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Mar 18, 2020

South Side Belize City Under State of Emergency, Again

The coronavirus, crime and the recent crash of a B.D.F. helicopter, in which four soldiers perished; are heavy and hugely critical issues facing the nation.  First on the matter of crime, a press conference was held this afternoon by the top brass of the Police Department.  The biggest item to come out of that is the announcement of a state of emergency, which is now in effect for eight zones of Belize City; considered hot spots for thirty days in the first instance.  Since the crack of dawn, there have been more boots on the ground and sweeping detentions have taken place as a way to bring gang warfare under control. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports on what it means for city residents.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

At three o’clock this morning, as many as two hundred and fifty law enforcement officers descended on various neighbourhoods across Belize City.  The coordinated, predawn sweep saw the rounding up of eighty-two persons described by the police department as known street figures who are actively involved in criminality.  The raid, similar to one effected on the morning of September 5th, 2018, heralded another state of emergency on the south side.  Assistant Commissioner of Police Marco Vidal is the Commander of Operations.


Marco Vidal

ACP Marco Vidal, Commander of Operations

“We planned an operation that will carry us throughout the period that’s necessary and so this morning at three a.m., we launched an operation that is targeted, it is not random.  It is targeted at the gang elements who have been causing the issues for us in terms of the violent crimes.  So, since this morning, from three until current, we have just over eighty-two persons detained.  The operation is continuing so we may have increased numbers by the end of the day; however, our operation is being targeted in eight zones that have been declared as the emergency areas for the state of emergency.”


In the wake of a series of deadly shootings that have gripped the Old Capital since Sunday night, the Ministry of National Security has brought into force a situation of citywide danger in which government has suspended normal constitutional procedures in order to regain control.  Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte is also the Minister of National Security.


Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security

“As you know, there’s been a recent increase in extremely senseless violence within the city.  You know, it’s bad enough when somebody dies as a matter of violence, it is extremely and extra painful when it involves the death of an innocent child.  Based on those activities, the Ministry of National Security has thought it, has deemed it necessary and sought the approval of the Governor General, and we have gotten it, for him to declare a state of emergency and for him to sign some regulations governing the activities to be undertaken by the police, the B.D.F. and coastguard, if necessary, in the declared and demarked areas.”


The largest of those eight identified hotspots is Lake Independence.  This morning, motorists traversing Central American Boulevard were being diverted to a single ingress into the community.


ACP Marco Vidal

“In relation to the operation, as I said, the operation was targeted specifically to those individuals we suspect are involved in some of the shootings and murders that have occurred most recently.  As you have heard, Mr. Myvett has outlined the most recent incidents.  So the operation is targeted at that, but we are also, in the same breadth, looking at firearms that they may use and as I said, so far we have one or two firearms and ammunition for .223 rifles I believe it is.  So that is the operation that we have currently.  The area as of this morning, is being cordoned off to ensure that no one leaves the area whom we believe are the targets in the area and then the operational teams enter the area and specifically go after those that we’re targeting.”


It is an operation that many on this side of the municipality have seen before where police officers are joined by a pair of B.D.F. soldiers and together they patrol and stand guard over designated locations.


Chester Williams

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police

“The police presence will be maintained in these areas of declared emergency areas with a view to ensure that we stay on top of the criminals.  Now from a police standpoint, the issue of gang and gang violence continues to plague our society and over the past few days we have seen that these activities have become more increased and the criminals seem to become more emboldened in carrying out these senseless and heinous acts.  It is reckless for one to just indiscriminately fire gunshots in a house, not knowing who or what they are shooting at and when children are at the receiving end of those bullets it is heart wrenching.”


With a state of emergency in effect, the police department will no longer be entertaining discussions with criminal elements.  In fact, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, who was once instrumental in brokering a ceasefire among rival factions, says he has had enough.


Chester Williams

“The time for talking is done and so, going forward, my message to the gang members is this: if you want to live in society peacefully, it is your duty to adjust to society’s behaviour and not the society to adjust to your behaviour.  And so, we will be going after them night and day.  Mr. Vidal who is Commander of Operations has been tasked to oversee the day-to-day operations in Belize City where those gang areas are concerned.”


And those daily campaigns, according to Attorney General Peyrefitte, may very well extend beyond the prescribed thirty-day limit.


Michael Peyrefitte

“I want to add that whilst we’re going through this process of this big stick approach, we will also be doing some analysis of the situation, more analysis.  We’ll be working with anyone who wants to work with us to ensure that we can come up with a proper and even more refined plan to tackle crime in the city and in the country, but in the mean time we believe that while we must have that conversation we must also demonstrate to the criminal elements that their activities are not going to continue without them facing and being dealt with to the full extent of the law.  This is where we are at this moment under the regulations that have been signed by the Governor General and that will be printed and distributed today.  These people can be detained for up to thirty days, within seven days they will be told as to the reason for their detention, after fourteen days the public will get a list of those people.  After that thirty-day period, the government can decide through the National Assembly to extend it for up to a year and beyond that if we have to.  We are not playing with these people.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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