the mind”—while many of our sons (and daughters) die almost daily—handsome and strong young men who end up being disposed as rubbish, rather than treasured, and ending up as buried treasure with unfulfilled potential.

I wish part of our priority for our children is to get them (or ask your relatives to send) computers with internet connection (for education, not just music), rather than just fancy clothes and name-brand sneakers.

We can complain all we want … Call the talk shows day in, day out …Vote one party in, and then vote one party out.

We, as a nation we are in need of strong medicine …perhaps even radical surgery. The challenge is—who will bell the cat? Who is prepared to swallow the pill? Look in the mirror, and then I’ll tell you the answer.

Sin cera;

Bernard E. Bulwer

Bernard E. Bulwer, MD—Director of Medical Services—KHMH
April 26, 2010.


Post note: 

Below is an impact study  by American Hospital Association discussing the cost of violence to the hospitals and Health Systems

Cost of Community Violence to Hospitals and Health Systems

Convictions, Deterrence and the Hope for Fewer Murders in Belize: By: Dr. Jerome Straughan


Dr. Jerome Straughan

First printed on Saturday January 16, 2019 via Facebook Note and reprinted with the permission of Dr. Jerome Straughan
     “Belize City Trio Found Guilty of 2012 Murder” was the headline of the top news story for the online edition of Belize’s Channel 5 news on Friday night October 26 2018. The trio had ambushed a group of men who were socializing on the veranda of a school in Belize City. They opened fire on the group, hitting four men including one whose injuries proved fatal. The other three victims survived. It was a calculated attack. Belize has one of the highest murder rates in the world and correspondingly a low conviction rate for murder. And so the news was one of those rare times in my daily routine of looking at news from Belize online when I read the news of the convictions in the Belize Supreme Court. This was the kind of news most Belizeans hope for.
     It was three days after the conviction of the men, and my decision to use the news story my writing on crime in Belize, that I noticed one of the witnesses for the prosecution was one of my cousins. “The prosecution was represented by Crown Counsel Kileru Awich who relied on the testimonies of Elvis Olivera, Fenton, and Danny Maskall who all placed the three convicts at the scene at the time of the fatal shooting” Channel 5 news reported. It went on to report that one of the men who was convicted had sought to take the rap for the deadly shooting, and gave investigators a caution statement saying his intention was not to kill Myers but Olivera. Olivera is my cousin and ended up being one of the crown’s witnesses.
     Three days later in another case prosecuted by Crown Counsel Awich, two men who were on remand for 7 years were freed of murder charges when a nolle prosequi abandoning the case was entered by Awich before a Supreme Court judge. A nolle prosequi was entered for the two men accused of a home invasion murder because there was no witness to testify since neither of the two eyewitnesses wanted to come to court to testify. Shortly thereafter, another accused murdered was set free after being in prison for 9 years. Again Awich entered a nolle prosequi against the accused murderer, who was accused of fatally shooting his victim. According to court details, the crown entered the nolle prosequi because the victim’s mother, who identified his body, had passed away. A statement by a relative to verify her death would have allowed for her affidavit to be accepted during trial. When that was not available, the accused murderer was freed.
     Sadly, less than a week after there were a number decisions on murder cases in the Supreme Court there was the killing of a police officer in the line of duty. The constable had responded to a robbery in progress at a hotel in Belize City when he lost his life. Three youngsters barged into the downtown hotel on Regent Street West and proceeded to rob the personnel of money and personal items. The police quickly responded to the robbery and surrounded the trio. A crossfire between the robbers and the police ensued and as a result the police officer who was not wearing a bulletproof vest was shot and killed. After a short chase the trio was captured and soon charged for the policeman’s murder and aggravated robbery. In the weeks leading up to the killing of the policeman, the police had been pro-active and crime in the city was down. But there was also a string of brazen robberies especially in Belize City, criminals continuing to prey on businesses, both big and small. Most of these robberies have been captured on surveillance cameras and often the robbers have been caught. But that doesn’t seem to deter potential robbers.
A Low Conviction Rate
     As stated, Belize has a high murder rate. Most of the murders occur in Belize City largely as a result of gang warfare, but an increasing number occur outside the city. In the last 5 years murders committed by year in the country were as follows: 145 in 2012, 99 in 2013, 113 in 2014, 108 in 2015, 137 in 2016, 142 in 2017, and 143 in 2018. Despite a focus on prevention using a range of public services and law enforcement efforts that have been made to address the problem of crime and violence in Belize the yearly number of murders have increased, gang violence being the main contributing factor and domestic violence becoming more significant. Where the spread of these murders countrywide are concerned, it can in some ways be understood as an epidemic of crime and violence in the country transmitted from certain individuals and groups to others. Far gone as the increase in murders suggest, this is an epidemic way past the outbreak its main source being gang warfare in Belize City in the early 1990s, and contagious it has spread to other parts of the country.
     For over a decade Belize has had a correspondingly low conviction rate for murder of only 3-5% conviction. Belize is not alone in that Belize is one of a number of the region (the Caribbean and Central America) with high murder rates and judicial systems with low conviction rates. Overall, the U.N. notes that the Americas have a vastly lower conviction rate for murder at 24% compared to 48% in Asia and 81% in Europe. Regardless, Belize’s low conviction rate doesn’t give many Belizeans confidence in the criminal justice system.
