The Belize government has announced a state of emergency (SOE) in the south side of Belize City as it seeks to deal with the escalation of gun violence in the area that left at least six people dead over the last weekend.
National Security Minister John Saldivar, said he is prepared to go to Parliament to seek an extension of the SOE as the law enforcement agencies seek to put a lid on gang violence in the area.
“Under the emergency powers granted under the constitution, if we should wish to have an extension of this 30 -day period we will have to take the matter to the House of Representative and I as the minister do intend to do so if the circumstances do so warrant,” he said.
Governor General Sir Colville Norbert Young signed the statutory instrument allowing for the SOE to go into effect in two of five previously identified hotspots on south side Belize City.
The chief executive officer in the Ministry of National Security, Colonel George Lovell, said in March this year, it was thought necessary to bring the members of the Belize Defense Force into the streets to assist the police in the maintenance of law and order.
“It was a situation at the time that we had contemplated to have some areas declared as emergency areas, special areas, but we had taken a conscious decision to put that state of emergency in abeyance until we had seen it necessary for us to invoke that condition,” he said.
Acting Police Commissioner, Chester Williams, said that for the past couple of months, “we have been in constant dialogue with the different gang groups across south side Belize City”.
He said those dialogues have yield some very positive results in some areas, while some areas seemingly want to believe that they can hold the rest of the city hostage.
“And as the police, who are tasked by law, to ensure the safety of all, we cannot continue to dialogue with people who do not want to listen. Some people seemingly learn different from others and so it is now necessary for us to be able to move to another level where we can let those persons who are adamant about creating havoc in our society understand that the police is here to do a job and that job will be done at any cost to ensure the safety and security of our law abiding citizens.”
Williams said that last week Friday one man, Shakedi Humes, was killed near the Matron Roberts Clinic in Belize City. He said two others were also killed on Friday night.’
“We brought in the guys who were involved from George Street and Banak. We sat with them, got intervention with them and they were released Saturday in the evening and they promised that they will be holding the peace.
“ Lo and behold as they were released from custody, two other persons were killed immediately thereafter. To me that shows outright disrespect to the police and the public. We have also talked enough with them and we need to be able to make them understand that the time for talking is done where they are concerned, unless they intend to really and truly change the way they do things,’ Williams added.
Under the SOE, the police and other agencies have the authority to incarcerate gang members and their affiliates from these two areas for 30 days, without them having been charged for any crime.
So far, more than 100 people have been been detained under the SOE.
““The fact that the type of incidents that we’ve seen over the past week or so, it is absolutely necessary for us to arrest the situation and to do so before it gets out of control and we have to go back to that state where we were in March of this year,” said Colonel Lovell
“This, that we are doing, hopefully will allow the police department without any additional resources and additional support from sister agencies to be able to go in there and arrest the situation in those areas that have be named.”
Williams acknowledged that the activities of these two groups have many Belizeans, “who are law-abiding, who want to be out enjoying our history, be in fear of even wanting to come out of their home; that is unacceptable.
“As we go through the festive month, we want to ensure that we make Belize, particularly Belize City, which is the centre of the activities for September, peaceful that all persons can move around freely without being in fear that they will be hurt and even killed,” he said.