BREAKING NEWS – Belmopan Under Siege: Said Musa calls out Troops & Tear Gas – what Bajan Media ignores!

The last time we glanced at Belize, they were ready to receive millions from Barbados to boost their agriculture (a story that is still ignored by Barbadian Media, as is this tale too), now through their Channel 5 and Channel 7 services, we look again at the Sa’id Musa regime which appears under siege for what their citizens have deemed as fiscal mismanagement –

Said Musa, Prime Minister ?Because we believe no matter how poor you are, you are entitled to good quality health care and the PUP will ensure that you get it. That is how we?re going to convert this challenge into a real opportunity.?

Janelle Chanona ?And after giving that address, Prime Minister Said Musa made his way to the House Meeting with mixed reactions obviously, here with members of his Cabinet. And as the meeting got started outside basically everybody just sorta got comfortable in their established camps setting up stuff and thinking where to put their banners and other placards. I have to say some of the most creative stuff that I?ve seen was kind of an effigy of the Prime Minister that one guy was wearing at one point. Some of the signage did have obscenities which was obviously not constructive but there were a lot of people out there that obviously wanted to hear and see as much as what was going on today. I don?t know, you guys have any questions.

Marleni Cuellar ?Well, I was actually out there and one of the things that I noticed, besides the signs as well, there were actually some children who were out there with their family. People who seemed like they weren?t there to support any particular party were there with their families being a part of the protest.?

Janelle Chanona ?I actually heard one lady say oh you know well at least it won?t come to any violence clashes or confrontations because there are so many kids here; that would prove ill-fated further down the road. As we circled the periphery, Rick I don?t know if you can roll, we caught up with different people to give exactly their reaction to why they were out there. This is more of the PUP side, like I said they were very different. We caught up with the Association of Concerned Belizeans and President David Vasquez explained why he and his association members were out there.?

David Vasquez, President, A.C.B. ?We?re out here in support of Belize, that?s it. The A.C.B. is here in support of Belize and all Belizeans who voice their opinion and said no, no to this guarantee and no to any loan of any form; thirty-nine million, thirty-three million whatever it is we are not in support.?

Janelle Chanona ?And then later we caught up with this group of teachers and unionists. One lady from Gwen Lizarraga High, Kathleen Flowers, that?s her in the red shirt, she would tell us why she was out there.?

Kathleen Flowers, Teacher ?I am showing my support against the Musa Administration and the regime that insist on paying for a private company?s investment with our taxpayers dollars. But I?m also here in a sense to protest the fact that my teachers, my fellow colleagues have chosen to go to Corozal and celebrate.?

Janelle Chanona ?So obviously there was kind of a two pronged objection that she had. There are always arguments about numbers so we went up into one of the Ministry Buildings and we got this aerial view of the UDP crowd so that people can have their own assessment. Those are all police cadets that are lining the front line and police said they did this so that they wouldn?t aggravate the crowd unnecessarily in the beginning. This is from upstairs of the Administration Building, that?s a tent that the PUP had set up and that?s their crowd kind of gathered up. We had asked for permission from NEMO but they told us we couldn?t go on their building so this is kind of distant shots of where they were setting up and congregating.
?Everything was pretty much calm until this guy gets arrested and his detention actually leads to bottles and sticks and such being hurled. And this is where things start to get obviously very tense because they?re starting to tug on the lines and they?re hurling more insults and most of those are plastic bottles but a couple of pint bottles, glass bottles are also being flung over as well that are actually coming pretty close to where the police is. And they just kind of keep going into this back and forth and of course you know the verbal abuse turns to a kind of physical contact and when this guy shows up, he?s actually carrying a gun that can fire rubber pellets, that?s when things between the police and the demonstrators rapidly and dramatically deteriorate.?

The Channel 5 view is both detailed yet informal, but although Channel 7 also has a conversational style, they still deliver more background on what led to the debacle

Jules Vasquez,

I believe the UDP outnumbered the PUP supporters in the House and inside the House there was the routine business, the questions from the Opposition members, and then we got to the business of the day which is the loan bill, we discussed it on the news last night, that the government will out a new loan from the Belize Bank to pay the Belize Bank basically. And how that will work is $29 million, so it is discounted from $33 million and it is one bullet payment at the end of 25 years. 10% a year works out to about $101 million. But we all know the news of that but when the Prime Minister tried to present it in the House, the UDPs were obviously ready to oppose him. There were those in the gallery who shouted him down.

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“The Belize Bank, loan principal amount, $29 million. Loan term, up to 25 years. Rate of interest 10% per annum. Purpose, to enter into a financial settlement of the UHS debt with the Belize Bank and to acquire the shares of UHS.”

