Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2023. 10:42 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow last week declared a “victory for freedom of speech” after a defamation suit brought by Prime Minister John Briceño was dismissed in the Supreme Court on January 4.
As Barrow explained, the claim arose from a social media statement he made in rebuttal of the-then Leader of the Opposition’s New Year’s Address, in which he suggested that he had “credible evidence” that “the highest level of the UDP was involved in landing drug planes.”
Barrow responded with words to the effect of, “If anyone is landing drug planes it’s you,” making reference to what he termed the “patriarchal association” between the Prime Minister and his late father, Elijio “Joe” Briceño. The elder Briceño was convicted in a U.S. court in relation to drug trafficking in the 1980s, the only parliamentarian in Belizean history so convicted, and the charge has surfaced repeatedly over the years as a stick over the back of the Prime Minister and his family.
Barrow explained, “I had gone to the attorney general at the time, Honorable [Michael] Peyrefitte so that we could sue him. Peyrefitte had given an ultimatum to provide [the] credible information that he [said he] had. He never did it and I responded. The learned Justice [Sonya] Young agreed that I had the right, according to case law, to respond to his slander, to his defamation, to his baseless accusation about the UDP government [of which] Prime Minister [Dean] Barrow happened to be the prime minister at the time. She agreed that I had proportionately responded to his accusation and that it was not defamation.”
The case is subject to appeal, but Barrow dismissed suggestions that he should be more careful with his language on the matter. His subsequent appearance on Jules Vasquez’s show “Uncut” on Channel 7 where similar charges were repeated prompted, he said, an exchange of “lawyer letters” demanding apologies and removal of the offending material, but has proceeded no further.
“You could [see] that the Prime Minister needs to be more careful in those utterances, that the highest officials in the UDP were landing planes. To me this is reflective of that – if he had not said that, I would be liable if I just came out and started attacking him,” Barrow said, adding that it was not unreasonable that the character and affiliations of public officials should be scrutinized, citing the extradition of the former president of Honduras on drug trafficking allegations after his brother was convicted. In this case, he said, neither side admittedly had any evidence of anyone landing drug planes, which has slowed down for the last few months.
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