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Apr 21, 2005

P.M.: Opposition responsible for violence

Story PictureIn the wake of a long night of looting in the streets of the commercial capital, approximately one hundred people detained by police for vandalism and other acts, and the threat of more industrial action from Belize’s educators, this morning Prime Minister Said Musa addressed the nation. Taking a hard line stance against the events of the last twenty-four hours, the Prime Minister publicly condemned the leaders of the United Democratic Party and what he called the Opposition’s use of “rank opportunism, wanton, reckless, and open disregard for law and order, and destabilization to overthrow the government.”

Said Musa, Prime Minister of Belize
?The events of yesterday evening and last night have cast a long dark shadow over our beloved Belize. The blocking of the Belcan bridge, the lighting it on fire, and the subsequent acts of looting, vandalism and rioting that occurred in downtown Belize City are flagrant and unforgivable acts of criminality and violence that is totally devoid of any just cause. Nothing was done to provoke such actions; there was no reason for it. The persons whose properties have been looted and vandalized are innocent victims in all of this. Last night?s acts of criminality and violence were not accidental, neither were they spontaneous. It was all part of a well thought-out plan of action that is being acted out on a daily basis. Many of the perpetrators involved have already been arrested and detained and will be dealt with swiftly and severely to the full extent of the law. But the persons who are responsible for planning last night?s actions and for encouraging and inciting people to vandalism, looting, and other acts of violence will also be brought to justice, no matter who they are. The law must take its course.

?This government has shown extreme restraint and patience in the face of strikes, all of which have been illegal. This government has restrained the security forces even in the face of clear acts of sabotage. We have acted with calm deliberation even in the face of open threats to the national security of Belize and the safety of the general citizenry. There has been no resort to repression even though my family?s home has been physically attacked and family members hounded and harassed. Let the message go forth today: the patience and restraint of this government have been severely tested. Enough is enough. We will no longer negotiate with those whose clear objective is to force out this government and destabilise the country. We will no longer overlook clear breeches of the law as it relates to strike action. The laws of this country will be strictly and fully applied. We will of course, maintain an open door and willingness to dialogue with genuine union leaders and other social partners.

?People of Belize, let us accept the truth. Responsibility for last night?s callous and dangerous acts of hooliganism and criminality, must lie squarely at the feet of the Leader of the Opposition and his United Democratic Party. The evidence is clear. At Monday?s press conference, the Leader of the Opposition called for sustained civil disobedience, for the workers of the water and the electricity companies to join in shutting down their companies, the clear implication was that certain people and business places would be targeted. There are many who have expressed shock and consternation that a man who aspires to lead our Belize, this tranquil haven of democracy, could endorse violence and unconstitutionality in such an open and arrogant manner.?

The Prime Minister would go on to praise the efforts of the Police Department in containing the mob that descended on downtown Belize City and promised that contingency plans are in place to deal with all emergencies that may emerge. But as the business owners cleaned up the mess left behind by the looters, the Prime Minister called for calm, highlighting the “crippling effects” the national crisis has had on the economy, particularly tourism.

Prime Minister Said Musa
?The financial loss to B.T.L., B.E.L., businesses all across Belize, and to the national economy is in the tens of millions of dollars. Those who are responsible for the acts of sabotage, vandalism, and criminality must and will be held fully accountable. The country of Belize is at a crossroads. How we resolve our present situation will determine the future course of this country, whether we continue to settle our difference according to our constitution, our democratic system and the rule of law, or whether we resort to unconstitutional means to change the government. If we are pushed down the road of unconstitutional action, we must bear in mind that it is a slippery road which will lead to a state of un-governability and affect the well-being of all Belizeans, not only now, but for the future. It is an option that must be carefully weighed by all.?

?We appeal to the people of Belize to remain calm and to reject the calls for civil disobedience. I have instructed the security forces of this country to take all necessary and lawful measures to safeguard the economic stability, democracy, and Constitution of Belize. I call on the constitutional Opposition, which has a stake and a responsibility under the constitution to maintain the democratic order, to do its part in ensuring that Belize remains a peaceful and democratic society.?

Janelle Chanona
?Prime Minister, just now in your statement you said that all persons that you have determined have been inciting and conducting violence will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law. And later you said that you have already determined that that responsibility lies at the feet of the Leader of the Opposition, Dean Barrow, do you mean to arrest Mr. Barrow or pursue any other legal recourse??

Prime Minister Said Musa
?No that is not what I was saying. First of all I did not say that persons determined by me to be responsible will be dealt with according to the law, it will be determined by the legal process. The police and the court system will determine persons who were responsible. What I was distinguishing that from a position where I am clearly saying that I believe the Leader of the Opposition and his party are fully responsible to the extent of orchestrating this whole situation which led inexorably to the violence and looting that took place last night.?

Stewart Krohn
?Prime Minister, in your statement this morning and on many occasions in the past, you have spoken out strongly against corruption. We recall the night you were most recently elected in 2003, the focus of your speech was corruption. But it seems that your actions have seldom, if ever, lived up to your words. For example in the passport scandal, a clear case of massive criminality, literally within the gates of Belmopan, not a single public officer was administratively punished, nor was a minister disciplined, even the head of the Immigration Department was retired with full benefits. When the public hears you say one thing but do quite another, can you blame them for being extremely sceptical about what you say is a commitment to end corruption??

Prime Minister Said Musa
?In the case of the passport issue, let me say that once it became clear to me as the Prime Minister that this matter bordered on criminal behaviour, not just official abuse if you like or irregularity, we turned it over to the responsible authority, which is the Director of Public Prosecutions to take whatever action he saw fit based on the evidence. Now do you want me as the Prime Minister to be deciding who is to be charged and who is not be charged? That is not our system. That is not the responsibility of the executive. I have done what I believe is my responsibility to turn this matter to the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to take whatever he saw fit. The Public Services Commission took the decision about retirement as you mention, not the Prime Minister. And I don?t believe the Prime Minister should be held accountable for that, because here again I do not control the Public Services Commission; that is an independent arm of government.?

As part of his press briefing, the Prime Minister also issued an official commitment to, “work with B.T.L. workers, union, and their attorneys to find a way for them to purchase the shares.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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