VIOLENCE AND THE HEALTH OF A NATION by: Dr. Bernard Bulwer


 

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

The Dulling , Demise and Funeral of Barrow’s Machete by: Aria Lightfoot


In 2004, the young passionate Dean Barrow railed against undiluted corruption from the then PUP government.  He promised a special machete sharpened on both sides to chop away corruption from the head.  The imagery was action packed and powerful.  I saw a future PM chopping feverishly away at the uncontrollable weeds of corruption growing as he desperately tries to fight it before it stagnates and chokes the country of Belize.

machete

 

Fast Forward to 2019 and after three unprecedented terms, the now UDP government led by the then passionate Dean Barrow, seems to have thrown in his machete, killed it and surrendered to the power of the weeds.

machete 2machete 3

 

I write this because I am disappointed in where we are a people. After 38 years of Independence, not one new city has been built, barely any new university programs, poor medical system and on and on.  In fact, politicians are proud to hand a poor citizen, living in destitute conditions, a low-quality plywood house and without shame, blast it publicly, after all  that is the very  least some of them are willing to do.

machete 4

The life of the average Belizean has not seen substantial gains even with billions of investments pouring through the country via Real Estate, Banking,  Tourism, Money Laundering and a thriving drug trade. The ultimate victims will the youths and future generations who will have to bear the consequences of unchecked and wanton corruption.  The most visible victims are mostly black males fighting for dollars without sense and engaging in a tragic self-annihilation.

machete 5

The Politicians,  Legal community and Public Servants have become co-conspirators and experts of transferring public assets into private hands. They are providing substandard services;  creaming off the top while they shamelessly fill their pockets during the growing despair.  The once revered public service career has  shifted from government with ethics, vision and purpose  to one of of  self-enrichment.

machete 6

The Prime Minister of Belize  and the UDP members are in full group think mode [i]. Recently one UDP ex-politician and radio commentator commented on his Facebook page that he is okay with corruption because he is seeing progress in the country.  He  and many others spend their social media time in “who is more corrupted” comparison fights.  It is an  indictment of how far they have fallen off the rails.  The scandals are growing, the public lands and monies are being fleeced, but I must say that the Joshua Perdomo saga is one for the books.  One can only look on with awe as this young man from a prominent family has created such a political storm. The entire saga has exposed the UDP for a serious lack of consciousness, ethics, legal and moral obligations of their duties as leaders and custodians of the people’s resources and their inadequate response to the public outcry.

Why is Joshua Perdomo such a sore point? The attempt to write off happened at the start of the school year when many families were/are struggling with school fees for their own children.  Some children were barred from attending school because of overdue school fees.  Many public officers are currently working off their bonds and commitments.  Additionally, the Belize population is grappling with poorly investigated cases and lack of justice in the system.  Joshua Perdomo was given a bond to study a field that is desperately needed in Belize.  UDP has failed miserably to make the connection and instead have given tone deaf, win at all costs media interviews that reeks of arrogance. Maybe some re-reading of Animal Farm is needed.

Once again, a gaping hole is exposed, and one must seriously ask – What is the function of politicians in our governance? The IMF has issued a serious warning to Belize.  Belize, you are borrowing too much money, you are servicing debt at 100%.  Corruption is undermining your institutions and you need to be at 60% debt servicing.  It is a serious picture of things to come.  How can the government of Belize reduce its obligations by 40%?  If you are an employee or a taxpayer that is a very serious question you will be facing soon.

The PM engaged in an epic and philosophical battle with Lord Ashcroft,  lost the war  and in the end the taxpayers are  holding the multi-million dollar  bill.  During the war, a significant amount of money were paid for legal fees to private attorneys, even though the Government has an entire ministry of attorneys dedicated to government business and there is a judgment that looms …

Does the Government of Belize have a valuation department and a collection agency?  Who is tasked with ensuring that the people’s money and the people’s resources are protected from this abuse?   Who is the oversight committee that protects the resources of the people from malfeasance of the  public officer?

In the span of two weeks, Belizeans witnessed the selling off the people’s assets for pennies on the dollar.  Lots in Belmopan worth upwards of fifty thousand dollars sold off for a measly one thousand dollars and without the electorate’s knowledge or permission.

