The Student Political Imperative

Delivered on the occasion of the 3rd Anniversary of the National Students’ Union of Belize.

Good evening!

It is indeed my absolute pleasure to be able to address you on this our 3rd anniversary! We are a toddler in the grand scheme of student movements but have worked and made big steps toward this collective movement.In our Belizean context, organizing alone and remaining resolute in the purpose of that organization is a feat, a success we must take ownership and be proud of. So in the same breath I say congratulations and thank you!

There are less than 15 tertiary level institutions across the Belizean landscape all with varying needs, varying accomplishments. They cater to students from all walks of life, of those who call Belize home, of those who have made Belize home. In 2016, The statistical institute of Belize reported that the secondary school age population of the nation stood at 34,393 with actual enrolment at 22,036 students.There was no data on tertiary level education but what I can tell you confidently and at the same time with an air of caution is that all those students should have made it through highschool and at this moment are now under the stewardship of our young,tenacious union be they members or not. Quite often we as a Belizean society shrug on tertiary level education as a privilege,one that only few are deemed worthy of acquiring. This is because of varying reasons all pointing to ease of accessibility to education. I can point to several culprits: be it unequal distribution of scholarships,be it the myriad of social issues that bar young people from accessing education, be it the question that we all have asked and I think will ask in our context: what’s the point?

I think the solution lies in finding out what our political imperatives are during the time of a pandemic that has shattered the way that we live our lives and lead ourselves. It lies in viewing this time as one of opportunity to reform the ways in which we want to be governed. It has given us copious amounts of time to contemplate the level of participation we have had in our own development. 

You see students, in a time that we have been forced to move online in our Zoom universities we must ask ourselves,how long have we been on a thin line? A crash course waiting for the right catalyst to tell us that its time to reevaluate our experiments with education. We have had many challenges with our transition, from pedagogy to practice, from policy to pocket money. In between those times when we must hurriedly submit assignments on Moodle, Black board collaborate and Google classroom discussion boards,  we cannot forget those who have no computers and internet connection in their homes, those who only have internet on their phones and those who have internet but only have access to one computer in their homes. Yet still, we must remember those who depended on a friend at school for the day’s meal, those who lost income and now have to make the decision to survive now and leave an education for later. What a privilege it is to be educated from home,to work from home.

These are our political imperatives.

I want to reiterate  my words to my fellow students that I shared on international student day on November 17th 2020. It goes,“At home, we’ve seen students lead the course changing demonstrations in April 2005, more recently we watched student of the University of Belize lead a walkout to attend the national demonstrations by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, we watched the National Student Union of Belize lobby to become an affiliate honorary member of the NTUCB, we watched as students stood in solidarity with the University of Belize Faculty and Staff Union as the looking glass of the COVID 19 revealed the lack of adequate investment into our national university. With all these actions, Belizean students still face challenges relating to affordability of tertiary education, equitable distribution of national scholarships, the accreditation of our national university and inclusion of Belizean students abroad such as those in Cuba who had to advocate for the facilitation of support from our home country or of students who could not receive support to get to the security of home during the first climax of the global pandemic.

The call today is for education stakeholders to include and invest in an education that is the breeding ground for radical, creative, decolonizing ideas and what Paulo Friere calls “critical consciousness”, a recommitment to the acknowledgement and understanding of social, political, and economic contradictions, and taking action against the oppressive elements of that reality.”

Dominique noralez, November 17 2020

There is work to be done.

Students are builders. Students are teachers. Students are investments. Students are untapped vessels of unbounded potential. We are the conduit through which progressive national development shall come. 

The call today is for students to embody that consciousness of our collective dynamism. The call today is for education stakeholders to include and invest in an education that is the breeding ground for radical, creative, decolonizing ideas and what Paulo Friere calls “critical consciousness”, a recommitment to the acknowledgement and understanding of social, political, and economic contradictions, and taking action against the oppressive elements of that reality.”

I end with the words of Trinbagonian Poet and friend , Amilar Sanatan, “Solidarity is our survival”. 

This must be the student political imperative.

9:57am The Little Rock

Sundays are still the same, the breeze still cool, the tea still warm.

Radiance’s Songs, Sunday’s songs are still playing, dancing in the breeze with the backdrop of the parrots chatter.

Hank Locklin’s, “please help me, I’m falling…” reminding me of the men I’ve loved. The man I love that lives in the land of my birth across the wide expanse of water once assaulted by men from across the watery grave of the Atlantic,unwanted guests. The  place where the next man I love now lives, a foreigner.

