greying daily under the pressure of the tropical sunlight, has
a smile that remains infectious despite his troubled years. And
though he might appear cautious to strangers upon first meeting
him, most people that know him well argue he should be, for he
has paid his dues.
Though Samuel with his grey dreadlocks still twisted may look
like an old man, he had only just passed his thirty-fourth birthday
days before we met a week back. He is a good man too by local
standards, for everyone in the village that he calls home openly
will admit he would never hurt a fly, much less another villager.
Those around him that know him best refer to Samuel as "smoke
stack". His friends recount to me the real damage they
see that was inflicted upon their neighbour following his years
of incarceration within the Belizean maximum security prison
in the Belize District known as Hattieville. One told me bluntly,
"you have to wonder what justice was rendered by locking
up 'Smoke Stack'". In Samuel's own words, what emerges
is a chilling tale that convinced me on the spot that I hope
I never see the system from the inside.
As Samuel explains in explicit terms, "I spent twenty-one
months for a half a pound of weed I got caught with on my bicycle
one day while riding back down from the Maya mountains towards
my home in Dangriga. I had done the trip for years, the law
knew what I was up to, s&%t, I even gave smoke to cops.
I'd cut them out handfuls at the checkpoints back in those days.
But inside Hattieville, s&%t, I got educated real fast,
cause while I was on the inside, I saw a motherf&%$er get
beaten close to death for nothing more than being in the wrong
f&%king spot at the wrong f&%king time, adios motherf&%$er…"
Samuel readily admits that he still smokes 'ganja', the street
word for the clinical name of 'cannabis sativa L.' or the more
commonly known slang term for 'marijuana'. He also still rides
the same roundtrip to and from the slopes of the Maya mountains
from his home in Dangriga that caused him all the trouble and
the term of imprisonment in the first place. All in the name
then as now in order to get the "sticky s%&t",
as Samuel refers to the high grade marijuana, that he peddles
on the streets of his hometown. "Smoke stack" admits
openly, he plans to do just that until the day he dies.
And then there is 'L.M.' who claims he did several years in
Hattieville for burglary and rape because in his angry words,
"the b&t%h lied". 'LM' says he got out on being
good in prison and then immediately as he will tell anyone that
cares to listen, "I got popped again for selling weed and
did another two years cause I couldn't pay the liar (lawyer).
"As L.M. attempts to convince this reporter as well as
those that were within hearing distance the day we talked together
in a small bar near the ocean just off the main street in Dangriga,
"Man, I was just trying to feed me wife and three kids.
You can buy the s%&t on every corner in every town in Belize
and when you happen to get caught, f&%king life comes to
L.M. says the burglary and rape charges both stemmed from a
domestic dispute with the common law wife that he still lives
with day in and day out and has for over the last eleven and
a half years, less the time in Hattieville. And regardless of
his time spent in Hattieville, L.M.'s mood swings into defiance
when it comes to his views concerning the police and dealing
dope. Indeed, selling drugs on the street corners throughout
the towns of Belize to make that fast 'buck' as L.M. will tell
you "was a no-brainer. And if I had the dollars to pay
the cops off, well I would have walked on the drugs charge."
For as L.M., who is not yet 35 years young and a father of
three children, told me, he first got the controlled substance
"fronted to him" by his uncle who works as part of
an eight-man growing team. L.M. claims the teams regularly dodge
those charged with the process of interdiction throughout Belize,
from the fields in the Orange Walk District to the remote highlands
of the Toledo District.
According to L.M., the growing teams go deep into the jungle
bush for roughly one hundred and twenty days or so depending
upon the weather and the rains. L.M. says that it takes that
time for the crop to reach its maturity. He continues by saying,
"the growing teams monitor from within and from outside
their team the movements of the 'Dragon Unit'. They return to
their families and fellow villagers with the cash crop".
The 'Dragon Unit' is the elite division of the BDF (Belize Defence
Force) that takes on the monumental task of fighting the growers
and smugglers throughout Belize.
Once the four members of the growing team return with the harvest,
L.M. says that almost immediately after they are repatriated
with their village life, they are replaced by four other villagers
that head for the bush to re-plant, grow, protect and harvest.
It's all done in an effort that ultimately is required to meet
the unrelenting demand both on the domestic front as well as
the international market. The cycle goes on and on despite the
billions of dollars worldwide for the manpower and training
thrown at the growers and smugglers by the combined efforts
of the Belize police and defence force, the United States DEA
(Drug enforcement Agency), INTERPOL and law enforcement agencies
from Paris to Asuncion to Capetown.
In essence, demand dictates just as the business of fighting
drugs does, a budget that far exceeds the fiscal budgets of
such countries as Belize, Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia in this
hemisphere. The poorer developing nations in the world that
face poverty and civil unrest such as Afghanistan have a hard
time curtailing the drug industry. Afghanistan is responsible
for 90% of the world's heroin production and despite the invasion
of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban in the US's ongoing war
upon the shadows of terror, there has been a sharp increase
in 'poppy' cultivation, the base product required for producing
the illicit drug that now is the drug of choice in affluent
communities in America and Europe. So too in the South American
countries of Colombia and Bolivia that have in recent years
seen a drastic influx of dollars focused upon the war on coca
cultivation as well as exportation of cocaine, both have realized
marked increases in production.
Even in the Ache Province in Indonesia that this past winter
suffered nearly total devastation in the December 2004 Tsunami,
a part of the world long realized for its marijuana production
as well as its rebel oppositions to the Indonesian government,
the business of drugs goes on. In that archipelago nation an
Australian citizen was recently sentenced to 20 years for trafficking
4.5 kilograms of marijuana in a place where it is grown by local
farmers. In the Schapelle Corby case in Indonesia she was sentenced
while evidence clearly points to the reality that she was set-up
in an intricate smuggling operation that involved airport baggage
handlers from Brisbane to Sydney to Denpasar. Around the globe
the business of drugs and fighting the smugglers and producers
goes on, generation after generation.