The City Council is also involved in the selloff of a Belmopan iconic spot. The secret sale happened while housing the Public Service Union. We have sunk so low that the politicians no longer fear who is arguably the most power union.  Adding to the sting was the secret sale was done  by  Belmopanese to a non- Belmopanese and a questionable Belizean.  The new owner through the services of a non-Belmopan attorney has issued a threat of eviction.  Belmopan people are territorial…. I am not even sure that UDP in group thinking mode phantoms the political capital at this Judas act.

The final nail in the machete’s coffin can be attributed to the Prime Minister’s response to the Joshua Perdomo write off.  There are many things wrong with his letter, but I will highlight two points.  The Prime minister said “having remained dumb” intended as a double entendre with  the intention to insult the leader of the Opposition is a highly offensive politically incorrect term  and especially since his wife is an advocate in the special needs space.   More importantly, the PM argues that the bond is noncollectable, and that Joshua Perdomo is beyond the reach of the law.  Joshua Perdomo has a co-signer who lives in Belize which makes the bond collectible and within the reach of the law.  Additionally, neither the PM, nor the AG, nor any member of the party have told the  Belizean people what methods were attempted to collect the bond.  Was he written letters?  Was a lawsuit filed?   After the long diatribe of deflecting responsibility and turning it finally to Joshua Perdomo’s conscience, he came off as tone deaf and angry.

I argue that Joshua Perdomo has more than a moral obligation; Joshua Perdomo has a legal obligation to pay the bond; but even more important, the Prime Minister and in his capacity as Minister of Finance,  has a legal, moral and fiduciary duty to attend to the affairs of the people’s money .  My measuring stick is simple –  Would you PM allow your personal businesses to be managed similarly as how  government’s money and resources are  being handled?

 

[i] Groupthink requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the “outgroup“). Furthermore, groupthink can produce dehumanizing actions against the “outgroup”) – Wikipedia

 

Hardcore Politics: The Dying Breed of Belizean Politicians by Debbie Curling 3/28/2019


debbie curling

Debbie Curling

As I watched the budget debate in the House this week, I was struck by the behavior of some of our mostly male-dominated, elected leaders, ironically being corralled by a lone female House Speaker trying to keep their behavior in check.  On the UDP side, some of these hardcore politicians appeared polished while others not so much, which made me wonder why a leader would choose to have some of the latter on his ticket as representatives of his government?

The less polished ones came across as thugs hurling abuse at the other side, went off topic and made no sense while acting as attack dogs for the party (I assume).  They ranted about corruption and continued their projections, ad infinitum, at the other side, while deflecting blame and defending themselves in a rather twisted manner.  Witnessing this spectacle playing out on television, I found myself vacillating between disbelief, anger, shame, concern, and incredulity.  To be fair, I have also seen similar behavior from some on the PUP side in the past so they are not off the hook in my criticism of politicians behaving badly; the behavior is all too familiar!

I listened as one politician castigated Kareem Musa for daring to think differently from his father.  Must we not as individuals evolve and change our opinions, our behavior and belief systems as we learn and grow?  Heaven forbid I should still hold the same views of my parent’s generation.  I would still have the mindset of a strict, austere Victorian era-mentality, living in a world that has left me so far behind in these our modern-day sensibilities; a society that has moved so far away from how our parents grew up, raised us, taught us, and guided us within the boundaries of their knowledge and society at the time.

This is not to say we must change our core principles and behavior, but one must adapt to changes in our society; one must evolve or get left behind.  I posit a few simple questions to prove my point: do you type on an old-fashioned typewriter like your parents did, or do you use a computer that is much more efficient?  Did our parents (or their parents) have any clue about climate change and its devastating effects on the environment?  How many people’s lives have changed due to scientific discoveries within the last 100 years?  Truthfully, I know that I eat healthier foods and exercise more than my parents ever did so to accuse Kareem of disloyalty to his father for daring to think differently is an absurdity mired in ignorance.  I remain impressed that Kareem sat there in quiet dignity waiting for his moment to do the people’s business, but that’s another topic for another time!