The song changes, “nobody answers when I call your name.”

“What you cooking today?” in a singer’s voice, the accent of the twin island. Sunday dinna is a little less complete today.

Still the neighbor’s washing happens on the Sabbath, I think that God wants us to be as close to cleanliness as possible. Closer to Godliness. 

“look at us, after all these years together.”

Look at us, lovers…lovers of life, love, words, laughter. Lovers of things gone by and of things to come. Of those we’ve always known, of the unknown. Of questions unasked and those without answers. Of things shrouded by darkness, of things dawned by light.

The neighbor from a land not far, a foreigner but not a stranger to my lived experience in this space.  Her brother, yet another, was killed some weeks ago. She brings across some extra produce that she had gotten from a man of this land. It’s this love, this spirit of community that has kept us for so long, alive,  breathing, loving, caring. Sunday’s pot is more complete than it was when the first song played, more complete as “I’ve been trying to get over you” travels through the breeze and across to my own home.

The tea is now cool, less than its former self. Hot and steaming with essence of  honey and lime. Remedies that have passed down, medicinal lineage that we will never let go even as the world now struggles to breathe. Remedies that remind us of power in solidarity, no matter the differences. Sweet and Sour, this is the essence of our character; it has been what has kept us.

Sunday’s are still the same but I do miss the Belizean Breeze, my neighbor’s kuknat crus’, my mother’s hug and my grandmother’s laugh.

“Baby you don’t know what it’s like to love somebody the way I love you.”

“You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille”

“You gotta know when to hold ‘em”

“Promise me son not to do the things I’ve done”

Breaking Bad: Belize Prison Break 2020

It’s been a rough forty-eight hours, a woman Marisela Gonzalez was found badly beaten and shot to the head, left dead in a bushy area of San Pedro Town. A young man, Shakeem Dennison was shot and killed in Belize City in the Yarborough area and died sometime later. Those two stories were buried by the uprisings at the Kolbe Prison system where 28 prisoners escaped from the Administration Segregation building, the largest escape recorded in the prison’s 18-year history. Today, October 13th 2020, one of the escapees were killed while being pursued by authorities and another prisoner was killed at the prison during a day of uprisings on prison grounds. Police and prison officers were also injured during the perceived chaos within Belize’s correctional facility. These situations, all three, have me contemplating much about the construct of justice, the delivery of justice within the Belize and law enforcement. The latter of which I’ve written about before. Curiosity has me thinking: How did we get here? How we can use this boiling point as an opportunity to redefine what justice means to us?

To answer the first question, I go back to the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) conference held under the theme, ‘COVID 19: Securing Our Caribbean Community Within The Era Of Covid-19 and Beyond.’ On July 31st 2020, Executive Director of the Kolbe Foundation Belize Central Prison, Virgilio Murillo, gave a presentation highlighting the challenges the prison was facing during the pandemic. He shared some statistics stating that the concurrent SOEs from the COVID 19 pandemic and the gang SOEs increased the prison population by 362 with 55% of that number attributed to the trawling of suspected gang affiliates from the streets of Belize City. He also shared that at the time of his presentation the prison had a total population of 1272 inmates with 36% on remand and the remaining 64% being convicted. The challenges that were direct to the pandemic included increased psychological pressures on the inmates because of the uncertainty brought about by the disease, discrimination against any new admissions in the prison for fear that they may be infected, and decreased recreational time including the ceasing of visitation and sporting activities. He noted that for the prison itself, the mandatory isolation limited the ability to properly classify inmates and required more cell blocks. He also noted not having enough PPEs and staff to care for and supervise isolated inmates, and a huge drop in sales from the industrial and commissary zones of the prison. The most interesting revelation coming from that presentation was that the prison received no donation of Personal Protective Equipment from the domestic public and private sector until the CARICOM IMPACS made a donation. Even more jarring was that the staff members of the prison were experiencing burn out because of the increase in health security requirements and finally, that there was a clear imbalance in the inmate and prison officer ration at the facility. (CARICOM IMPACS, 2020) Could all these sweltering pressures have contributed to the “weak fence” which saw almost 30 abscond from Kolbe with a high powered weapon and ammo to match? Are we seeing the classic unveiling of the rotting social institutions that crisis bares naked for us to see? This is an institution that in the 2017/2018 fiscal budget got $6,979,048BZD to “to protect society by ensuring the safe custody and supporting the rehabilitation of prisoners.” (Government of Belize, 2019)

Source: American Friends Source Committee

“You feel me! Yeh! Cheer up man, you look sad more than me. Never worry too much for me, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel-either it is sunlight that marks the end of your suffering, or the last light you see on this earth, and that too marks the end of your suffering.”

