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October 6, 2021

THE KILLING FIELDS – “Poverty is the worse form of violence” (Mahatma Gandhi)

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Posted: Wednesday, October 6, 2021. 4:24 pm CST.

Тhе vіеwѕ ехрrеѕѕеd іn this аrtісlе аrе those оf the writer аnd nоt nесеѕѕаrіlу those оf Вrеаkіng Веlіzе Nеwѕ.

By Norris Hall: There is a simmering negative feeling that is likely to become suddenly more intense. The people of this country are beginning to feel the quiver of tensions that could explode into violence – much more violence. Even, perhaps into an uprising borne out of frustration with our politicians. It is assumed that the docility of our culture will not change. But the persistent pain of rising crime and poverty will force that change.

Tek warning!!

Our politicians continue to assume that the shit doled out to the now more than sixty percent of our people living in poor and disadvantaged conditions will continue like the “same old, same old”. It will not. The persistent seeming indifference to the “underclass” is changing. It could and probably will cause a destabilization in this “peaceful haven of democracy”.

There is a growing resentment among the increasing poor and dispossessed because of the inaction of successive governments that continue to give lip service to the ever increasing poor all over this country. This is beginning to rumble in what is considered the underbelly of our society. This pain and wrath is exploding in the old poverty-riddled colonial capital of Belize City. This is where the blood of young men continues to spill almost daily on its streets. But these bubbling signs of discontent are also permeating other parts of the country.

It is now a cancer that our politicians have fed and now believe that they can fix with a few aspirins, while it keeps eating at our souls. It has metastasized – which, in medical terms would signify that it is all over.

In his National Day address, the Prime Minister attempted to offer a placebo to the masses, especially in Belize City with the sound of sweet nothings. He may have underestimated the depth and seriousness of this urgent national issue when he said: “While Belizeans are resilient, we were not put on this earth merely to suffer, struggle and survive”.

Period! End of sentence. No further thought.

Duh! So what else is new in the “hoods”?

“Gang leaders”, or vilified young men who have been secluded on the edge of our society, out of desperation to survive, are beginning to speak out.

At an unprecedented press conference that two gang members dared to call (as they are ALL considered as outlaws), they spoke out and condemned the recent spike of violence and the killings of innocent teen-age boys and productive students.

Certainly these murders in what is now the “killings fields” of the old city are the products of turf wars, but are these turf wars the product of our society and some of our politicians who have manipulated them? They know how much they have been jilted with promises of better and with rising expectations.

They spoke at their press conference about a feeling of despair and of their personal efforts to help the more desperate in their ‘‘hoods” through membership in their “gangs”.

They also know of the $millions from an Arab Fund for “poverty alleviation” that were siphoned off by politicians but that was intended to help them. They have become cynical of the political leadership that made promises to work to improve their lives.

Community leaders must be the voice for those living in the hood. They cannot be excluded from the national discourse on crime and poverty.

The urgent national social and security concerns are that crime is up! And so are poverty and the accompanying poor living conditions.

Poverty and other socio/economic indicators now tell us that more than six in ten Belizeans are poor, perhaps, even desperately poor. There are also other indicators that suggest an alarming rise in poverty, both in rural and urban communities. One that stands out, especially in some villages, is that households are turning to wood fire for cooking (like in Haiti) because of the rising cost of cooking gas. But these are merely superficial but revealing data and observations.

Recently, yet another child murder took place in Belize City where death stalks our young citizens.

The fact that gangs were outlawed some years ago was a telling symptom that the society was beginning to take a slippery slope downwards. Today, according to Police sources, there are now more than sixteen “gangs” that have sliced the old city into turfs and war zones.

One of the most recent alleged acts of gang violence in Belize City was when a young student of St. John’s College had his life snuffed out by bullets. It was another death of the innocent. The allegations are that it was either a case of mistaken identity or that the victim was wearing a red shirt in a gang’s blue turf zone. His murder being one of several such murders in a matter of days.

Are we as a society, especially our elected leaders, culpable for the deplorable state of affairs in our country that appears to be going to hell in a handbasket?