Old-guard politicians need to stop making fools of themselves in the public arena by sinking to this level of stupidity because this hardcore, hard-hitting mentality no longer resonates with this generation.  We are tired of it, but many politicians remain stuck in a generational mindset that is no longer effective, so drunk on their power monopoly that they underestimate the will of the people.  To paraphrase Michelle Obama, you don’t have to go low; you can go high!  And when you are in our House debating issues that affect our lives, go high and stick to the topic.  This is not your moment to unleash your rage, or score brownie points, or grandstand.  You are there to do OUR business, which brings me to the point of my writing.

If we are to move forward as a nation in a dynamic, global arena that is rapidly changing and evolving, we as a nation cannot remain stagnant, sitting in this cesspool of bad behavior by politicians in which paying for votes get you elected and make you feel emboldened.  Belizeans, your vote is your most precious right; it puts the power back into your hands; it gives you power over politicians who are, or might be, abusing you; the privilege is yours to put them in or take them out. On voting day, show up!  It is your opportunity to choose your elected officials and to keep them accountable not just for their behavior, but also their use of the public purse.

If you are lucky enough to live in a country where you have the right to vote, let your vote be counted.  This is not about rabid loyalty to party and individuals; this is about your country; it is about YOU and YOUR vote to effect change.  It’s about the lives of you and your children not just for one day, but for the future.  Use your vote purposefully; don’t sell it!  We as a people need to up our game by cultivating global leaders who can represent us at home and abroad, manage our interests and finances, and behave effectively and dignified anywhere in the world as soon as they step off the plane.

Belizeans, we need to get excited about a new generation of progressive, assertive thinkers entering the political leadership in Belize, and this MUST include the voices of women.  I am heartened to hear some, but we need more, inspiring women rallying to the cause of progressive agendas: gender equality and violence against women and more; there is so much more we need to do.  This week I read a post about a Mayan woman giving birth in the jungles of Punta Gorda, men carrying her in a make-shift hammock to get her to safety, simply because this and previous governments have neglected to give them a 5-mile road in and out of their remote village.  Yet we are spending millions on a referendum.

THIS should anger all of us and not just women!  It is shameful and heartbreaking, but only when women take control will things change for us.  How much does it really cost to send some dump trucks full of sand and gravel to give these people a road?  Men should not be making decisions (or not) that impact us; it is our responsibility to demand to be heard.  Do you notice in Belize how men behave at a party?  As soon as they arrive, they leave the women sitting in isolation and go huddle together at the bar, hanging out with their bros, talking man talk.  I hazard a guess they are not discussing how to solve the world’s problems.  But what does that tell us about our society?  To be clear, I’m not trying to disrupt their bromance, but my point is…women need to come together just like men, stop tearing each other down, and get to work TOGETHER.  Let us be the change we want to see and stop admiring these problems from afar.  A woman alone has power, but together we have impact; there is power in the pack!

This is a time of transition in Belize and change will only come about if all of us put aside party politics and stand up for what is right and what we truly believe in.    To the smart women who are competing for space in this male-dominated, hardcore political game, I say be assertive, stand your ground, demand a seat at the table.  If they don’t allow you a seat, create your own table!  Change might not happen overnight, but if we keep pounding away at it, eventually it will happen.  We should not be our parent’s generation blindly following along with party politics.  Our country’s future depends on all of us being free-thinking individuals armed with our right to vote.

A new generation of progressive thinkers will change Belize and it MUST also include the diaspora.  Despite what these hardcore politicians tell you, the diaspora is not the enemy or a threat as some would like you to believe.  The diaspora might not be physically there, politicians might make it difficult for us to come home to vote, but this current government has disenfranchised many of you at home from voting too so we feel your pain.  Nothing will stop us from fighting for our families, for Belize and for the future of our country.  NOTHING and NOONE! Some politicians might want to count us out and marginalize us, but we are not going anywhere.  Our voices will be heard.  It takes courage, commitment and the will of The People to effect change.  We are with you!

Let us move forward together, but first we must hit the reset button and vote NO to the ICJ on April 10th.

Dangers to ICJ by: Dr. Theodore Aranda


 

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

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.