(Gayle,2016)

I want us to go back to those primary questions about justice and if that is a bit too abstract, think about the lyrics of Lucky Dube’s timeless track Prisoner in which he proclaims, “they won’t build no schools anymore, all they built were the prison, prison.” For our sake, think beyond physical buildings. I think about the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which are 122 comprehensive rules that guides us on how prisoner-both pre-trial and convicted- are to be treated. First adopted in 1957 and revised in 2015 to be called the Nelson Mandela Rules, I reflect on rule 43 part 1 that states, “In no circumstances may restrictions or disciplinary sanctions amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The following practices, in particular, shall be prohibited: (a) Indefinite solitary confinement; (b) Prolonged solitary confinement; (c) Placement of a prisoner in a dark or constantly lit cell; (d) Corporal punishment or the reduction of a prisoner’s diet or drinking water; (e) Collective punishment.” (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2015) I also think about the Global Prison Trends 2020 report which points to options to put an ease on the prison system by avoiding pre-trial detentions using bail (cash bail or bail guarantor), travel bans (including seizure of documents) and other geographic and residence limitations (including house arrest), judicial or police supervision, restrictions on communication with specific persons, or a ban on specific activities such as driving or carrying alcoholic beverages. The report highlights that alternatives to prison sentences can also be employed such as supervision by a probation officer, electronic monitoring, house arrest, verbal sanctions, participation in rehabilitation programmes and community service orders even reaching into restorative justice and victim-offender mediation programmes. (Penal Reform International, 2020) All these along with an entire refocusing and recalibrating of how we view our collective “do the crime, do the time” narrative and an unmasking of the biases that cover the eyes of Lady Liberty should help us veer away from another incident such as today.

Of course, this is not exhaustive and there is always much to ponder and unpack after history has been made, good or bad. I believe that this one is worth much pondering so we in Belize don’t continue to lose lives and misallocate investments without the return of a safe and just Belizean society. I don’t know that we are ready to have a conversation about abolishing prisons just yet. Stay Curious.

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” –Ruth Bader Ginsberg, The Notorious RBG.

References

CARICOM IMPACS. (2020, July 31). CARICOM IMPACS STREAM. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWxZd_cP4bI&t=7360s

Gayle, H. M. (2016). Like Bush Fire: A study on Male Participation and Violence in Urban Belize. Benque Viejo Del Carmen, Cayo, Belize: Cubola Productions.

Government of Belize. (2019, April 2). Approved Estmates of Revenue and Expenditure for Fiscal Year 2019/2020. Retrieved from https://www.mof.gov.bz: https://www.mof.gov.bz/uploads/files/j54t1vst.pdf

Penal Reform International. (2020). Executive Summary Global Prison Trends 2020. Retrieved from https://cdn.penalreform.org/: https://cdn.penalreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Global-Prison-Trends-2020-Executive-Summary-in-English-.pdf

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2015). The United Nations. Retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/: https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf

The National Perspective

My beloved Belize is set to become 39 years old tomorrow, of which two decades and a trinity I have been alive for. I have gotten the distinction of never being a British subject, my mother and her mother cannot claim the same. As I sit in a room with my Garinagu brother Wasani as we travel to study at the University, I am three years his senior, I am thinking as I am every year about how far we have come as a politically independent state. Where has the time gone, what is the National Perspective and the lens through which we will be required to look beyond the Horizon of a pandemic that has made practical the Shock Doctrine? Rt. Hon. Said Musa is on my mind tonight, a man that has given Belize 46 years of his life in public life. A man whose son sits in parliament with him, a man who is the father of one of Belize’s greatest creative minds. Mr. Musa is a man who has no doubt met with triumph and disaster in his time as leader of this nation. I’ve never had a conversation with him and only listened to him speak once outside the house while I was attending Saint John’s College Junior College with his signature silver hair speaking to us in his signature tone and reminding us of the importance of service. My most dominant memory of him is from a sitting of the lower house, I believe it was the same day he abstained from voting on the referendum bill. I sat in the gallery behind the opposition for a bit on that day, watching as he flipped through the pages of his notes. I was impressed by his penmanship, impressed that he still wrote out all his notes with pen ink and then impressed by his diplomatic prowess when he finally stood up to make his contributions whether I agreed with them or not. Forty-six years is two lifetimes for me and despite orbiting the dialectic nature of Belizean politics there is something to say thanks for. As I endearingly wrote Evan X Hyde on the half-century anniversary of his and Ismail Shabazz’s sedition trial this year, the dues have been paid and I do hope he takes time to smell the roses. I do hope he writes a biography, his legacy is important patchwork in Belize’s identity.