     Belizeans decry the country’s low conviction rate for murder every time someone who was arrested and charged for murder walks free in the Supreme Court. One of my friends who once worked for the office of the Director of Public Prosecution’s office (DPP) has railed against Belize’s low conviction rate for some time. For many Belizeans increasing the conviction rate for those charged with murder is just common sense, if there is to be a reduction in serious crime, namely murder. It’s certainly reassuring for those who are concerned about the crime situation to assume with a desperate sense of hope that with an increase in the conviction rate the crime rate will decrease, because (if nothing else) it will take offenders off the street and can only have a deterrent effect as criminals (many repeat offenders) and others intent on committing crime will take notice and change their behavior. Gang members and other criminals would no longer act with impunity. Overall, an increase in convictions would restore Belizean’s faith in their criminal justice system.
     Belizeans’ concern for the low conviction rate for murder is shared by the citizens of other Caribbean countries. In 2013 an International Narcotics Control Strategy Report summarized in the Gleaner claimed that Jamaica’s conviction rate for murder of five per cent was one of the reasons organised crime continued to flourish on the island. The low conviction rate was a result of an “underfunded, overburdened and sluggish criminal justice system with limited effectiveness in obtaining criminal convictions.” The report also stated: “This lack of efficacy contributes to impunity for many of the worst criminal offenders and gangs, an abnormally high rate of violent crimes, lack of cooperation by witnesses and jurors, frustration among police officers and the public, a significant social cost and drain on the economy, and a disincentive for international investment.” Lastly, the Gleaner article noted that the report “bemoaned the fact that the momentum of progress gained within Jamaica’s law-enforcement agencies is being obstructed by the inability of prosecutors and the courts to secure prompt convictions.
     In his 2009 study of study of male participation and violence in urban Belize Herbert Gayle et. al. addressed the issue of Belize’s conviction rate and deterrence. This is what they had to say in the condensed book version of the study: “Belize’s conviction rate is so ridiculously low that there is little deterrence from gang activity and murder. Unless the conviction rate is increased there will be mounting gang problems as recruitment is easy” (Gayle et al., 2016:219). Based on what has been written about low conviction rates (and for what crimes) and on crime and deterrence, it would have been good if Dr. Gayle elaborated on the link between a low conviction rate and deterrence, as it applies to Belize’s problem with crime and violence.
     Lastly, in a 2016 Jamaican Gleaner newspaper article titled “Swift, Certain Justice Key To Deterring Crime” University of the West Indies Professor Anthony Clayton stated that a strong element of deterrence was needed in Jamaica if the island is to experience any kind of properly functioning system of law enforcement and justice. Addressing an inaugural Policing and Security Conference he stressed that”There has to be a strong element of deterrence. To deter, the punishment has to have three qualities – it has to be swift, it has to be certain, and it has to be severe. It is actually the first two that are the most effective in reducing the propensity to commit crimes.” In terms of the effectiveness of swift and certain punishment he noted that once there is a very high probability for committing a crime and being caught and punished, persons would think twice before committing crimes. Conversely, if there is a very low risk of being caught and having to face any kind of justice for one’s actions, it doesn’t matter how severe the punishment is.
     While it might seem like common sense, increasing the conviction rate for murder doesn’t necessarily lead to a decrease in the murder rate (and other serious crime rates) because it would most likely have a deterrent effect. Convicting those charged with murder will lead to incapacitation, taking dangerous criminals off the streets who can go on to commit other murders. This can certainly lead to a reduction in crime. However, the extent to which it will deter many from engaging in gang activity and committing murder – because of swift and certain punishment – raise a number of questions relating to certain assumptions that are being made about how many think before committing such an act and human behavior. Thus, it is important to review whatever scholarly articles have been written on the relationship between conviction rates and deterrence. This I continue to do and examine how it relates to Belize.
     You cannot convict without evidence. As a result, Belizeans over the years have become accustomed to hearing the legal term nolle prosequi when a crown counsel decide to discontinue criminal charges against an individuals charged with murder, either before trial or before a verdict is rendered. In their reaction to seeing those whom they feel are guilty of murder being set free Belizeans blame what they consider a weak justice system that now contributes to a culture of impunity, whereby gang members and others think they can get away with serious crimes like murder. In addressing the main causes of the low conviction rate they blame the police and the prosecution. Increasingly, they are also blaming defense lawyers.
     Many Belizeans believe that the low conviction rate is a reflection of poor crime investigation and evidence gathering on the part of the police. The police are not properly processing some crime scenes and collecting good evidence many say. There is also a problem in the way they interview or interrogate some murder suspects, especially using certain techniques. With many murders and other crimes going unsolved, they note the very limited forensic capabilities of the Police Department, which makes it more difficult to solve crime and obtain convictions. The DPP could only work with the evidence they have, and so it’s important for the police to put together good investigative files that would lead to convictions. Overall, they think there should be better training for Belizean police officers.