My wife was totally devastated by the persistent violent deaths of our young people, whose bodies continue to be fed to our swampy cemeteries serving as depositories for the skulls and bones of the victims of lawlessness. Their tombstone telling the stories in numbers, of short-lived lives – Born 2005 – Died 2021, or a variation of that.

This is what my wife wrote on Facebook: “My tears flowed for this child, for his mother, for his father. I am a mother of two sons. It is not ever expected that a parent will bury a child……my heart breaks for the deep pain that this mother must be feeling and the pain of other mothers who have lost their children to the hatred, the anger, the lack of humanity, the desperation that have overtaken our people. Until we address the extremely high level of poverty that our people are grappling with, nothing will change. Our poor feel helpless and hopeless. Let’s stop the rhetoric and show our neglected, marginalized people just how much they matter to us, just how important they are to us by getting down to doing the work that they expect from those in decision making positions. Poverty inevitably feeds crime. That’s our reality! Do something to give dignity and self-worth to all our people! Not just for a chosen few.”

Also commenting in a broadcast on television and radio, on these tragic deaths was the Special Envoy for Families and Children and the wife of the Prime Minister, Mrs. Rossana Briceno. She said that she is “Angry at the hate we have built in this nation and for the suffering that our children face. Our young men should not be living in a society of fear”.

“This has to stop. This violence we see has no overnight fix, no pretty band aid to cover up the gross injuries our country faces.”

She added “We need to work together as a community to see the flaws in our system. It is only through collaboration and inclusivity from all – private sector, public sector, religious sector and social partners that we can make changes. We must all take responsibility for what is happening in our country and face the problem together regardless of social, financial or political status”.

Her statement was a call to action.

Shortly after the last teen-age murder, the Commissioner of Police called a Press Conference where he displayed his frustration. Rightly so! Before he took command of the police, he had worked diligently as an interventionist to simmer down the gang feuds.

Unfortunately he subsequently made a statement to the media that was not sensitive to the concerns of the residents in poor neighborhoods. The strongman approach, the force of the law does not offer a fix.

This is not solely about Law and Order anymore. It is deeper and more complex socio/economic national issues not delegated to any particular Ministry or organization. This requires all hands on deck, INCLUDING the Prime Minister.

The two “gang leaders” were seen as being audacious when they called their own presser to hammer politicians about their meaningless rhetoric while children are starving and every day is a new day of hopelessness AND a struggle for survival on the fringe of society.

Their moves caused much trepidation and anxiety. They denied any involvement in the recent spate of murders and called out the government for neglecting the plight of the poor.

A study commissioned by the government more than a decade ago on crime and poverty in Belize, painted a dismal picture of Belize in a “state of social decay”. Dr. Herbert Gayle, a Jamaican anthropologist, who prepared the report, also made strong recommendations to the government for the implementation of social reforms with a multi-sectorial approach. But the report was so real and so disparaging, that the previous government, rather than grapple with the problems, swept them under the rug.

That only helped to exacerbate the deteriorating social and economic conditions leading to an explosion of the gang culture that has made Belize City in particular, a killing field.

The report said that at the time, Belize City was the most deadly capital in the region. Ten years later it has gotten worse. This is now a major internal security threat that our government, either does not seem to grasp, or is in denial.

To take a hint from the Special Envoy for Women and Children, the Prime Minister needs to call an urgent meeting of his National Security Council, as a first step to a National Summit that must include ALL the players in the government, the private sector, religious and cultural organizations, Non-government Organizations and representatives from poor neighborhoods, to address the deadly state of poverty and the increasing accompanying social disorder.

The present paradigm is not working.

This Summit must take precedence over any other Summit, and should be planned to take place even before the planned Economic and Investment Summit slated for early next year.

With the current rapidly deteriorating state of affairs, attracting investors now would be futile and would also signify a gross display of political indifference. Our people demands action from our leadership now!

The first responsibility of the State i9s to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its citizens. Without that nothing else matters. (Ends).

N.B. *The Title for this article is taken from the title of a book and documentary on the atrocities in Cambodia during that country’s Civil war in 1984.

 

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