 

What-Happens-if-Belize-Votes-680x365_c

 

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.

https://www.oas.org/sap/peacefund/documents/specialagreement.pdf

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!

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


IMG_1431

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

Disenfranchisement in Belize-Suppressed Right to Vote in a Duplicitous Democracy by: Jessica Habet


Jessica Habet

Jessica Habet

Canadians who lived abroad for more than five years were once unable to vote in federal elections. A recent Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) decision explained why the law disenfranchising these Canadians was unconstitutional. This post is to add to the discussion regarding Belizeans abroad and their ability to vote in the upcoming referendum on whether we should take the Belize-Guatemala dispute to the International Court of Justice (“ICJ referendum”).

Belizeans who would like to vote in the ICJ referendum must reside in Belize for at least two months. This residency requirement disqualifies many in the diaspora who would like to participate in the referendum.

The right to vote is a core and fundamental feature of any democracy. The right of citizens to take part in the government of their country is so important, it is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In deciding that the residency requirement was unconstitutional, Canada’s Chief Justice shared the story of Canada’s progressive enfranchisement. The right to vote was once restricted to property-owning men aged 21 or older. Women, racial minorities, individuals formerly described as having a “mental disease”, penitentiary inmates, Canadians abroad in service of Canada’s armed forces and public administration were all once excluded but now have the right to vote. Civic participation, he explained, is fundamentally important to the health of a free and democratic society.

“Residency” was the last restriction on the right to vote. The SCC analyzed the role of residence in Canada’s electoral system. The residency requirement emerged when citizens were generally unable to travel as easily and extensively as they do today and tended to spend their lives in one community. At that time, the right to vote was linked to the ownership of land, and only male property owners could vote. The requirement was designed, in part, to prevent “plural voting” where a person who owned property in several electoral divisions could cast a vote in each of them.

Cue globalization and feminism. Today, the right to vote is no longer limited to male property owners. And as the Chief Justice wrote, “…citizenship, not residency, defines our political community and underpins the right to vote.”

Historically, Belizeans who “go da farin” continue to support their families at home. They move for more economic opportunity and often contribute to the economy of Belize. This trend is not isolated to Belizeans. In fact, migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean sent records amount of money to their home countries in 2016, when remittance flows around the world decreased. The contribution of the Belizean diaspora to the Belizean economy is not to be dismissed.

The government via the Attorney General of Canada argued that it would be unfair to allow non-residents to vote – it would be unfair if those who are largely unaffected (non-residents) participated in decisions that would affect others (residents). But the SCC found that the evidence provided showed that such an impact would likely be negligible. When you seek to limit a fundamental human right, the basis for doing so must be reasonably justified, rational and no more than is necessary to accomplish the objective.

What evidence does the Government of Belize have before it to suggest that allowing the Belizean diaspora to vote would result in unfairness to resident voters in the upcoming referendum?

Civic participation is crucial to any democracy. GOB is asking its citizens to partake in direct democracy in the ICJ referendum while at the same time imposing arbitrary barriers upon its citizens living abroad. That is a duplicitous democracy.

Frank v Canada, 2019 SCC 1, available online at:  https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-
csc/en/item/17446/index.do 

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/23/migrants-from-latin-america-and-the-caribbean-sent-a-record-amount-of-money-to-their-home-countries-in-2016/

 

Editor’s Note : 

Voting from abroad is now possible for Diaspora communities from 115 home countries. Of these, 28 come from home countries in Africa; 16 in the Americas; 20 in Asia; 41 in Western, Central and Eastern Europe; and 10 in the Pacific. Provisions for voting by Diaspora communities have been adopted by five additional countries, but rules and voting methods have not yet been decided. 

Countries use five different methods of voting for their Diaspora members today.
Voting in Person: Diaspora members from 79 countries can vote in person.
Voting by Post: Diaspora members from 47 countries can vote by postal ballot.
Voting by Proxy: Diaspora members from 16 countries can vote by proxy.
Voting by Fax: Diaspora members from 2 countries (Australia and New Zealand) can vote by fax. Voting by the Internet: Diaspora members from 2 countries (Estonia and the Netherlands) have been able to vote by the Internet so far. (Note: American Diaspora members of Democrats Abroad were also able to vote in the 2008 overseas primary election by Internet and 48% of the total DA primary votes were cast this way).

https://www.overseasvotefoundation.org/files/The_History_and_Politics_of_Diaspora_Voting.pdf

 

Voting No to the ICJ is the right thing to do. Written by: Aria Lightfoot


Got ethics ?