     In their criticism of the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, Belizeans blame the DPP for not preparing cases and presenting evidence in a way that would lead to convictions in court. But they recognize that one of the main reasons why a number of individuals accused of murder walk free relates to the difficulty to have many who witness a serious crime like murder come forward and testify. My cousin testified at the trial of the men who were convicted of murder, but an increasing number of Belizeans do not testify or want to testify at murder cases because they are intimidated and threatened into not testifying. Indeed some have been killed, including one of Olivera’s first cousin, who was killed before he could testify at a murder trial. Crown councils now more often go to a court relying on a statement provided to police by someone who claimed to have witnessed a murder, but subsequently recanted his/her statement during trial. Fearful, under oath the now hostile witness might answer few questions from the crown council or judge before refusing to respond altogether. Often they claim they couldn’t remember certain details of a murder. Without a reliable witness or witnesses the case often collapses and this results in a crown council entering a nolle prosequi, signifying that the prosecution did not wish to continue with the murder trial against the accused.
      It should also be mentioned that justice is no longer swift in Belize the average murder case in the country taking more than five years to come to trial. That is of concern to anyone concerned with justice, especially for those wrongly accused of serious crimes. But in these cases taking more than five years to come to trial there is the potential for deterrence, even when the chance for conviction is low. Certainly, there is the view that in the mind of a rational potential criminal the prospect of spending five or more years in prison is a deterrent. Nevertheless, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of real and would be criminals in Belize who take into consideration that the slow turning of the wheels of justice in the country means that if caught, and even if the chances are high that they will not be convicted, they will spend a substantial amount of time in jail.
      I also noted what seem to be a trend with the DPP downgrading to the charge of manslaughter a number of cases where the accused seems clearly guilty of murder and not manslaughter. Nevertheless, while the number of individuals originally charged for murder pleading down to or eventually being convicted of manslaughter is a troubling trend, a recent uptick in the number of convictions for murder and manslaughter gives many Belizeans hope.
      With a backlog of cases, recently the Belizean Supreme Court has granted bail to a number of individuals accused of murder. Some have been in remand at the Belize Central Prison for over 5 years, and in their petition to grant them bail their attorney argues that the Belizean constitution provides that a person is entitled to a fair trial within a reasonable time. In granting bail for some accused of murder the high court judges has cited Section Five of the Laws of Belize which reads, “The constitution gives the right to an accused person to be granted bail when he is not tried within a reasonable time in reference to the seriousness of the crime. That section of the constitution places no boundary on the type of crime for which an accused person may be granted bail.” Their release comes after meeting a steep bail and with stringent conditions. A number of individuals accused of murder have now been granted bail and as a result bail is no longer so rare (and unusual) for those accused of murder.
      Lastly, many Belizeans have contempt for some lawyers who represent accused murderers; and when there is a senseless murder these lawyers are part of the discussion that includes bringing back the death penalty. Belizeans understand that the job of a defense lawyer is to create reasonable doubt in the case against their client. One way they have done so is by questioning how the police obtained statements or a murder confession from the accused. In a number of cases a judge ruled that the confession was inadmissible in court because of how it was obtained. However these lawyers have been disparaged and derisively called slick for what many Belizeans see as them trying to get their clients off on legal technicalities. But commenting in 2018 on what he considered a draconian piece of legislation to combat crime in Belize one defense lawyer had this to say about addressing the crime problem in Belize: “As a criminal practitioner in court if I was a decision maker my emphasis and focus would be on criminal justice reform. Because a lot of the cases of people who are actually murdered their cases go to court and we have good lawyers in Belize and there is a deficiency in the way that the evidence is marshaled and gathered by police and oftentimes the DPPs office tries its best but because of the cases that have been given to them there are no convictions.”
Conviction Rate and Deterrence
      So what has been written about conviction rates and its effect on deterrence (in addition to what was stated earlier)? To answer that question we must first address the theory of deterrence. It is a theory of choice in which individuals balance the benefits and costs of crime. It argues that individuals evaluate both the risk of being caught and the associated punishment. Thus, deterrence is the behavioral response to the perception of sanction threats. Deterrence theory says that in terms of an individual’s potential to commit a crime the certainty of being caught is a vastly more powerful deterrent than the punishment, but people will obey the law if the punishment is swift and certain. The core concern of deterrence research has been to develop a scientific understanding of the relationship between the crime rate and the threat of punishment (see Nagin).
     In his 2013 essay, “Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century,” Daniel S. Nagin summarized the current state of theory and empirical knowledge about deterrence. Drawn from Nagin’s essay, the U.S. Department of Justice (Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice) summarized a large body of research related to deterrence of crime into five points. The first point is that the certainty of being caught is a vastly more effective deterrent than the punishment (severity).
      The second point is that sending an individual convicted of a crime to prison isn’t a very effective way to deter crime. Prisons are good for punishing criminals and keeping them off the street, but prison sentences (particularly long sentences) are unlikely to deter future crime.
     The third point is that Police deter crime by increasing the perception that criminals will be caught and punished.
     The fourth point is that increasing the severity of punishment does little to deter crime. Laws and policies designed to deter crime by focusing mainly on increasing the severity of punishment are ineffective partly because criminals know little about the sanctions for specific crimes.
     The fifth point is that there is no proof that the death penalty deters criminals. According to the National Academy of Sciences, “Research on the deterrent effect of capital punishment is uninformative about whether capital punishment increases, decreases, or has no effect on homicide rates.” Some of these points are hard to accept and are debated, but some are on point.
