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Sep 24, 2003

Merchants fed up with crime

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The brutal murder in Orange Walk and other recent killings across the country have left many citizens wondering just what our once peaceful society has turned into. This morning News 5′s Jacqueline Woods hit the streets to find out how the city’s shopkeepers are reacting.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

While there is no consensus on exactly what to do about the plague of violent crime, there is no disagreement on the climate of fear that has enveloped the business community.

Oscar Rosado, Jr., Rosado’s One Stop

“I have this anger you know, knowing that innocent people just like myself…we just had my neighbour, Mr. Godfrey, a few months ago, it just brings back that and it lets us know that we can’t let down our guard. Everyday we are imprisoned in our own houses, in our own business, it’s frustrating.”

Sadly, the situation has affected the business community to such an extent that shop owners no longer feel safe speaking openly about their concerns. The majority of business people we approached said they do not mind speaking to us off camera, but are scared that once they are shown on television, they will be harmed.

Last February, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry held a one-day anticrime rally and in support businesses across the country closed for twenty-four hours.

Mark Lizarraga, Pres., Bz. Chamber of Commerce & Industry

“We’ve been very concerned about crime in this country for quite a while. Over the last three or four years, I mean we have focused a lot on trying on to see how we can work with the authorities and how we can work with the government in trying to address this problem. Crime affects all of us, crime affects the business community as well as the general population.”

Since January, we’ve reported the murders of well-known mechanic Fernando Arjonilla, Boledo vendor Reynaldo Smith, taxi man Jimmy Williams and shop owners Kong Yi, Alvin Godfrey and Inez Leal. Seventy-nine year old Hubert Bennett has been a shop assistant for past fifteen years.

Jacqueline Woods

“Do you feel secured in your workplace?”

Hubert Bennett, Shop Assistant

“No, I am not secured, I am not secure in my workplace. I am scared, because right now I don’t even have a gun or anything to help myself say if anybody comes in.”

Jacqueline Woods

“But sometimes that does not even help the situation.”

Hubert Bennett

“True, so I think that is the only way it can happen. Close down for two or three days, because it’s only a small amount of people who are doing this thing, and I think it is time that government step in with more punishment too. I think they should disregard human right and bring back capital punishment.”

Oscar Rosado, Jr.

“They have to get stricter laws. Hang these people, you know bring back hanging. I think they need something to know that if they take away a life, theirs will be taken also. An eye for and eye, that is what it needs.”

Mark Lizarraga

“We need to address this problem and we all need to work on it together. Crime is everybody’s problem. It’s not just the business community, it is not just the police, it’s not just the government, it is the whole community. We have to come together and say we have had enough.”

Mark Lizarraga is the President of B.C.C.I. and a member of the National Crime Control Council. Lizarraga says there is no simple solution to crime and the council has embarked on a number of initiatives. They strongly believe, however, that unless everyone gets involved, it will be difficult for any authority to tackle the problem.

Mark Lizarraga

“What we have done and what I would encourage the people to do is we’ve worked with the authorities in setting up a 922 telephone number where people can call and give information on criminal activity, criminal activity that is being planned, criminal activity that is in process, or information on criminal activity that may have happen.”

Lizarraga says he was disappointed that so few people took advantage of the gun amnesty period, but has been pleased with the response they have received from the ongoing Cash For Information Programme that has yielded so far close to thirty illegal weapons.

Mark Lizarraga

“Our recommendation is that we have to come out with stiffer penalties. That’s the prevailing attitude that we see whenever we have meetings and conversations. And whenever we speak to people in the society, whenever we speak to business people and certainly at our one-day rally in support. The clear message at that rally was we need to get tough on crime.”

“Now what we have recommended is that the special circumstances of which fines can be applied be clearly defined. That whole recommendation in being packaged right now and it will be coming forth soon. I understand that Cabinet has taken a look at the first draft or something like that and that we haven’t seen resistance to it was yet. So that whole process is for attorneys and people and it’s a complicated process I am told, so that it’s well balanced, but it’s being done.”

“Capital punishment is such a complex case. I’ve been hearing so much about it over the last few years, and for a small country like Belize to take a firm and hard stand on something like capital punishment I understand could have far reaching ramifications.”

Today, police are hoping that someone will use the 922 number to call in with information that will lead them to the persons who killed businessman Inez Leal. So far authorities say they have no suspects or leads. Jacqueline Woods. Reporting for News 5.

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