I am thinking of the frequency modulation of 2000 plus 20 Belize. Have we successfully impressed the wave of liberation into the minds and hearts of born Belizeans and those who have transitioned into Belizean identity? What is the Belizean identity? What were the hopes and dreams of the 1981 21-year-old? I listened to the Bocas Lit Fest earlier in the day and was wildly impressed by presentation ‘A Question of Leadership’ on the backdrop of literary works by panellists former Prime Minister of Jamaica- PJ Patterson, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belize- Godfrey Smith and Professor at University of Toronto Alissa Trotz. The three delved into the topic of contemporary Caribbean leadership with ease and visceral nature that I have never experienced, dissecting and consolidating history and history in the making of the Global South Caribbean. Our history interrupted and stunted by that of genocide-fueled colonialist leaving behind the residuals of neocolonialism that we are still struggling with navigating today. You see, our Independence is often romanticized and encapsulated, somewhat incomplete as if that was the only thing happening in 1981. Our Independence came at the height of the Grenadian revolution, two years later Maurice Bishop was killed. Ronald Reagan was president of the United States and that same year someone tried to assassinate him. Margaret Thatcher became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979, Europe’s first female prime minister. Jamaica had just had a spate of violent elections. Walter Rodney was killed in 1980 in Georgetown, Guyana. I can go on and on with this and here is little Belize thinking or at least promoting a thwarted reality that we are so blessed to be mother natures best-kept secret. “Coincidence? The universe is rarely ever that lazy.” We often tout our badge of honour of having a peaceful and constructive revolution that lead to our independence but I don’t think we can claim a non-violent history. The fairy tale story of Belize’s becoming has to be deromanticized for us to achieve true consciousness-raising. I believe a famous writer calls it a decolonializing of thought.  The debt we have had to pay because of this colonial narrative had been exponential and moving it our 40th year of Independence in 2021, it is the only bill that must be killed.

Independence Day Decor at Pandy’s Barber Shop in Belize City

Belize is much to unpack on the eve of our Independence and so I consoled myself by watching episodes of the United Kingdom’s ‘Yes, Prime Minister.’ Happy Independence Day to my home, my heart, Belize!

We can’t be content to carry on the business in our countries based on relationships which were determined in the past in which we had no involvement in which we could not participate.

PJ Patterson, Bocas Lit Fest 2020
Written on Independence Day Eve, September 20 2020.

Criminalising Poverty: The High Cost of Security

By Greg Nunez and Bryton Codd

Before we get into reading what these stellar young Black men have written about the cocktail of oppression by the system and condemnation by the society of those most vulnerable I have to say, thanks to them! For putting their minds and expertise together on a phenomenon that has often gone noticed but untouched by our Belizean headlines. That is the plight of those left on the margins and branded time and time again as “monsters” that must learn to live among us as if they are not of us. It is a call for a State of Emergency against poverty and the halting of perpetuating violence against those the system has forgotten. I present to you the thoughts, convictions and solutions according to Codd and Nunez.

Citizen security remains a contentious topic in Belize as views increasingly coalesce toward the alienation of our young Black men from society. We are being asked to barter our voices and displeasure for silence and security without discussing important social, economic, and political issues that affect their daily lives. Recently, this discursive process of “othering”​ has reduced complex social interactions to a rudimentary contrast of ‘us’ (the perceived law-abiding citizens) and ‘them’ (the monsters) by stigmatising them at every chance. The pronouncements by those in authority that they must learn how to live among us help to negate their identity as fellow Belizeans to justify punitive actions by the State. Meanwhile, our social media platforms are plastered with their images provided by our authorities in a clear attempt at labeling​ them as criminals before any criminal charges are levied. The final manifestation of this criminalisation​ by our criminal justice system is the implementation of a State of Emergency (SOE) that is nothing short of preventative detention, and therefore, deservedly should be a target of our criticism.