     In his 2013 essay on deterrence Nagin stated that there are two distinct mechanisms by which the police may deter crime. One way is through proactive policing: increasing the visibility of the police by hiring more officers and allocating existing officers in ways that heighten the perceived risk of apprehension can deter crimes. In occurrences in which this form of deterrence has failed (the effect of the intensity of police presence in creating a perception that apprehension risk is sufficiently high) the effectiveness of the police in apprehending perpetrators of crimes may deter crime. Their effectiveness in apprehending criminal perpetrators can have a deterrent effect only on others or on the perpetrator’s future behavior.
      In an article “Crime Despite Punishment” Maggie Koerth-Baker states: “After decades of research, there’s little evidence to suggest that the threat of prison, or even the death penalty, deters would-be criminals.” Koerth-Baker draws on the work of criminologist Richard Wright. With the help of a former student who was once been a career criminal, in the late 1980 Wright et. al conducted one of the biggest ethnographic studies of working criminals ever conducted. For the study Wright interviewed 105 burglars and 86 armed robbers. “The interviews suggested that people trying to prevent crime don’t always understand how people think when they are committing crimes” Koerth-Baker states. She goes on to say: “Whether it’s prison itself, longer prison sentences, or sending more people to prison for smaller crimes, these prescribed consequences are usually predicated on the idea that a would-be criminal will consider them and then think twice: ‘Nope, I’m not going to do this,’ they’ll rationally decide.” I don’t want that to happen to me.” Thus, the work of Wright et. al. “suggests that real people don’t often make that kind of careful deliberation before they rob somebody, and subsequent decades’ worth of research on the effects of deterrence-based punishments…have failed to prove that they do anything to reduce crime.
     The continued killings in Belize and spate of robberies raise questions about crime and the state of deterrence in the country. It would be easy to say that this is because of the failure of the threat of punishment to deter crime. But while the conviction rate for those charged with murder remain low and has been cited as a factor in an increase in serious crimes, the likelihood of those charged with murder spending over five years on remand does not seem to have had a deterrent effect. In the last three months the quick capture of a number of robbers (many in the act) by the police doesn’t seem to have a deterrent effect (although it’s somewhat early to determine this) o no been a deterrent. While some thinking goes into them committing crimes of opportunity, these robbers don’t seem to have evaluated the risk of being caught and the associated punishment, considering that the quick response of the police in Belize City has resulted in many being immediately being caught or caught shortly after committing a robbery.
Crime Prevention and Control Strategies
     At this point in Belize’s prolong battle with serious crimes, will increased convictions immediately deter those intent on committing crimes? While increasing the conviction rate is something Belizeans wish for, it might not do as much to deter individuals committing serious crimes as many people would think. In Belize the possibility of increasing the conviction rate for murder that can possibly then have a greater deterrent effect has to be seen in the context of Belize’s enduring crime problem (of which gang warfare was the main catalyst) that has lasted almost three decades and spawned a culture of crime and violence that has enveloped certain sectors of Belizean society.
      As a result, informal social controls (where they exist) have not been sufficient to deter criminal behavior among certain individuals, among member of certain groups (namely, as it relates to ethclass), and in communities. And while some might say that a strong element of deterrence is needed in Belize if the country is to experience any kind of properly functioning system of law enforcement and justice, there are questions about the state of crime and deterrence in Belize. Sadly, even if formal social controls involving law enforcement authorities and the criminal justice system becomes more effective in meting out swift and certain punishment to those committing serious crimes, there are questions about if or how effective deterrence is in Belize at this time.
     While this might be a hard thing to accept for those who are frustrated with the crime situation, there has to be hope that the DPP’s office will continue to make slow but steady progress in increasing its conviction of those charged with murder (and other serious crimes like armed robbery). As this occurs, it in turn makes it possible for a reduction in the murder rate. Correspondingly, there is also the possibility that with a reduction in the murder rate there will be an increase in the conviction rate. While there is hope for both, an increase in the conviction rate for murder and a rapid reduction in the murder rate, the challenge is to reduce the yearly number of murders occurring through effective crime prevention and control strategies.
     The police are fighting an uphill battle in attempting to curb an ever increasing crime rate, and they recognize that curbing the high crime rate will require a lot of different strategies that include not just an effective crime fighting strategy by the police. At this point I take a retrospective look at all that have been done to curb crime in the last decade.
     As it relates to the functioning of law enforcement, in 2009 there was the publication of the Crooks Report to reform the Belize Police Department and as it relates to gang warfare in Belize in 2010 there was the publication of the Gayle et. al. study on Male Social Participation and Violence in Urban Belize. The completion of study was announced with great fanfare and its researcher UWI anthropologist Herbert Gayle gave a number of talks and conducted a number of workshops after the study was published. There was little implementation of recommendations from the Gayle Report.
     In 2010 the government’s strategy to address crime, violence and other social ills plaguing the country was unveiled in a plan called Restore Belize. Now under Restore Belize, there was the Conscious Youth Development Program (CYDP), which is a specialized gang intervention program. One of its purposes was to try and de-escalate tensions between the different Belize City gangs. Then there was the Youth for the Future initiative, established to coordinate the activities of Belize’s young people.
