The Peoples United Party responded to the declaration that has hit Banak Street, George Street and significant portions of the South Side of Belize City. Leader of the Opposition John Briceno was joined by Mayor of Belize City, Bernard Wagner who they feel had been disrespected. The Opposition believes that as the gatekeepers of Belize City, the city council should have been informed and consulted in a joint effort to work along with the police department.
John Bricenio Leader of the Opposition: “First of all let me express my dissatisfaction with the fact that this proclamation was issued without any consultation with the Mayor of Belize City who only found out about it after it was announced to the press. It is disrespectful, it is disrespectful of the Mayor to take such actions which will affect thousands of Belizeans in Southside Belize City without consulting with their duly elected Mayor. The fact that the government has taken the drastic step to declare a state of public emergency on the Southside of Belize city is a clear admission of their in ability to handle the crime situation. Indeed the acting commissioner stated in this morning’s press conference that the situation is getting out of control. No sir the situation is out of control. According to sources in the independent media to date there have been 106 murders, 15 in the month of August alone. This past weekend was the most deadly and violent in recent months and the Police have reported that innocent persons may have been shot and killed in Southside Belize City just for being in the area while on the job. To be completely honest with you, we are tired of calling press conferences to say the same thing over and over. We are tired of saying that something drastic has to be done. We know that the Belizean people are on edge and they need urgent and decisive action by government. At my last press conference I said that we couldn’t solve the problem of violence and crime on Southside Belize City by a heavy handed approach alone. I have said yet again that the PUP is prepared to work with the government and with social partners to help find lasting solutions to the crime problem. Locking up gang members for a month will not do anything to address the poverty and inequality on the Southside of Belize City. It will not address the number of people who are on the streets instead of being in school. We need to look at this problem from a holistic point of view.”
The Leader of the Opposition continued to call for the removal of Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie. Whylie was not present at the National Security and Police briefing this morning because he is on holiday. PUP Leader John Briceno said he believes a bipartisan commission, with the inclusion of civil society partners can develop a comprehensive, long term and effective strategy to deal with the gang and gun violence.
John Bricenio Leader of the Opposition: “Rising crime is a product of social, moral and economic failures and the government is now reaping what they have sowed which is the long term neglect of the people of Southside Belize City.”
Reporter: “Gang violence is something that has occurred under PUP and UDP administrations. The people of the neighborhoods can attest to that. The issues that are underlined: we have drug planes that are landing, we have corruption, gang leaders that I have spoken to; they have spoken of all the things that they have seen and the interactions that they also have with leaders and they know that they are being used when it comes to election time. I bring this up because it is political question that both parties are dealing with so those responsibilities that it is a government of Belize issue now. What would be your short term solution to deal with all this violence that is falling within the city or what is the military strategy that you would have implemented?”
John Bricenio Leader of the Opposition: “ I agree with you that this is not a problem that has happened over night but I can tell you that when we were in government it was never this bad because we had people like Cordel Hyde that used to work in the division in Southside and others and we were making strides in improving the Southside of Belize City despite the fact the majority of them did not support our party. The point that I am bringing across today is that it has been getting progressively worse and the government was aware of it and they did nothing or I don’t think they did enough; they didn’t have a comprehensive plan in how to address this. They felt that by brutal force it could be addressed but it has backfired and it has gotten worse so now they believe that they have to come with an even bigger heavy handed approach in trying to declare this state of public emergency. What would we do if we were in government? First of all I can tell you that we would have not have gotten to where we are right now because we have been aware of what is taking place and felt that we need to be able to do something about it in trying to bring meaningful improvement in the lives of our citizens in that side. I don’t think I would have declared a state of public emergency but yes I would put more boots on the ground and ensure that people can feel safe and walk the streets but at the same time we have to be able to go in and meet with community at large there and then try to come up with plans that they believe would help make their lives better.”