The reality of a growing economic disparity between the most disenfranchised people in southside Belize City and those of our affluent business and political leaders in the northside is grossly overlooked. The United Nations Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Phillip Alston, in his July 2020 report, boldly challenged our political leaders by declaring that “poverty is a political choice.” As advantages for those placed in better economic positions are multiplicative, so too are the disadvantages, which COVID-19 is sure to exacerbate, for those from the lower economic stratum. Since the former has more access to resources that will maintain their place in the stratification order of Belizean society, those who have less access are more likely to remain where they are as generational exclusion and disadvantage continue to make their climb an improbable one.

It is troubling that the attempt to retort the human sciences is based on a poor foundation that some members of our society choose to engage in criminal activity when, in fact, this classification is limited to people in inner-city communities, especially since many in our border districts and towns engage in an informal economy that is based on cheaper products and goods from across the border. So, perhaps a closer look at the social landscape of Belize City might yield a better understanding of what contributes to social violence, and can help to explain a recent trend in other districts. Many studies have confirmed the links between lower family socioeconomic status and higher levels of antisocial behaviour; or growing up in a gang populated environment and the likelihood of joining gangs; or struggling homes and impoverished neighbourhoods and the chances of interacting with delinquent peers; or adverse family environments and the likelihood of arrest at younger ages and number of arrests before age 17. Also, multiple studies, including the Country Poverty Assessment (2009), Gayle et al (2010) and an ongoing study (to be published) have found that young people in Southside Belize City have fewer years of schooling and are less likely to complete secondary school. We also know that the southside has the weakest ecological footprint that is unparalleled in Belize, with 83 percent of adolescents being aggressive or moderately aggressive. Though historically gangs have been concentrated in Belize City, their recent foothold and increasing influence in other districts have made it a concern for Orange Walk Town, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda. We are witnessing a rise in gang activity and homicide among young men as social and economic precarity threaten their ontological security​. Hence, it is becoming a national issue and ought to be treated with greater understanding.

Having said that, our criminal justice system is increasingly demonstrating a lack of empathy and understanding of the complexities of the lives of the people they deal with, and what is most frightening is that they are teaching us not to. While many juveniles accused of a crime in Belize are unable to afford legal representation as found by the American Bar Association in its Rule of Law Initiative report of 2010, we are seeing a further erosion of their legal right to representation and defense under the SOEs, since 2018. This is despite the Convention on the Rights of the Child calling for “children and youths who are accused of, being held for or charged with a crime, are extended the same rights of representation and appeal as an adult in Belize; from arrest to sentencing. It also requires that a distinct juvenile justice system be established for juveniles, which stresses positive rather than punitive motivation.” Instead, we are being asked to support a pretext that all these young men are directly responsible for the handful of murders and other crimes each time they occur. The legitimisation​ of this view always requires the grouping of crimes (murder, robbery, extortion, etc.) to compel our support with little explanation of the institutional deficiencies regarding criminal investigations other than a basic deferral to witness intimidation. 

There is a reason we have one of the highest per capita ratios of police to citizens in the entire Western Hemisphere (with a 77 percent increase between 2010 and 2016, and continues to grow) but struggle to grapple with rising crime and violence that has metastasised beyond Belize City. It is because policing is not by nature designed to reduce crime, it responds to it. Therefore, we cannot ignore the statistics and social disadvantages of these young men as a way to discount their experiences and support our narrowed perspective from our privileged statuses. We bristle at the comments of our leaders when they can propose corporal punishment or the unmitigated abuse of our citizens because they think they are “monsters.” The suggestion that parents should physically punish their children to correct them so that those tasked to protect and serve would not have to beat or shoot them is deeply disturbing. Since the data on child abuse in Belize between 2006 and 2010 from the Department of Human Services (at which point many of these young men were children) suggested that Belize District, particularly Belize City, accounted for most of the child abuse referrals, we can juxtapose that corporal punishment and other forms of abuse within homes were not in shortage. The notion that corporal punishment is the solution for crime and violence in Belize represents an unfortunate lack of compunction by a generation that fails to understand that social inequality has and continues to be the primary culprit that the ‘village’ should rally against. Ironically, police officers who have had countless complaints that have plagued our daily news at a comparable rate as other alleged criminals, have received the benefit of formal investigations regardless of the nature of the accusations, including murder, rape, domestic violence, and other serious crimes. It seems, then, that corporal punishment was not a sufficient deterrent for those bad apples. 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the United States has influenced many other movements in different countries to confront their own contextualised injustices. What is perhaps most disappointing in Belize, is the lack of recognition that the BLM movement has real-life considerations in Belize. Undoubtedly, there is disproportionate police abuse toward young Black men and by extension their families in Belize. While most homicides in Belize are committed by young men, we must consider the effects of arbitrarily arresting and confining young Black men without the State’s complete transparency on the merit of those arrests. Legal representation in our democracy is one of the few ways that we can hold the system and those in authority accountable. The suspension of the rights of these young men, including immediate access to legal representation, helps to promulgate their dehumanisation and widen the gap between us and them. Yet, the SOE under its special powers designation, allows the State to abdicate its legal responsibility at the detriment of many who are deliberately caught in a dragnet, as seen with the recent release of two-thirds of the young men after the traumatisation of both themselves and their families. More disturbingly, it is not just about the “monsters” because systems of oppression are interconnected, so we all have a Black friend or family member who has been unfairly profiled and targeted with no probable cause by the police who “want a search” (i.e. Stop and Frisk). We are confident that our police officers are aware that this is in contravention to the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms section 9(1) that protects from arbitrary search or entry. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to explore the manifestations of systemic racism, classism, and sexism in Belize, and amplify the voices of the disadvantaged, rather than threaten them with brute force in response to their legitimate complaints of wanton police abuse and destruction of property. 

