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Apr 17, 2020

Gang Members Released from Detention After Thirty-day Lockdown

On Thursday night, more than one hundred and forty persons suspected of being members of gangs were released from the Belize Central Prison after a month of incarceration. At the time of their arrests in March, the police imposed a state of emergency in the south side of the city to restrict movements due to a spike in crime. Within only a few days, there were fifteen shooting incidents; seven of which were fatal.  So now that they are out, there is a national state of emergency, but the lingering question is about personal security. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

After a month on lockdown at the Belize Central Prison, close to a hundred and forty men, presumed to be actively involved with various inner city gangs, have been released into society.  Freedom, however, comes at a critical time since the entire country remains under a state of emergency amid the coronavirus crisis.  On March eighteenth, a citywide sweep resulted in the detention of dozens of men from eight neighborhoods on the south side.  Their incarceration was overseen by Virgilio Murillo, Chief Executive Officer of the Kolbe Foundation.


Virgilio Murillo

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

“First of all, I want to start off by saying that the state of emergency that was declared back in March expired yesterday and I did not receive any further order or warrant to continue keeping these guys.  So we had to liaise with the police and coordinate with the police to get them out of prison by the close of business day yesterday, and that happened.”


In the forty-eight hours that preceded the law enforcement offensive, gun violence went virtually unabated, resulting in a number of fatalities and injuries.  Government responded to the surge in gang-related homicides by targeting these individuals and putting them away while preparing for the imminent arrival of COVID-19 to Belize.


Chester Williams

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police [File: March 18th, 2020]

“At the expiration of the one month, as the minister has said, we will be making representation to the government and ask for extension because we believe that with all that is about to happen, with COVID-19 we cannot have the ICU in Belize City filled with gangsters with gunshot injuries then when your grandmother or your grandfather gets corona and need the ICU there will be no space for them it cannot work.”


That period has since elapsed and while only eighteen cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, there are serious concerns about citizen security in the middle of this public health disaster.


Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security

“We had indicated when we had the press conference about a month ago that we were very serious about what we were doing and that if necessary we would extend it.  We believe that we have enough control over the situation that it was not necessary to extend it and the people could be released and they were released yesterday.  However, make no mistake about it, if it turns out that we don’t have the control that we think we have, they will go right back almost immediately.  The legislation has already been drawn up, the boundaries have already been demarked and demarcated and if they, as much as blink wrong they will go right back up.  Their behaviour whilst they were up there was pretty good, there were no incidents while they were detained.  They were spoken to regularly by the CYDP and other people and they claim to understand that what we are doing is necessary.  They claim to understand that their actions will not be tolerated by the general public and so they are ready to go back into the society and be law abiding citizens.”


While they reportedly got along well with each other during their detention, was there any accord involving a ceasefire upon their release from prison?


Virgilio Murillo

“With respect to any formal agreement, what I can tell you is that since they came to the prison we have held several sessions with all of them, particularly with the leadership of the various gangs and we somehow saw where they, for the most part at the end of the day, there seemed to have been a level of mutual respect and understanding of each other, regardless of what color they are affiliated with and what gangs they are affiliated with.  In the prison they were quite well-behaved, I must tell you.  A few of them, I will admit, did try to violate prison rules and they were dealt with accordingly, disciplinarily, that is.”


In evaluating the outcome of their confinement, it was collectively agreed that the gang members will now be given an opportunity to prove themselves by flying the straight and narrow.  That notwithstanding, the focus of law enforcement remains on them during the remainder of the national state of emergency.


Michael Peyrefitte

“Based on the different exchanges and discussions that we had, we decided then to have them prove themselves, but like I said, and I repeat, they are on a very, very short leash.  Not only that, we are in a state of emergency, we are in the middle of a pandemic and so an extra watchful eye will be put on them and as they blink wrong, like I said, they will go back to prison. We give them about another week or so and we are prepared to do it by the end of next week if we have to or by Monday if we have to, to send them right back to prison under a new state of emergency.”


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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