      Since 2009 the police implemented crime fighting strategies that included proactive policing practices to prevent and reduce crime and aimed at deterrence, especially in Belize City. In 2010 the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) was formed as a special unit of the police. It was formed in in response to the rising crime rate in Belize and was part of the larger Restore Belize initiative. (The efforts at gang prevention and intervention continued.). This paramilitary policing contrasted with efforts of community policing the police department had instituted. Trying to become pro-active with their crime fighting strategy around 2014 the department instituted broken windows policing. It is based on the theory that catching and prosecuting perpetrators of small crimes, over time, deter big crimes from happening.
      A number of get-tough anti-crime laws were also passed, few described as draconian. In 2008 the Firearms Act became law and in 2010 the Crime Control and Prevention Act became law. In 2014 there was an amendment (revision) to the Firearms Act and the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act. Despite revisions to the act, major crimes in Belize continued to increase. In 2018 new laws and amendments were passed in the National Assembly in the fight against crime.
      The Belize Police Department unveiled its National Crime Fighting Strategy, and part of the strategy was to put in place legislative reform to assist in getting the crime problem under control. In this regard, the Criminal Control and Criminal Justice Amendment Act was a piece of legislation that was put in place to curb escalating crime. Some laws in the amendment targeted the culture of gangs in Belize and called for stiffer penalties to be levied against persons belonging to a gang. Also amended were the Firearm Act and the Police Act. The anti-crime legislation also included the Protection of Witnesses Act, Evidence Act, and Domestic Violence Act. It was certainly hoped that with legislative changes that come under the crime fighting strategy there would be a decrease in Belize’s crime problem. This has not happened.
Murder and the Start of a New Year
      If most Belizeans were not too hopeful about a gradual increase in the number of convictions for murder, they were hopeful that in the New Year Belize would have far fewer murders than it did in 2018 and previous years. In 2018 there were 143 murders in Belize, the second most murderous year in the history of the country, 2012 being the murderous year with 145 murders. This was not supposed to be. When there was a spate of murders in Belize City in the first part of the year more police were put on patrol in certain hotspots of the city, and a limited state of emergency was activated and imposed in three areas of the city. But the bloodshed continued. Regrettable, on the first day of the New Year there was an unprecedented five murders. The murders again highlighted how pervasive murder had become in Belize, not just confined to Belize City and committed largely by gang members engaged in ongoing feuds. The murders also highlighted how while the use of handguns had increased the number of murders in Belize (especially in Belize City) Belizeans continue to kill each other by other means.

      The first murder occurred early in the morning in the village of Lucky Strike in northern Belize district, when a villager was hacked to death with a machete at his home. The killing was as a result of an early morning confrontation between the accused and the victim over a woman who was staying at the victim’s house. After a party in the village the accused was to have dropped off the woman. Instead of doing so, he followed her into the victim’s house. The woman and the victim asked him to leave but he refused to do so. An altercation ensued between the accused and victim, eventually resulting in the victim being killed. The woman was then raped by the accused.
      A second murder was recorded after the body of an unidentified man was found floating in the Belize River in the Blackman Eddy area of the Cayo District. The man’s body was found on January 1 but police believe he was killed sometime before that. His hands were tied behind his back when his body was found, and a postmortem examination on the remains confirmed that the man died of manual strangulation.
      The third murder was a gang-related murder occurring on the south side of Belize City. The known gang leader was gunned down in a drive by shooting (in front of a store).
     The fourth murder also occurred in Belize City – and again on the south side – when two bicycles riding assailants opened fire on a victim, who was also riding a bicycle. Police say that prior to his killing the victim had a misunderstanding with someone that same day, and they suspect that his killing may be connected to that prior dispute.
      The fifth murder occurred in San Ignacio Town, the victim who was a mother of 3 children killed by her ex-common-law husband (whom she had taken out a restraining order against). Once in an abusive relationship with him, she was lured to the home of one of his relatives. He lay-waited her and viciously stabbed her in the neck and chest.
      As the murders became known to Belizeans it sparked many discussions on social media. Few who commented on the murders on Facebook mentioned what they saw as growing lawlessness in Belize. Along with the low conviction rate for murder, of particular importance to many commenting on crime and violence in Belize was raising domestic violence that in the extreme has resulted in a number of women being killed by their spouse or common law husbands. But some on Facebook also recognize that the Belize Police Department has what they consider a thankless job.
      The print and electronic media also discussed the murderous start of the New Year. Citing the number of murders that occurred in 2018, there was criticism of the police crime fighting strategy by Channel 5 news (1/3/19), who raised questions about this strategy by stating: “Over the past few years, the Ministry of National Security and the Belize Police Department have attempted a number of strategies to arrest crime and violence in Belize City….But, have all the efforts of government to mitigate the endless spate of gun violence been for nothing?” In the aftermath of the murders the then acting Commissioner of Police Chester Williams and Prime Minister Dean Barrow discussed the crime situation.