Perhaps we should revisit our blanket support for policing as the solution. The reliance on the SOE is not a failure of the Belize Police Department (BPD), but a representation of the lack of polarity of thought in decision making and the poor involvement of the social sector to frame and remedy the underlying factors that affect our communities. The BPD has, therefore, been unjustly tasked to respond to deep-seated systemic and structural inequalities with an incongruent policing strategy. The organogram of the BPD treats community policing as a defined unit rather than a philosophy that informs the policies and practices of the BPD. The Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, has an opportunity, unlike his predecessors, to implement community policing throughout the Department rather than a regression to hard-line policing that has resulted in frequent complaints of police abuse of authority, with mothers and children left traumatised, young men with serious injuries, and the property of the already destitute severely damaged. The adoption of such a hard approach ultimately overlooks our severely disenfranchised communities’ ability to self-actualise (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). As stated by Criminal Justice professor Kendra Hoyt, “the SOE bypasses all the mechanisms which constitute the criminal justice system.” This​ draconian approach undercuts all investigative procedures and expedites entry into the criminal justice system, regardless of status, starting with the interaction with the police and ending with their incarceration. 

This process of labeling and criminalisation of our young Black men further compromises their future opportunities by deepening their social exclusion, including reducing their educational and job prospects, and severely limiting their social networks by further confining them to their neighbourhoods. It is not sufficient to call for attitudinal or behavioural changes without addressing long-standing economic and social inequalities that are the antecedents to social violence. Yet, despite decades of discussion on the implementation of restorative justice practices in our communities to serve as a mechanism to facilitate conflict resolution, reduce gang retaliations and recidivism, and facilitate the reintegration of offenders back into society, we continue to observe a reprisal culture led by the State. Therefore, in the absence of a clearly articulated strategy, we propose a return to the objectives of the strategic plan of RESTORE Belize that had the support and collaboration of governmental and non-governmental entities, though for whatever unspecified reasons were not realised. It is time we revisit the coordination unit tasked with addressing the risk factors that contribute to social violence in Belize by improving the quality of life of citizens through the restoration of law and order, community building, and restorative justice. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. We must quickly respond with retooling RESTORE Belize with strong leadership and highly qualified staff that can re-energise our partners and hit the ground running to operationalise the developmental objectives outlined under the three pillars of Human Development; Economic Development and Citizen Prosperity; and Democratic Governance and Citizen Security.

Greg Nunez is a final year PhD candidate studying Social Policy in the UK with a concentration on the permanent exclusion of young men from education, criminal offending, and wider social exclusion. 

Bryton Codd is an MSc candidate studying in Canada on Leadership and Management with a focus on Polarity Management and Governance.

First published in the Amandala Friday Issue No. 3384 on July 17th 2020 pg 23 and 24.

Find a direct link here to my previous post entitled ‘A Factory for “Super Cops”‘ which examine how the Belize Police Department is being plopped into a mold of militarization. https://curiousmusings.home.blog/2020/07/02/a-factory-of-super-cops/

10K Strong!

A fund to help innovative minds strive by Ten Habitat

We Believe in 10K Strong!

The 10,000 Strong Campaign is an initiative led by TEN Habitat to mobilise ten thousand persons to donate $100 to raise 1 million dollars to empower the next generation. It’s a true definition of the Belize creole adage of “one-one coco full baskit.” The initiative pivots on giving youth access to technological skills like coding to improve confidence in pursuing their BIG dreams. I must congratulate the team at the Caribbean Regional Youth Council for partnering and supporting this great initiative with Ten Habitat.