As a born Belizean and unable to meet the two months residency requirements like many in the diaspora, I will not be able to register to vote in time for the ICJ Referendum. Additionally, no accommodations will be made for the diaspora to vote in the countries they reside.  The people who are able to vote are Belizeans living in Belize, the diaspora members who have decided to ignore the two month residency laws, Guatemalans and CARICOM citizens currently residing in Belize.

The ICJ Referendum is the most important vote in the history of any Belizean citizen and one should not ignore that the votes of tens of thousands of  Belizeans worldwide, many of  whom do not have any other citizenship,  are being suppressed. Voter suppression is a political strategy used to discourage or prevent a group from voting hoping to influence the outcome of elections.   It is offensive and a human rights violation and should offend the conscience of all Belizeans and I know some people are rolling their eyes and don’t care about the diaspora’s involvement,  but even if you want to argue away the rights of the diaspora Belizeans,  have Belizeans at home truly examined what a YES to the ICJ vote means?

There are many issues with this referendum.  From a moral standpoint the sovereignty inheritance title argument is a stamp of approval for colonialism, genocide and displacement of millions of indigenous and African people.  Two former colonized nations are arguing about the sovereignty of their colonial masters and willing to go before a European Court to justify the behaviors of  European criminal and human rights violations. If you are a Maya, who recently had the courts recognize indigenous rights, how can you vote YES to this colonial undertaking?  The Maya and other indigenous races were murdered in the millions, their homes destroyed and then Europe under the auspices of the Church simply took the land and claimed sovereignty over it.  Belize and Guatemala disagree who inherited that right. The people of African descent, were forcibly brought to work the lands;  were kidnapped, enslaved, endured harsh abusive conditions and many times murdered.  A yes vote endorses colonial and European criminality and right to sovereignty.

Belize and Guatemala agreement to take the ICJ route is a failure of both countries  to evolve from their colonial beginnings. I recently participated in a DNA test and I believe my DNA painted a picture of being a Belizean. My results revealed African, European, Indigenous, Asian, Spanish, Arabian and Indonesian heritage.  My DNA results suggest migrating groups in the region, many came over as enslaved, displaced or invading groups.  Belize has not examined our history or charted a path to undo the oppressive and debilitating effects of colonialism which is still evident today.   Currently 14 Caribbean countries including Belize are suing the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and nine other European countries for repatriations due to the Atlantic Slave Trade. How does Belize justify going to the ICJ and argue title based on colonial sovereignty and then sue the colonial nations for displacement and colonialism?  There is no moral alignment in arguing title based on sovereignty and then suing Europe for their criminal acts of asserting sovereignty in the region.

For the people who are willing to dismiss the moral duplicity of Belize’s position and prefer to argue legality based on modern law then there are issues with the legality of this process.  Belize is a small nation and against all odds and with help of our colonial bully master, we were able to carve out a nation of Belize with agreed borders with Mexico and Guatemala. The borders were further enshrined in the Belize Constitution which defines Belize’s borders, defines who is a  citizen; defines fundamental rights and the Constitution IS the Supreme Law of Belize.  However with the swipe of the pen of one man, the borders of Belize and sovereignty  are being put up for question without the pre-approval of the people or the people’s representatives.  The Foreign Minister felt no obligation to take the matter beyond cabinet and cabinet saw no obligation to present the proposal to the House of Representatives for scrutiny.  They instead sent it to a then cabinet majority appointed  Senate for ratification.  Today we are being asked to  vote yes to a referendum that would empower a foreign court to amend our borders already enshrined in the Constitution ignoring the Constitution’s  formal procedures to amend.

According to the Belize Constitution the government needs ¾ majority of the House of Representatives to amend  These safeguards are put in place so that important and fundamental rights are not weakened by ambitious men with unchecked power.  These roadblocks are there so that elected officials who are answerable to the voting population must consider their actions before they trample on the rights of Belizeans.