      On September 5th of last year the Government of Belize declared a “State of Emergency” (that did not include a curfew) in two gang-infested areas in the south side of Belize City due to escalating criminal activity in the area. The state of emergency had been declared because six persons were killed in the city between Friday, August 31st and Saturday, September 1st. Gang rivalry was suspected to have been responsible for most of the murders and the majority of the murders involved the use of firearms. The two days were considered the most murderous weekend in Belizean history and within four months the murders of January 1st would become the most murderous day in in Belizean history.
      At a press conference after the state of emergency was declared the Minister of National Security along with his Chief Executive Officer and the Acting Commissioner of Police Williams, announced that measures were being put in place to deal with the escalation in gun violence in the city. Williams told the media that police has been in constant dialogue with the different gang groups in south side Belize City. According to him, the talks yielded positive results in only some areas. He also believed that in some areas gang leaders thought they could hold the rest of the city hostage. To this sense of impunity he responded that it was necessary for the police to “move to another level… to ensure the safety and security of our law-abiding citizens. The increased police on the street should have had a deterrent effect, but this was one of many times there had been a spike in murders in Belize and the response was similar.
      In early December 2018 then Acting Commissioner of Police Williams at a press briefing expressed his optimistic view of the crime situation in Belize City by stating that there was a significant reduction in murders and this reflected the effectiveness of police operations on the south side. One of two broad approaches to crime prevention involves intervention, identifying groups and risk of committing crime and taking action to limit their offending. Gang intervention was one of the police strategies for reducing the tit for tat gang shootings that have been occurring in the city. And when there was a spate of murders in the city the police increased its presence in certain areas. Nevertheless, the murders continue.
      At a police press briefing in the aftermath of the New Year’s Day killing Williams responded to questions about the effectiveness of the police crime fighting strategy by noting (with a sense of relief) that only one of the five murders was gang-related and had wider implications. “It is our hope that the efforts that have been put in place will prevent that from occurring” he went on to say about the possibility of retaliatory killings. As for the other murders, he acknowledged that those occurred in situations/incidents the police had no control over. However, he had this to say: “The fighting of crime spans beyond the police and it must incorporate the collaboration of other government agencies as well as other social partners and so it is our intention to be able to collaborate with those social partners to find some lasting solutions to the fight of crime particularly in south side Belize City. And so for 2019, we will be doing a lot of collaboration with social partners.” Lastly, Williams said the crime rate will require a collective community effort to bring it down.
      The Prime Minister also responded to bloody Tuesday. “The scourge of crime and violence continues into 2019 and government, as well as the Belize Police Department, is still very much hamstrung in stemming the bloodshed” Channel 5 news stated in its continued coverage of the 5 New Year’s Day murders. The Prime Minister acknowledged the government’s continued “inability to contain crime and violence” and “hold down the murder rate.” He went on to say: “Now it has long since been admitted that our crime fighting approach has to be interdisciplinary, involving inter-agency collaboration and the deployment of a far flung net of social strategies. What is also inarguable, though, is that the Belize Police Department will remain the centerpiece of the effort to eliminate the triple scourge of gangs, guns and drugs. 2019 will therefore see a concentrated effort on reform for a more effective Belize Police Department. This reform will start at the very top and permeate throughout all ranks; it will include better training, better administration and better resources.”
      The theory of deterrence is very much relevant to the two murders on the south side of Belize. For some time the police have maintained a visible presence on the south side of Belize City, but even with this presence a number of murders occurred on the south side. A few months before when there was a spate of murders on the south side the police announced policing in hot spots. This involves a practice whereby the police focus on locations where crime is concentrated, and in doing so crime reduction through deterrence comes about when police increased their visibility and patrols in known hotspots. Nagin has stated that “There’s no evidence that broken windows policing is an effective way of deterring crime.” And distinguished from so-called “broken windows” policing, a number of studies have shown that it’s possible to curb crime using the hot spots strategy.
       Of the 5 murders that occurred on New Year’s Day, the DPP should easily get convictions on two -the murder in San Ignacio Town and the murder in the village of Luck Strike. The murders represent two disturbing homicide trends and the details of how the murders occurred are most disturbing. Premeditated, the murder in San Ignacio puts a spotlight on the increasing number of women who have been killed as a result of domestic violence. Belize has a history of domestic violence, which cuts across ethnicity and to a lesser extent social class. In the last 30 years an increasing number of women have lost their lives at the hands of their significant other (or a man who once was). Their deaths reflect the epidemic of crime and violence in Belize resulting in the country now being a more murderous place. The country had become a murderous place even in what was described as the peaceful village of Luck Strike. While there is a sense of community in most villages, when these murders occur in such a village it raises questions about the breakdown of social bonds between individuals and the community. Correspondingly, there is the question of the extent to which there is informal social control in an increasing number of villages (in contrast to most Mayan and Mennonite villages and communities). But while it might have been fueled by alcohol and desire, the seemingly impulsive nature of this murder raise question about deterrence and social control.
       Only one of the two killings in Belize City was considered a gang killings, but the two murders were similar in the way young men get murdered in the south side of the city, and what leads up to these murders. The fact that most murders occur on the larger and densely populated south side of Belize City, in certain areas, and on or near certain streets highlight the geography of urban violence (or more specifically the geography of murder) in Belize. A city where people still live in close proximity to each other (although the city has expanded), one doesn’t have to go too far to find one’s enemies, especially in the case of gang warfare where handguns that empower any individual or small group have been used with lethal accuracy to increase the murder rate and serve as a catalyst for Belize’s epidemic of crime and violence.
