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Oct 3, 2018

State of Emergency Nigh on to Expiry; What’s the Fate of the Inmates?

As many as fifty-one inmates from the George Street and Banak Street gangs are being released from the Belize Central Prison tonight, after being held in detention for the past thirty days.  The men were all picked up during a predawn raid on their homes on the morning of September fourth.  Since then, they were detained in Belize City and subsequently trooped to Hattieville as part of a state of public emergency that was declared in those two south side neighborhoods.  The move has been described as controversial and human rights activists argue that their incarceration trampled upon their constitutional, as well as their human rights, since charges were never brought against them.  During their time in lockdown, however, there was no intervention on the part of the state to attempt to bring the feuding groups together at the mediation table.  Earlier today, News Five’s Isani Cayetano visited the Belize Central Prison where he saw the inmates on the yard.  Here is that story.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Seeing these young men playing basketball together during their recreational time at the Belize Central Prison gives an impression that all is well among them.  In fact, these are the groups that were hauled in during a roundup of two south side neighborhoods in the early hours of September fourth.  On the court are members of both the George Street and Banak Street gangs, young men who have been feuding prior to their incarceration thirty days ago.  Under the proclaimed state of emergency, they have found themselves here after spending almost a week in lockup at the Queen Street and Raccoon Street precincts, respectively.  Responsible for their oversight is Virgilio Murillo, Chief Executive Officer at the Kolbe Foundation.

 

Virgilio Murillo

Virgilio Murillo, C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation

“It is just like they were not here, if you want to put it that way.  We treated them with the respect for their human dignity like every other prisoner and they have not given any trouble.  A couple of them were disrespectful in their behavior and violent and we disciplined those, and when I said couple, I literally mean a couple.  But remember we got a total of fifty-one such persons and two out of fifty-one is nothing to worry about.  I have had some sessions with them trying to see how I can curb them from the kind of thinking that they have, the whole issue of being in a gang.  I had a session with them in my conference room and of course I have visited them on a couple occasions where they are housed.”

 

To avoid contact with each other, the young men, presumed to be active members of two Belize City gangs, were initially kept separate and apart.  They are still kept in individual units, but efforts have since been made by the management organization to bring them together.

 

Virgilio Murillo

“I will tell you that they are cohabiting together, no doubt about it.  They play sports and recreate together.  That much I can tell you.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Initially, when we spoke of how these young men would be housed, you had mentioned that these young men would be kept separate and apart considering the fact that while out in society these are two feuding groups.  How did the decision come about to have them cohabitate and to interact with each other either recreationally or in terms of the interventions that they’ve had?”

 

Virgilio Murillo

“Well, the first week we allowed them to sort of thaw out, if you want to put it that way.  Certainly they were not housed together, even as of this point, they are not being housed together for the purpose of sleeping.  But for the purpose of recreating, making your phone calls and playing sports, they do mix and I’ll tell you what, that is a strategy to try and at least let both sides regain that kind of trust in each other.”

 

Prior to being sent to prison, these men and the criminal organizations to which they individually belong to, were at war with each other.  The bitter enmity resulted in a spate of gun violence in Belize City which began with the murder of Shakedi Baizar.  That weekend at the beginning of September was arguably the bloodiest for 2018 thus far.  With their release imminent, the question of whether they have been provided the necessary intervention to be successfully reintegrated into society, in light of the expiring state of emergency, is a pertinent query.

 

Isani Cayetano

“As far as you know, their confinement for the past two weeks falls within the ambit of a thirty-day state of emergency and the expiration of those thirty days is upon us.  Have you gotten any word from the powers that be, in a manner of speaking, as to when these individuals would be released?”

 

Virgilio Murillo

“As of this point no, I haven’t gotten any word any at all.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“So it’s business as usual until you receive word that they are to be [released].”

 

Virgilio Murillo

“Until I receive word or until I receive a further warrant.”

 

Earlier today, attorney Audrey Matura who represents a number of these inmates, issued an open letter.  That letter to the editor reads, “Today marks exactly thirty days since the proclamation declaring a state of public emergency was passed into law by the Governor General of Belize.  I am waiting to hear at what time today these men will be released since their detention is only “lawful” for the duration of the thirty days that encompassed September fourth to October third, 2013.  To hold them even a day or an hour beyond the thirty days would be a miscarriage of justice and yet just one more violation against their constitutional rights, as this proclamation has been riddled with errors or violations.”

 

Virgilio Murillo

“The police obviously, and the government obviously, was right on in respect of having them brought to the prison for this period because you and I know that since they have been here everything has died down, literally died down in the city.  So the tangible evidence is there.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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