[People in Gallery Shouting: ‘No]

Jules Vasquez,
Indira right there we have Mark King, UDP City Councilor who stood up spontaneously, obviously he was prepared, and then he walks on the railing as Mr. Jeffries entered. He walks on the railing and was escorted out. And so they escorted him out, obviously a dramatic maneuver. I am sure no one has walked on that railing before so certainly he is one upping Kenny Morgan who was the notable UDP to have been kicked out of the House. But they intentionally interrupted the Prime Minister’s speech. Here we have him again.

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“…supporters to create trouble in this House. We all saw it. Madam Speaker…”

[Hon. Patrick Faber Shouting]

Elizabeth Zabaneh, Speaker of the House
“Honorable Member from Collet would you sit. You sit, I am standing up.”

Hon. Patrick Faber,
“…the people do not want to pay. What language do you understand Prime Minister? What language do you understand.”

Jules Vasquez,
Patrick Faber, his mic is off but he is shouting so hard. Patrick Faber I guess picked up where Mark King left off. His leader would later say this is spontaneous but he received to it, shouting down the Prime Minister, shouting down Madam Speaker, even when she stands. He went on like this for eleven minutes, we edited here maybe three minutes. But he went on like this; sitting, standing, shouting nonstop.

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“It seems that the member for Collet Division does not understand what is his role as a representative of the people in this Honorable House. It seems that we will have to exclude him from the House because that is what he for. Madam Speaker this [unintelligible] behavior…”

[Patrick Faber Shouting in background]

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“The purpose of this loan is very clear, the member should know that the government is not proposing to pass this motion today without a debate. The government will not be required to pay any of the principal for twenty five years. This is a very reasonable and favourable term that has been negotiate by our government at 10% interest payable annually and as I said, it has the support and the recommendation of the Cabinet.”

Jules Vasquez,
As you can see here Indira, Patrick’s mic is muted by the sound mixer but he is maintaining, he is shouting. He kept this up for eleven minutes. It is just remarkable and at the same time completely unprecedented and obviously he is breaking the standing orders and I think the Prime Minister eventually asked the Speaker to have him removed. But the Speaker was just completely ignoring him, or clearly moving away from the kind of confrontation that may produce. Here is the Leader of the Opposition.

[Dean Barrow asking for debate on the motion]

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“The motion has been proposed and indeed yes it should be read as proposed. There is nothing in the Standing Orders that says the debate must take place immediately after. It says, ‘and after, a debate if any, the question be put. I have said publicly and I wish to repeat to this Honorable House that this government, in order to listen to the views of the people, has decided to put this matter to a committee and it will be brought back to the House next week for Friday. The Standing Order is solid on the matter.”

Jules Vasquez,
The leader of the Opposition wants him to do it all in a day.

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“You’re full of hate that will come back to haunt you.”

Jules Vasquez,
At this point the whole Opposition side is trying to force him basically to go through all reading in one day. They want it today. Later we asked the Leader of the Opposition about that strategy. But Madam Speaker is making her ruling and Faber stands again.

Hon. Patrick Faber,
“Do the honorable thing, do the right thing. I am appealing to your conscience Madam Speaker, do the right thing Madam Speaker.”

Rt. Hon Said Musa,
“…that this motion be referred to the Economic and Finance Committee for consultation.”

Hon. Patrick Faber,
“Do the right thing Madam Speaker. Do the right thing Madam Speaker. Do the right thing in this Honorable House. You have done the wrong thing so many times. Do the right thing. Do the right think Madam Speaker. Do the right thing.”

Elizabeth Zabaneh,
“My understanding of this Standing Orders says, ‘on a motion and its not necessary to have it set on the…I am speaking Honorable Member.”

Hon. Patrick Faber,
“I am begging you, do the right thing. It is not on your interpretation, it is what is written in the standing orders. Do the right thing I am begging you Madam Speaker. Do the right thing for the sake of this country. Do the right thing. Do the right thing Madam Speaker. Do not be a flunky for the PUP. You have a country to defend Madam Speaker. You are this Speaker of this House of Representative. You have a right to put the man in check, he is doing foolishness. Do the right thing. I am begging you please, do the right thing for once, for once.”

Elizabeth Zabaneh,
“…and you are really terrible. The Prime Minister proposed that it be put to the Finance and Economic Development Committee and that is the question. Honorable Members, the motion is referred to the Finance and Economic Development Committee for examination, consideration, and report.”

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Madam Speaker may I have your attention please.”

Elizabeth Zabaneh,
“I have interpreted the Standing Order.”

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“The clerk is trying to suggest that the question that you put is whether it goes to a committee. Man that is balderdash, that is patent nonsense. Read the thing, ‘on the motion made the Speaker shall propose the question on the motion and then after the debate, you put the question for decision. Madam Speaker, this is straightforward. Please, if you have to adjourn, if you have to adjourn to get a proper legal advice, do so. The clerk is not a legally trained person. The words are straightforward. The Prime Minister is caught.”