You can find out more on how you can support here: https://www.tenhabitat.com/make-a-difference.

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A Factory for “Super Cops”

A look into the militarization of police in Belize.

The world was recently shaken by the live and online murder of George Floyd by a white man, a police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department. It was yet another piece upon the mounting evidence of the extraction of Black bodies by systematic killing. I still haven’t watched the video, I can’t. The photo still of that 8 minutes 46 seconds was enough for me. 

I always remind myself to stay grounded even with my historical knowledge of what white supremacy and colonialism has done to us in this region and country and so I asked myself, as you should, what Mr. Floyd’s killing and all African-American police killings mean to us here in Belize?

Let’s explore the militarization and or Americanization of the Belize Police Department to start to answer that question.

We first do that by going back a decade or so to documentation from the US State Department:

 “During the year the Belize Police Department’s (BPD) Professional Standards Branch received 238 formal complaints of alleged police misconduct. During the same period, the BPD held 14 officers on interdiction (suspension with half salary) and one suspension (with salary.) The 14 officers on interdiction were alleged to have committed a combination of criminal and disciplinary charges. The ombudsman reported receiving 99 complaints against the police department and its personnel, of which 39 percent were characterized as complaints of brutality, 18 percent of complaints of harassment and 17 percent as complaints of abuse of power.” (US Deparment of State, 2011)

This was reported some 9 years ago, fast forward to 2019.

“In 2018, 43 percent of the complaints received by the PSB were for police brutality. The human rights ombudsman also received complaints against the Belize Central Prison for allegations of inhuman treatment of inmates.” (US Department of State, 2019)

These two reports are different in terms of how they are reported on empirically but you can see here that the number of police brutality are pretty high. They help us understand the systematic and cultural nature of violence in the security forces. I encourage everyone to look into these reports for your own information.  We can, of course, cite the more relatable stories ranging from any of the state of emergencies placed on Belize City or a regular day of profiling stop and search methods. We can also cite the more gruesome stories of the killings of Fareed Ahmad and Alyson Major both cases that are still being investigated, we are told. We can also look at the online mockery of Ulysease Roca while in police custody, a young black man later found dead at his residence a little after that detention.  My point here is that we can all cite an instance of police brutality whether direct or indirect. 

Now we look at the training of our officers. Last year, around this time a group of creatives hosted a protest in front of the Police Training Academy in Belmopan. It was against a security force training being offered by the Israeli government. A government that has been vile and aggressive against the self-determination of Palestinian people, a government that has stood on the side of Guatemala in refusing to acknowledge Belize’s sovereignty, a government that has historically trained police officers of the Amerikkka. Outside of that, the US government has consistently funded our security response in this country one of the largest being through its Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) which just last year disburse $750,000USD to social programs in Belize. (Breaking Belize News, 2019)The US Department of Justice has also trained 29 members of our Criminal Investigative Branch through its International Criminal and Investigative Criminal Assistance Program done in coordination with the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). (US Department of Justice, 2020) Twenty officers of the Belize Police Department was also trained at the request of GOB in 2010 by the Naval Criminal Investigative Criminal Service in the Tradewinds Program. (U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South, 2010) This and other US government interventions corroborated by Chief Executive Officer George Lovell in a 2019 interview that he covered the ‘Reorganization of the Belize Police Department’ (Ministry of National Security, 2019) While I am not against good old diplomacy, I do understand that the US foreign policy is not one that has historically had the best human rights records and moral leadership. These are all pieces of evidence that prove that the face of our police department operations is being fashioned Uncle Sam style.

Photo source : Ignite Ltd.

Finally, we look at some colonial remnants being perpetuated through our present system of neo-colonialization. A piece of legislation that Ms. Coye, one of our most prolific and intellectual callers on WUB coins as legalizing a “conditional right to life.” 

Chapter 4 section Part 2 article 4(2) states:

A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section if he dies as the result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably justifiable-

  1. for the defence of  any person from violence or for the defence of property;
  2. in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
  3. for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny; or
  4. in order to prevent the commission by that person of a criminal offence,
  5. or if he dies as the result of a lawful act of war.

A justified death penalty if I ever saw one and done at the discretion of a police officer that has at some point in his career come in contact with the Great American way of policing. My first lesson on interacting with police from mommy has been, “nevah mek police man run”, and well you don’t need to do much to have them run to you. Simply make a Facebook post erring on the side of dissent and watch police officers in combat camouflage show up to you house with weapons arsenal fit to fight a border conflict. An uneven war of words if you ever asked me. I’ll let you decide on whether or not Americanization and Militarization of Police are synonyms.

