Investigators believe that much of the recent gun related shootings in Belize City have been orchestrated by gang members. Authorities have recognized that there is a gang warfare escalating in Southside Belize City. When news surfaced that Senior Superintendent of Police Marco Vidal will be taking over Southside as the new commander, some gang members warned that things would not be the same as it was under the former commander ACP Chester Williams. Hipolito Novelo reports.
Unofficially, so far there have been more than one hundred and ten murders recorded. At the end of 2016, the Belize Police Department recorded 120. 2017 has two and a half more months to go. And the recent spike of gun violence within Belize City, has alarmed authorities. Back in July, the Minister of State responsible for Home Affairs, Elodio Aragon Jr., announced legislative reforms to deal with the gang problem.
Elodio Aragon Jr., Minister of State responsible for Home Affairs
“We’ve also been working on a task force, an anti-gang task force that will basically it’s not a hard charging unit but it’s an investigating unit that will look at all the serious offenders out there because at the end of the day we all know who these offenders are within this country and we have to look towards dealing with those who repeatedly commit crimes especially in terms of murder.”
The authorities know who the gang leaders are. They know which gangs are “beefing”. And because they know this, intervention sessions had been carried out by Southside former commander, ACP Chester Williams. Williams was actively engaging gang members with the goal to curb gang related crimes.
ACP, Chester Williams, Former Southside Commander
“So intervention is something good. I do believe that it needs to be done more because at the end of the day it is what helps. It is what allows these young men to be able to vent their frustration and you know when a person is angry the best thing for that person to do is allow them to vent because when they keep it inside them it just boils and boils and it becomes like a time bomb just waiting to explode. So with the interventions they don’t reach that stage because we dialogue with them on a weekly basis and see what their issues are and we try to resolve it with them.”
That strategy seems to have been working. A gang truce was forged. A peace march focused on bringing gang members together to reduce the level of gang related crimes in Belize City was held in April.
However, news of Williams being transferred out of the Southside had already angered some of the gang members.
They knew that Senior Superintendent Marco Vidal would be replacing ACP Williams.
“With Vidal coming to Belize City do you think it will mess things up?”
“Well I don’t know if it will work.”
“Do you want Chester to stay in Belize City?”
“They have to make that man stay there, he deserves that post. We are going to go back to the same if the man moves, it will be worse.”
“Do you think that Vidal coming to Belize will mess things up?”
“Corruption because they will change people for nothing. Just chance.”
“But if the man shows that he will be different are you willing to give him a chance?”
“He has to come to us good. This is not the first time that Chester has done this, this has happened more than one time for the past two years. Yes people cry about the killing but it is not compared to before. Chester improved it. So if Vidal is to come in we can’t be vexed, his boss will put him there and move Chester, Chester doesn’t have any power of that; we don’t have any power over that to stop Vidal from come in as much as we are supporting Chester. If that is to happen that will happen. He just has to prove himself a man like Chester did that is all.”
Williams’ post as the Head of the Professional Standards Branch became effective on July 1 and the gang truce continued for a couple of weeks. Vidal displayed interest in keeping William’s initiatives alive.
Sr. Supt. Marco Vidal, Commander, Southside Belize City
“We are prioritizing our resources in the area that we see as problematic areas. Reinforcing those areas and ensuring that we have the adequate intelligence to deal with the problems there and we will continue to do so. In terms of any intervention and mediation there is an institution that is certified to do that which is the Conscious Youth Development Program and any other non-governmental organization that goes out there and intervenes or media we have no difficulty with that they can continue to do that. I do believe though that when it is an individual effort there may very well lie a personal agenda so I believe that this has to be institutionalized that it is an institution that is intervening and mediating so whilst individuals may want to do this and in good faith I think at some point it has to be passed on to the institutions that are more apt to carry out those functions.”
While we can’t say specifically what went wrong, the gang truce is no more as intervention sessions have been put on pause as explained by Diane Finnegan.
“It’s at a standstill because one of the places, well the only place we would meet is at the Raccoon Street Police Station conference room and the guys were comfortable there because it’s a neutral place to meet so it wasn’t a hidden agenda, it wasn’t a personal agenda, it wasn’t a secret it is done at the police station. We did all that we could do, that we had to do in order to bring them together, why this turn in the way the interventions were done I have no idea and if there is an institution that is supposed to be holding these interventions that they saw are qualified why are we at 20 deaths and beyond.”
Reporting for Love News, I am Hipolito Novelo