Furthermore, a senate inquiry in 2017 into the Belize Immigration scandal revealed that Guatemalans could not renounce their citizenship and Belize could not grant citizenship without a formal renunciation. The Prime Minister of Belize in 2018 acknowledged that this presented a “catch 22” as many Guatemalans (approximately 30 thousand) were given citizenship paperwork without constitutional authority.  Belize Citizens Abroad sought out legal help, raised the issue with the Department of Immigration, Elections and Boundaries and the Office of the Prime Minister and was afforded a meeting with the Prime Minister.  The efforts did not stop the registering of Guatemalans to vote nor did it  stop the United Democratic Party from endorsing a born Guatemalan to run on their general election ticket.  The government of Belize has shamelessly and with extreme shortsightedness turned a blind eye to the Constitution of Belize and rule of law.  The very document that defines our identity as Belizeans.

So I present the following questions to my Belizean readers – How can you morally and with a conscience for right and wrong support this ICJ yes push?  How can you support it from a procedural and legal standpoint?

 

I remain NO until Belize gets it right!

 

 

The Prodigal Children of Belizean Soil by: Aria Lightfoot


prodigal son

The Parable of the Prodigal son in the Bible describes a father with two sons, one stays at home and takes care of his father while the younger son leaves home, squanders his fortunes and returns home destitute.  The older son wants the father to scorn him and accept him back ONLY as a servant but the father in his wisdom welcomes him back with celebration and feasting.  The father stated “but it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”

The parable is a powerful short story highlighting the dynamics of human relationships and emotions that accompany separation, abandonment, forgiveness and reunification.  Lately I have been examining what is it about the diaspora that negatively strikes at the emotions of Belizeans at home.   The diaspora is fighting for the rights of inclusion and full recognition of citizenship at the reluctance of the leadership in Belize and many Belizeans at home; even though Belize faces a existential threat from Guatemala;  even though born Guatemalans have been nationalized without consent of the Belizean people or constitutional authority;  and even though Belize faces one of the most important votes in the history of Belize where born Guatemalans will get a say and born Belizeans will not.   What would subject Belizeans to such self destructive animosity against their own?

I look internally at my own experiences for answers. I moved to the United States at the age of 27 and on my own accord.  I left to pursue an education without scholarship or invite from family. When I left Belize, my son was six years old and I left him for two and half years in Belize as I pursued my education.  When I talk to my adult son today, he shares that he felt deserted even though I called him every week and visited home or he visited every vacation and even after we were reunited, he still feels that he was separated from seeing his father regularly because of living in the United States.

Talking to my son brought me to a deeper understanding of this animosity towards the prodigal children of Belize by Belizeans at home. As a people we don’t examine our deep feelings of hurt and abandonment, we instead lash out in anger and resentment like the older son’s reaction in the parable of the prodigal son.  Strong emotions of love and fulfillment can be uplifting, but emotions of pain and resentment can be debilitating and self-destructive.  The father in the story knew the younger son learned his lesson and understood that reunification would be the start of something new and positive and he understood the pain of the older son, but he also knew that you cannot heal when you hold on to resentment.

My mother was the only one of six  children that never moved out of Belize or married a non- Belizean.  She did consider moving but changed her mind and said that she did not want to raise her children in the United States. My grandparents, my mom’s parents, also moved to Canada as they grew older and I think that even though we kept close to my family in the era before social media when communications were letter writing and special occasion phone calls, we only knew tidbits of each other and when my mother died, the relationships were constrained.

If we dig deeper, we may uncover feelings of abandonment when families leave. If your parents left you behind, like an orphan,  you navigate without a compass to find an identity with no parent to help you develop or direct your path.  When all my mom’s family were living in the diaspora, there were no cousins to interact with daily;  there were no aunts to visit or interact with thru regular visits; communications were formal and infrequent and there were no deep relationship building.   Once my grandparents left there were no more generational stories; no more homemade recipes and cooking; and no more holiday gatherings for all family members. A loss is created for the families left behind, even if we do not consciously acknowledge it, there is a void that is created.