Hon. Michael Finnegan, Mesopotamia Area Rep.
“Let us have the showdown now.”

Elizabeth Zabaneh,
“I acknowledge the Honorable Attorney General…that is my ruling.”

Hon. Michael Finnegan,
“I will move a motion Madam Speaker that you be removed as Speaker of this House of Representatives.”

Jules Vasquez,
So it ends there with Michael Finnegan asking that Madam Speaker be removed and in fact later on the Leader of the Opposition had threatened to bring a motion challenging her decision where the deputy Speaker Valdemar Castillo would have to stand in but it never reached that point other reasons which we will discuss later. But that is what was happening in the House.

So we see a high level of drama. We see the Opposition taking charge of the House. We see the government and the Speaker completely emasculated in the House. We see the Opposition having its way and Madam Speaker reluctant to name them which would be to put them out the House or discipline them in any significant way because it is such a volatile situation.

At any rate, so we move on from here to where the Leader of the Opposition went down into the crowd. Right after this the crowd was riled up. Some of the folks had been listening so he went down to speak with the crowd and after, we spoke with him.

Jules Vasquez,
Are you all trying to provoke the Speaker?

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“No I think that the explosion of the Hon. Patrick Faber was entirely unscripted, entirely spontaneous. It is an indication of how much this things has gotten to people. Patrick only exemplified the way the vast majority of people in this county feel about this issue.”

Jules Vasquez,
How the Member for the Collet was behaving, his critics would say, that’s unbecoming, particularly of a government in waiting, of what considers itself to be.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“I believe that everything is relative. I say again that while I am sure Patrick would not have wished to behave in that fashion, it is a measure of the kind of fashion that has been provoked by this issue and that has been aggravated by the defiance of the Prime Minister and his determination to, as it were, rub salt in the wounds, rub the people’s faces in dirt. So I would have preferred if that hadn’t happen but I would prefer if today hadn’t happen. I would prefer we not be here over an issue like this.”

Jules Vasquez,
The fact is that you all have put your greatest resource out today. It appears that it would difficult for you to get this kind of crowd next week so you are trying to force the action today when he has out maneuvered you and he is only tabling it, not putting it through all readings.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Well first of all, I don’t think very much of the Prime Minister’s skills or wise. We want to force a debate today because we think the people had a right to expect a debate today based on all that the government said. When Francis Fonseca was interviewed by your station, he said my vote will depend on whether this structured solution that is coming to the House on Friday is the kind of thing I can accept.

Every indication that the government gave to the people of this country was that this thing was going to be thrashed out today. And you’re supposed to, in the context of democracy, you’re not supposed to be playing games with the people.

But the real answer, the real short answer to your question is that he will not have outmaneuvered us because we are coming back next week. We are coming back next week and we are coming back with a bigger crowd for next week.”

Hon. Patrick Faber,
“I came and talked to the man and he is saying I assaulted him and he will arrest. He cannot arrest me here and I dare him to do it. He cannot arrest me on this Hill. I am saying so G. Michael. You tell him that. The Speaker is the only one who can on that.”

As if this drama was not enough? Channel 7 added that tear gas was deployed to disperse the supporters, whether politically or non-partisan motivated, it was after members of the crowd started to pelt rocks…

Jules Vasquez,
The simple thing that happened is that they started to stone and when they started to stone the riot squad came out. It is as simple as that. What they were also stoning at were the cameras that the Special Branch people were using. The way the media is treated in this situation is completely ridiculous. The media sequestered to an area. We are treated like criminals. We are trying to deliver images to thousands of people but the Government Press Officer and the Police Special Branch were allowed to roam freely with their cameras and the protestors targeted them. That’s when the stoning started.

Now we see a tear gas canister that Mr. Jeffries deployed which actually worked and that started to have an effect of crowd dispersal. Right there is where the crowd was in its heart and tear gas was very effective as my cameraman can tell you.

So it’s driving the crowd back, all this is happening between 1:30 and 2:30 pm, over a 40 minute and it’s having a very successful effect. At this point now the riot squad starts to advance down the stairs. So it’s having the effect of breaking up the protest.

Now they threw a tear gas back and that’s when the whole event turned because you can see the tear now releasing completely there and you can see it wafting away.

But now the smoke is wafting into the House, Finnegan asked them to adjourn the House.

Unfortunately, Channel 5 did not carry as much detail as Seven, there was little mention of the gassing or anything so, I am sure other observers will have their own views as to why this may have been so! I am curious how the investors here will feel ploughing money into Belmopan‘s agro-sector in view of the current flux?

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