Robberies And the Failure of Deterrence
       Around mid-January I was hoping that there would be no murders in Belize for remainder of the month, or until I had finished what I was writing about crime in Belize. This was not to be as starting with the murder of a policeman in the tourist capital of San Pedro Town there has been one murder after another. Now the question is whether the number of murders in 2019 will come close to or pass the number of murders in 2018. There has also been an increase in the number of robberies in Belize, most occurring in Belize City. The robberies in particular highlight the issue of deterrence considering the effectiveness of the police in apprehending many of the robbers.
      Broadcasted live on Sunday night January 13, a robbery which evolved into a hostage taking situation on the south side of Belize City eventually resulted in three robbers being arrested after a tense standoff and shots being fired by the robbers. Armed with a stolen handgun, the men had invaded the second floor residence of the Chinese proprietors of a grocery store that was on the first floor of the building. The Chinese couple were robbed and assaulted during the, but during the robbery but their teenage daughter was unharmed. Police were alerted to the robbery in progress and arriving on the scene before the robbers could make their getaway the robbery turned into a hostage taking situation, as the robbers held the couple hostage until police were able to persuade them to surrender. This happened just weeks after the policeman was killed in that robbery in downtown Belize City. It raises questions about crime (robberies, home invasions etc.) and deterrence in Belize. Of course deterrence, if it does occur, will be gradual and not immediate.
      As stated, the police deter crime by increasing the perception that criminals will be caught and punished. On Facebook the morning after the robbery and apprehension of the robbers many Belizeans praised the quick response of the police. But one of the comments started by saying that Belize had a low conviction rate and that while the intruders were caught there should be a concern that they could “get off” whatever charges were brought against them. Most likely the three robbers will be convicted of the crimes they were charged with but the cynicism reflects the fact that many Belizean have little faith in Belize’s courts.
      One of two broad approaches to crime prevention involves the local community in combating crime. Usually people police their own neighborhoods until they feel it is unsafe to do so. When the neighborhood becomes unsafe in their opinion, they either move away if they can or remain inside of their houses to stay safe. This reduces the effectiveness of informal social control, which can lead to increased criminal activity. What is also noteworthy about the robbery is that someone in the neighborhood tipped off the police to the ongoing robbers. Regrettably, crime is often not reported in many neighborhoods in Belize City such as the one the robbery occurred, as people feel unsafe or fear if they do so they face reprisals or worse.
      Since the Mahogany Street robbery there have been several others robberies in the city and elsewhere in the country. As stated, robbery suspects have been caught, either through the quick work of the police of identifying suspect from security video. But the robberies continue, young men in groups of two or three armed with a handgun and giving little or no thought to the possibility of being caught (deterrence).
      In the case of a gas company in Ladyville being robbed, one of the robbers pointed a gun at the security guard at the entrance of the company then the other proceeded to hold up another man inside the office and the cashier. The second of two robberies in the country, a restaurant was robbed in Belmopan, two masked men entering the restaurant and pointed what looked like a gun at the owner of the restaurant, her daughter and an off-duty cop that was present.
      The robbery of a new grocery store on Albert Street, Belize’s main commercial street is the most notable robbery. It was one of the very few businesses that remain open on Albert Street after dark and this provided an opportunity for two robbers who entered the store posing as customers. Shortly after being in the store one man pulled out a pistol at the store counter and held up the store owner, while the other went into the cash drawer and grabbed about $1,500 dollars. It is reported that one of the men were caught shortly after.
     These crimes highlight a need for enhancement of situational crime prevention strategies. Situational crime prevention includes strategies which focus on the specific point at which potential victims and criminals come together, making it harder for the criminal to commit a crime. An increasing number of businesses now employ security guards and have installed cameras. These are examples of situational crime prevention strategies by businesses. But these robberies continue. Most involve two or three individuals, and the robbers seem undeterred by the prospect of being caught. In possession of a handgun some youths become impulsive ready to rob those whom they feel have cash on hand and/or provide an easy opportunity.
     In terms of these robberies and deterrence, it is also important to note that research does show that you can deter crime by nudging would-be criminals to weigh the odds of getting caught in the first place. Most people are going to avoid committing crimes in situations where somebody is likely to catch them. It’s the reason liquor stores are robbed more frequently than banks, Nagin has said. More specifically where the store robbery is concerned, residents in neighborhoods (and communities) such as the one in which the store is located can work to increase the perception among would-be criminals that they face real risks of getting caught. As an alternative to adding more police, it highlight the fact that communities are also responsible for policing themselves, adding a layer of informal social control and a layer of formal social control in reporting crimes.
When Does This End
      For over three weeks after the start of the New Year there were no murders in the city, and the new Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, attributed it to the crime fighting strategy of the police. He indicated after becoming the new commissioner that the goal of his department was to reduce the murder count for 2019. He went further a week later (Jan 22) on a morning talk show to say that he hoped to keep this year’s murder count to below 100. For some the commitment was controversial. “No matter what we do, we cannot stop all murders but we are going to ensure that we do our best to reduce the murder rate in Belize” Williams stated. Most Belizeans would agree that in order to make a dent in the number of murders there has to be a continued focus on gang warfare as the source of most murders. They also agree that there is now a need to focus more on domestic violence that is leading to a greater number of murders of women. But the police department’s intention to focus on nightclubs or bar has been somewhat surprising to many Belizeans.
