The effective protest against crime and the closing down of the twin towns of San Ignacio/Santa Elena have caught government’s attention.
Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow acceded to protesters’ demands with a six-point action plan to address the scourge of crime and violence, in a press release late on Thursday evening, October 11..
When the Prime Minister met with leaders of the solidarity movement for Justice and Peace he had promised that government would immediately provide additional resources, including vehicles, to the Cayo formation of the Belize Police Department; the release reiterated these pledges. He also pledged to implement a sexual offenders registry and monitoring system.
Government will also immediately put into operation an Integrated Ballistics Identification System after its handed over by the Canadian Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday, October 12th, 2012.
The Prime Minister promised that government will ensure, along with the Magistracy and the Judiciary, the proper enforcement of the laws governing the denial of bail in cases involving sexual offences and other serious crimes.
An expert in DNA science is to be attached to the National Forensic Science Service to mentor local analysts and to provide evidence in cases involving forensic evidence, and government is fast-tracking efforts to finalize arrangements with the United States government to make this possible.
Government will strengthen the Police Prosecution Branch with a view to instituting greater coordination between the Police and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure more effectiveness in the investigation and preparation of cases.
Twin town residents had gathered at Columbus Park in San Ignacio on Thursday, October 11th, to protest against the crime and violence in their communities, effectively closing down both towns as most businesses and schools closed for the day.
The residents had walked out of a town meeting with Attorney General Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington on Wednesday night, because they felt that the government had not done enough to address the list of eight demands to deal the crime problem, which they had presented to Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow on Monday, with a two-day deadline to comply.
The students of three western tertiary institutions also participated in Thursday’s protest, and lit, what they call, “the Eternal Flame of Peace Declaration,” a list of 10 issues which the students want the government and civil society leaders to address.
The students went several steps beyond the watch groups demands. Apart from being equipped properly, they want the Police Department to be paid proper wages and for the Police Training Academy to function as a tertiary level institution to properly train police officers.
The students say the laws are too lenient when it comes to punishment for crimes, and they also want the Evidence Act to be amended so that certain kinds of evidence can be used in court trials. They also called for a proper victim and witness protection program to be implemented.
To protect minors and young persons, the students want an identification system to be established to monitor young people at nightclubs; they also want a limit to the number of liquor licenses which are granted.
On the issue of official corruption, the students demand that “Law enforcement agents, public servants and government officials must be held accountable and dealt with severely for any acts of corruption or victimization of citizens.”
The students also took issue with the Gang Truce: “It is our prevailing belief that incentives currently being given to gang members as a result of the current gang truce are bad investment. We see it as an encouragement for their current lifestyle and as a contributory factor to the raising violence in our nation.”
Many employees of the closed businesses joined the watch groups and the students in the peaceful protest against crime. Juliana Guerra, who has become something of an iconic presence at Cayo’s anti-crime protests with her rope tied into a noose, said it’s better to lose a job than to lose a child.
Some of the Cayo district’s elected area representatives supported the protest, giving it the appearance of a bipartisan effort. Cayo Northeast representative and Minister of State, Hon, Elvin Penner told The Reporter the protest was not an anti-government effort and that he was there in support of the people who are fed up with crime. He expressed his deepest condolences to the Martinez family, whom he said had lost a great member of their family. “I am very proud to be a member of this community that is so passionate about what they want and what they do.”
Penner said we cannot blame any specific organization for the crime rate in our country. “I am one hundred percent in agreement with what is happening here today. I am sure our government will do as much as we can to adhere to those demand. It is not what they demand, it is what they deserve,” he said.
Penner said that he did not see what is happening in Cayo as problematic for the government. “It is not an anti-government sentiment that I am seeing here today, it is an anti-crime sentiment. I am hoping that other towns can join in. This is a message to the criminals.”
It is in this form that the government can realize that not enough is being done about crime. This is getting the attention of the government.
As whether hanging people in Belize again might have a negative effect on the overseas aid Belize receives, Penner said crime is already affecting the economy, and he is not overly concerned about any negative effect that carrying out of capital punishment can have on foreign aid.