In the end, whether we like to admit it or not, well it results
in young lives that are thrown into overcrowded jail cells from
Kenya to Cambodia to Uzbekistan to Belize. Despite all the good
intentions of those that are charged to watch over them, as
is the case in any country developed or undeveloped on the surface
of the globe, the paroled prisoner exits a more informed and
better connected enterpriser than he or she ever dreamed imaginable.
And when their life has been destroyed, the choices to survive
often push them deeper into the underworld of crime.
Centre for Prison Studies, based upon reporting from 2002
through 2004, reflects that the United States of America has
the largest prison population in the world with 2,085.620 prisoners.
The country of China came is second with a prison population
of 1,548,498 prisoners. For the record, the Russian Federation
was #3, 786,900; Mexico#7, 191,890; Iran#10, 133,658 ; Colombia
# 20 with 68,545; Cuba #31, 55,000; Narru and Tuvalu were tied
at #210 with 6 prisoners each. As for Belize's ranking, the
country came in at # 150 with at the time 1,074 prisoners.
Although on the surface Belize seems to be fairing quite well
compared to other countries around the globe, under closer examination,
the prison population in Belize must be realized by looking
at the rates of those imprisoned per 100,000 persons of the
national population. The ICPS reports that again the US is #1
with 714 per 100,000. Russia holds #2 spot with 550 prisoners
per 100,000 citizens. From there the report reflects that Cuba
is #8 with 487 per 100,000; Colombia is #87 with 152 per 100,000;
Iran is #55 with 191 per 100,000; Mexico is #63 with 182 per
100,000; Honduras is #82 with 158 per 100,000; China is #111
with 118 per 100,000; Guatemala is #164 with 68 per 100,000;
Cambodia is #189 with 68 per 100,000. At the bottom of the list
is the African nation of Burkina Faso that is # 211 with 23
prisoners per 100,000 citizens. As for our beloved Belize, the
country is ranked #10 out 211 countries in the report, with
a prisoner ratio of 420 prisoners per 100,000 citizens.
The reality, despite the compassionate efforts of the private
management by 'Kolbe Foundation Limited' that took over the
prison "pursuant to the Amendment to the Belize Prisons
Act Chapter 139 of the Laws of Belize" on July 30th, 2002,
like every prison around the globe, Hattieville Prison is as
Smoke Stack said, "hell on earth". It is filled to
overflowing capacities with some very mean people as well as
many that have been caught up in the drug trade. Tragically,
young people that become involved in the illicit world of drugs
live life shoulder to shoulder on the inside with the worst
that society has to offer.
In Belize, "the yuts" are pushed into a state of
criminality by glorified music that allows art form to seduce
them into a life they will regret down the road. While governments
as well as the private sector often profit on the business of
interdiction as well as production, the "yuts" from
Belize to Morocco become the pawns of a global game that those
that get caught loose, while those that pull the ropes of puppetry
often live a lavish lifestyle.
Although the United States and the European Community state
openly their opposition to the culture of drugs, they seemingly
have no problem with their citizens being allowed to fly in
and out of the EU nation of the Netherlands (Holland). In the
city of Amsterdam there are literally more than 400 coffee shop
cafes that allow persons from around the globe to fly in and
out in order to legally catch that buzz that 'ganja' addicts
require for the enjoyment of their vice.
Both the United States and Belize incarcerate their citizens
for the same actions at home but they place no travel restrictions
on their citizens who travel to the European country also known
as Holland. If there is a war on drugs, why not start on the
frontline by stopping all international flights between the
USA and those from Belize City that can connect Belizeans to
the cafes of Holland??
Why does the USA not stop such flights as they wage their war
on drugs and terror. It's easy to understand why they fail to
act, for where there is a need for interdiction there is again
a need for weapons; where there is dope there is a market for
companies to profit hugely in fighting the
narco-traffickers. There are subsidies that are given by the
US government to those that are in bed with them in their proclaimed
war on drugs, but then again there are those murky waters where
drugs were trafficked and sold through clandestine operations
and back office payments where both sides are played to the
benefit of whom? The markets of demand that eventually dictate
where the profits go and for what reasons can be found inside
the borders of the two biggest consumers of illegal drugs, in
the USA and Europe.
Hattieville prison has its fair share of growers and sellers
of marijuana that are trying their best to feed their families
in a land of harshness, where every single dollar counts. But
we can all agree that illegal activities cannot be justified
by the need to support one's family. Laws are meant to govern,
they are required to keep a society civil.
That said, Belize and any other country in this writer's opinion
should not allow its citizens worst yet its youth to be exploited
by a global hypocrisy that allows dope to be openly smoked in
Amsterdam when it is deplored in its own streets. At a time
when fiscal policies are forcing the people of a nation into
the streets to survive, why not turn to the insights of the
Dutch and their futuristic approaches to drugs as a disease
and a habitual problem that represents the true causes of criminal
activity in the 21st century. What if Belize decided to turn
the nation into a controlled nation where tourist were allowed
to openly buy minimal quantities of marijuana? What if Belize
controlled those that grow and sell the cannabis to be taxed
heavily just like the practices in Holland, would not the government
benefit from the 50% taxation that cleaned up the criminal and
black markets that plagued the country of the Netherlands??
As Samuel 'smoke stack' told me so potently, "the appetite
for weed will never ever stop us weed warriors from delivering
the crops down from the mountains to the sellers on the streets
of your town as well as mine. Dope smokers smoke, and we always