       Commissioner Williams and his assistant announced a strategy to curb crime at a press briefing. This would be done through continued working in partnership with communities and governmental and non-governmental organizations. In terms of policing, it would be done through such things as improving upon preventative patrols and responding to incidents in a timely and effectively manner. It was announced that there was a plan to erect a live crime center in Belmopan that will be used to address criminal activities on the streets. It was also announce that there will be boosting CYDP, designating it as a homicide reduction unit. An increasing concern for more Belizeans, both the Commissioner of police and his deputy spoke their department’s new strategy to tackle domestic violence.
     “If you notice the last murder in the city has been a while” the new commander of south side Belize City (the police department’s largest and hardest formation to police) said at a press briefing at the end of January, that announced a new plan for the eastern division of the police department in Belize City. “I don’t want to be quick to say anything, but what we are doing at this point in time is certainly working” the Superintendent of Police went on to say about tackling crime in the city. Six days after the superintendent spoke about tackling crime in the city, and a week after the police high brass announced the department’s crime fighting strategy for the country, two men were shot and killed in Belize City. Four hours apart, one was killed on the north side and one on the south side. One of the men killed was a well-known businessman who was killed in what seem like a hit. He was with his girlfriend inside his car which he had parked near his girlfriend’s house when two men approached the vehicle. One of the men pulled out a firearm and fired shots in his direction. He was shot twice while the girlfriend escaped with minor injuries.
     In mourning and trying to figure out who would have wanted his father dead his son had this to say about the crime situation in Belize:
Son of Michael Williams:
“We just want justice. We want this case to be solved and we want to know who is responsible. Who would send these guys or they were, did they do it or someone send them. We want to find out as soon as possible. All this senseless killing in Belize it has to stop. Something must be done, I don’t know what. We are in 2019 now and as the years go by it’s just getting worse and worse. You know every time you go and you see it and now it hits home. Mein that’s, I don’t know what to think after this.
      There is little that can be added to what the son of the dead man said about the crime situation in Belize. It’s a new year and Belize has a new commissioner of Police. Regrettably, since the murdered man spoke to the media about his father being killed the murders continue, one senseless killing after another happening in Belize City and outside of the city all the way to the town of Punta Gorda in the Toledo district. It was my hope that in the week or even two weeks I was planning to complete this essay there would be no murders and no robberies in Belize. In turn, I would be able to address all the murders that had happened since the first of January. This was not to be. “So sad as we get new commissioner it just getting worst” one woman commented on the Facebook page of a news outlet reporting a recent robbery that ended up in a murder. “Every day if it’s not robbery it’s killing she went on to say.
      While it did not result in murder, less than a week after two were killed in Belize City there was a wild shootout on the heavily trafficked thoroughfare on the north side of Belize City between two men on a motorcycle and the police. On patrol, a police vehicle became suspicious of the two known men and started to trail them because it was believed that they were on the way to commit an armed robbery. One of the men was caught minutes after the shootout started and the others turned himself in to the police the following day. With One policeman injured in the shootout the men were charged with attempted murder and two others charges.
      Also on the north side there was an armed robbery which turned into a murder when a 19 year old Belizean raised Japanese born student at the University of Belize was shot and killed coming to the defense of his restaurateur father who was held up by three men outside his home. The father was also critically wounded. Arriving home with his family, the father had just got out the vehicle and was walking into the home with groceries when the assailants pounced on the unsuspecting father. A struggle ensued between the assailants and the two victims and shots were fired by one of the assailants. The robbers got away with an undisclosed amount of cash and so far they have not been apprehended.
      “What will it take to STOP these senseless killings” remarked President of the Senate Lee Mark Chang said. The father of the slain student had worked for him when he arrived in Belize. On Facebook others commented on the killing of the young man. “This piece of news is very disturbing and so sad for me to deal with” one woman commented. “I don’t know the family, but what hurts me so much is the fact that these perpetrators can kill so easily. When did Belize become a country where these men are so evil, and they can look at a person unfeelingly and just shoot to kill?” Another woman had this to say: “The money will done then it will be on to the next victim. It seems like all the robbers are armed and if necessary they would kill without hesitation. More people will have to arm themselves. He probably never thought it would happen to him but he’s running a business and was being watch and targeted. Such a sad situation. What can our country do? Would the creation of more jobs help curb all these senseless armed robberies. Where does it end! Lastly, one man commented: “These guys looking for opportunity and do not care for human life. So sad.”
      A day after the UB engineering student was killed, the President of the university issued a message on his passing stating that it was with “indignation and deep regret” that he was announcing the student’s death. He went on to say: “The loss of any student, particularly in so tragic and senseless a manner, grievously wounds us all.” Regrettably, four days later he issued a similar message after another student of UB was killed in his home town of Orange Walk: “It pains me deeply to inform you that the UB community has suffered, yet again, another tragic loss of one of our young and promising student…due to gun violence.”
J. Straughan