“…sweet and docile, meek, humble, and kind: Beware the day they change their mind.-Warning by Langston Hughes

Stay Curious.

First published in the June 30th 2020, Tuesday edition of the Amandala Newspaper, Issue No.3379 pg 6.

Upside Down: Buju Banton in the Year of Clear Vision

On June 26th 2020, Buju Banton released his first album in a decade since his 2018 release from prison. “Upside Down” is indeed a conquering unveiling of 20 tracks for this artist who has never really left our consciousness. It features guest from across genres including Stefflon Don, John Legend, Pharrell and Stephen Marley. In true Gargamel style, he reminds us of the important values of life in tracks like ‘Helping Hand’. It gives us the inspiration we need in times of increasing divisions between peoples on the basis of askew political ideologies in tracks like ‘Blessed’, ‘Rising Up’, ‘The World is Changing’, ‘400 Years’ and ‘Unity.’ The latter of which gives us pure Fela Kuti spirit! He gives us a look at his views on the beauty of women, romance and understanding partnership in the pursuit of love in ‘Appreciated’, ‘Call Me’, ‘Moonlight Love’, ‘Lovely State of Mind’ and ‘Cherry Pie’. A sexual divinity and sensual energy oozing from the Stefflon Don collaboration on ‘Call Me.’

Image source:dancehallmag.com

We even see him sharing with us some vulnerability of love lost in ‘Memories’ which features John Legend, ‘Cheated’ and in the groove of ‘Good Time Girl’ reminiscent of his 2009 release, Sleepless Night. Tracks like Trust, Steppa, and Beat them Bad give us that edgy, growling strength that only Buju Banton can deliver on, telling us the stories of tribulation in our most underserved communities and how we always survive by any means necessary. Trust may be giving us a peek into what led to his incarceration, a warning on the dangers of an over-reliance and intrusion of technology in our lives and of the people who weaponized it against us. He also shared with us his prayer of thanksgiving for how far he has come on his odyssey of life through songs, ‘Yes Mi Friend’, ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘Lamb of God.’

Upside Down calls us to look at life with a clear vision in a time when the life we know has indeed been turned upside down. It’s a complete buffet of creative musical artistry from production to its literature. A connoisseur of rumbling spiritual upliftment and inspired accountability to self through his lyrics, voice and humanity, Buju Banton gifted us with an album of cross-pollinated genres from Jazz to Pop while still not divorcing from his dancehall and reggae roots. He has not missed a beat! The legacy lives on! The Champion Black man is continuing to fulfil his destiny.

Check out the album here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuPuDTfWmjw5Db8tbe_EA5EiKkA9i9b-P

A Call for Transparency within the Belize Defence Force: Sexual Assault & Rape

The Belize Defence Force is the military of Belize and it’s purpose is to protect the sovereignty of Belize. They are here to serve and protect, however who protects those within the force when they are sexually assaulted and raped? It is no secret that time after time rape allegations, and sexual misconduct cases are often swept under the rug. We hear about it in the news, there is an interview or press conference and a few questions are answered and they say they are “investigating” and then there is silence. This week another allegation of rape was made by a female soldier.  The accused, Margarito Pop has since been charged.These allegations come on the heels of the recently concluded sexual misconduct investigation done within the organization. 

We don’t believe that the BDF has been forthcoming with enough information in this case or any others. We are demanding transparency with these investigations, and that perpetrators of rape and sexual assault are dismissed from the force. We would also like for a plan of action to be devised for the safety of all soldiers on the force. Sexual harassment and abuse should not be taboo for any of us to address, and we would like a change in policy and enforcement.

Below is one instance of the cover up rape culture which is a terrible reflection of the BDF and by extension our Belizean society and even in the broader scope of things, the worldwide acceptance of rape and sexual assault. 

https://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/197788

We want TRANSPARENCY and CHANGE

Sign here: https://www.change.org/p/brigadier-general-steven-ortega-a-call-for-transparency-within-the-belize-defence-force-sexual-assault-rape-20e2de1f-311d-40e2-b7b6-4c2553371b8e?recruiter=1108709195&utm_source=share_petition&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_initial&utm_medium=whatsapp&recruited_by_id=4bf9d2e0-a6b0-11ea-a2b7-7f9ade4b1113&utm_content=washarecopy_22618995_en-GB%3Av13

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