Families left behind get to know their families via pictures, gifts sent home, anecdotal stories,  and occasional visits. Many times, the families abroad treat their families at home as charity cases rather than deep bonded families.   Families abroad are seen enjoying the spoils of a more developed and progressive environment, TV quality Christmases and living conditions, access to school and medical care not afforded to families left behind and through no conscious undertaking, animosity and jealousies develop and these feelings manifest itself as resentment.

The Leader of the Opposition described the diaspora as “people who drive in nice a/c  cars and on good roads” further proof that the perception of Belizeans enjoying life while families are back home suffering or struggling to overcome.  What I imagine adds insult is when some Belizeans return home retired, after living a life in the lap of luxury, owning  assets they were able to attain with foreign income.  Many Belizeans at home face daily economic struggle and many are unable obtain savings, assets and wealth after living in Belize and enduring the struggles in their everyday lives.   One young lady lashed out on Facebook saying “unu nuh deh ya di tek lick”.

Some of these feeling may be legitimate, but I suspect most of these feelings may be misplaced and deeply embedded in perception rather than reality.  Many people in diaspora left Belize because upward mobility was not a reality; many remember a colonial Belize where they were excluded from tertiary level education or access without the right blood lines or connections. Many in the diaspora are not “living the dream” but are working several jobs to make ends meet and struggling for a place that is not receptive to foreign cultures. Some have no legal status and have no ability to return home without losing their investments. Some are escaping a life of poverty and pain,  Some are working hard hoping to create a better situation for their families at home; many are subjected to racism and exclusion; many long to return home but see no opportunities to return home.  Some are forced home thru deportations or extreme poverty.

It is not coincidental that Belizeans in the diaspora fiercely hold on to their Belizean heritage; many Belizeans in the diaspora long to live in Belize and long to become a contributing force, diaspora  Belizeans see  home based Belizeans as blessed and fortunate; Belizeans at home see the diaspora as fortunate and privileged and disconnected from the realities of Belize.

Obviously there are many existing emotions that need further examination,  but I must say that it is refreshing and reassuring to see a young Belizean politician, Hon. Kareem Musa elevate the dialogue by stating publicly on national TV –  “ I want all Belizeans to come home” .  Musa is currently lobbying the House of Representatives via a private bill to include the diaspora in the ICJ vote. Kareem received an unlikely endorsement from Shyne Barrow, another young politician,  who is standard bearer for the opposing party and the son of the current Prime Minister.  The young Barrow went a step further and stated that the diaspora should be fully included in all elections in Belize. Both young men are children of leaders and both have differentiated their approach from the status quo;  both seem to grasp the idea of inclusion, taking the pathway of the father in the prodigal son parable.

kareem musaShyne-Barrow00031

The United States allows their diaspora to vote; Ireland recently held a referendum vote where hundreds of their diaspora returned home to vote. Some African leaders are calling for their enslaved diaspora to visit Africa  and we are seeing transformational leaders call home their diaspora. Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Motley, recently called on their diaspora to come home and contribute;  Mexico is benefiting from their diaspora as mass  exodus of Mexicans return home with construction and specialized skills gained in the first world.  Mexico is going a step further and setting up special programs for their deportees to hone their skills so it can be used to  enhance the development of their nation.

Since the mass exodus of Belizeans the world has changed dramatically, communication is easier and immediate, flights to Belize are affordable and frequent, the bridge has been built, and the gap is closing  and families are reuniting, .  The politicians who want to be future leaders of Belize ought be able to recognize the world is evolving  at lightning speed; if leaders are smart and strategic, they will see allies in the diaspora in a globalized environment where the diaspora can be a rich source of expertise, funding and manpower and especially with Belize’s sovereignty at risk.

The alternative is to be stuck in old colonial politics of exclusion, divide and conquer.  Kareem is a breath of fresh air because he is aligned to a new generation of politics.  I suspect the younger generation of Belizeans will have none of their parents’ politics.  The young Belizeans are far more adept to globalization and very connected; they have access to information unlike any other time in our history and I suspect that both Kareem and Shyne are thinking progressively and strategizing for a future Belize leadership challenge and I would endorse both!

unite-or-die.jpg