This is my sixth part on my ongoing series comparing living in Belize to where I now live, Mahahual, Mexico. So far I have compared cost of living, medical and health care, food and drink, and the fact English is spoken in both places. Today I will concentrate on crime and safety in both countries.
I have already written several articles in the past concerning how safe Mexico is compared to the portrait painted by the USA media. Today I am going to include facts from the United States Department of State website. I will also give some examples of what I have experienced first hand.
Belize 2013 Crime and Safety Report
Belize is a high-crime country in Central America, located south of Mexico and east of Guatemala on the Caribbean sea. Tourism is a staple of the Belizean economy, and each year hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Belize. Favorite destinations for tourists are the cayes (islands), including Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, and the coastal areas in the south of the country, including Placencia. Tourists also frequent ecotourism destinations in the lush rainforests in the west and south.
Violent crime has risen steadily over the past several years.
Due to the extremely high murder rate per capita, Belize is the sixth most violent country in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, with an average of over 40 homicides per 100,000 residents. Murders are a growing and continuing problem for Americans, Belizean, and Belize law enforcement and security. In 2012, Belize recorded 145 murders, setting a new record for homicides in the country. The murder rate was nearly 15 percent higher than 2011. The majority of the homicides in 2012 occurred in Belize City, where gang violence is rampant, especially on the south side of the city. A “gang truce” that had been in place since September 2011 ended in the spring of 2012, following a peaceful re-election of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) in May 2012.
In 2012, homicides continued to rise throughout the country specifically in the western and northern districts. Homicides increased in the Cayo district in the west, which is home to the capital city, Belmopan, and the U.S. Embassy. Homicides in Belmopan nearly doubled over 2011 numbers. Homicides also rose in the northern district of Corozal, which borders Mexico.
Much of the violent crime in Belize occurs on the south side of Belize City, home to several street gangs. Belizean officials, in November 2012, in an attempt to control the security situation in these areas, invoked a “declaration of crime infested areas” under the Belizean law that allows for law enforcement and security forces to conduct warrantless searches of personnel and property in “crime ridden” areas.
In January 2013, four prominent George Street Gang (GSG) members were found brutally murdered in an apartment building on the southeast side of Belize City. The ensuing panic and rampant speculation regarding the possible perpetrators led to the early closing of several businesses and schools in Belize City and generated a security message from the U.S. Embassy to U.S. citizens.
The majority of crimes are burglaries and thefts. Overall, corruption, human smuggling and trafficking, the drug trade, money laundering, and organized gang activity remain significant criminal problems. Additionally, in many cases, organized criminal organizations operate beyond the ability of the police to disrupt them. Compounding this problem is the very modest capacity to prosecute offenders.
Tourist attractions, including the cayes, remain some of the safest destinations. While crime against tourists exists on the cayes, it is less frequent and generally non-violent, though some notable murders have occurred, including the widely-publicized murder of a U.S. citizen on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. Tourists have been robbed while visiting archeological sites, and occasional violent crimes have occurred at resort areas on both mainland Belize and the cayes. Illicit activities in remote areas can involve innocent tourists.
The reporting of financial crimes committed against patrons of tourists destinations increased in 2012. There were several reported instances of credit card fraud against patrons of resorts and other local establishments. It is believed that several credit card fraud rings are active.
There have also been several reports of tourists being “set up” or solicited to purchase illegal drugs. The tourists are then arrested. Most have been fined and then released, but visitors should be aware that they could be sent to prison to await trial, and, if convicted, could serve their sentence in Belize, in according with Belize’s strict laws on illegal narcotics.
There have been reports of fraud committed against expatriates and Belizeans who have attempted to purchase land. Many expatriates have reported being the victim of scams in which land is purchased that was not available, or land was purchased that was legally owned by other parties. It has been reported that Belizean authorities have not been proactive in investigating these crimes and enacting measure to ensure that they do not continue to occur.
Across Belize in 2012, drug seizures were higher than 2011 with the exception of cocaine. Due to Belize’s location just south of Mexico and bordering Guatemala in the west and south, the transit of drugs, particularly cocaine and precursor chemicals for methamphetamine, has risen. Belize was included on the 2011 and 2012 U.S. Majors List of illegal narcotic producing and/or transit countries.
In 2011, a plane carrying suspected violent drug smugglers crashed outside of Belmopan near the Belize Zoo. In 2012, there was a shoot-out between Belize security forces on the north part of Ambergris Caye that resulted in the deaths of four individuals dressed in military uniforms with military-style rifles, who had suspected ties to Central American gangs.
While Belize is generally a friendly and accommodating society, females should be particularly attentive to risks associated with being in public alone or in the company of only one other female. Sexual harassment and sexual assaults against visitors have occurred.
All the above information I got of the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security website. Now I will give my insight and experiences with crime in Belize.
When I was living in Corozal, Belize in 2009 and 2010 I noticed an increase in crime then. I met several expats who lived in Consejo Shores who were robbed by people who laid planks of wood with nails in them in the road, to flatten the tires and then were robbed when they got out to check their tires. This happened more then once, and in fact there was a warning not to travel that road at night.
There are a lot of gangs now in Belize, because a lot of young Belizean males have been deported from the USA after getting into gang trouble there. They have brought their gang knowledge and activities back to Belize with them. Also because of this there is a big influx of guns in Belize now.
Also being a very poor country there are a lot of burglaries and break- ins all the time. I knew a couple that went back to the USA for a month and when they came back they found the burglar bars had been lifted from their house, and everything inside was stolen. And this is just one example, there are countless others I have heard about.
When I lived in Corozal there was an outbreak of cars getting their batteries stolen from them as they sat on the street in front of people’s houses. Come to find out it was the garbage men, as they were picking up the garbage, one would steal the battery out of the car, while it was blocked by the garbage truck. Basically you can’t leave anything outside, or on the street, it will be stolen in a minute. Once I had a fan that broke, so I sat it outside up front, and I sat behind a tree and hid. It wasn’t 5 minutes when a guy sneaks up and looks around for a second, and then runs off with the fan. I thought that was funny, a guy stealing a broke fan that was no good for use, but that is Belize, they will even steal your trash.
During this last spring break while I was working at the Costa Maya Port, I met five University of Mississippi female students, who had been in Belize on their cruise the day before. They told me this story about how they went into Belize City to go on an excursion, and as they were walking a Belizean male came up and put some marijuana in one of the girls pockets, and told her she was so beautiful he wanted to give this to her. The girls told me they did not know what to do, they had not solicited, or even asked for anything. Well before they could take a step, a policeman came up to them and told them he had to search them for illicit drugs. The cop went right to the pocket where the guy had put the drugs, and he arrested them and took them to jail. He told them it would be a $500 USD fine, and they would have to pay or spend a year in a Belizean jail. He would not them call the USA Embassy, home, or the cruise ship line. They told me they were scared to death, and did not what to do, so they paid the policeman the $500 so he would let them out of jail. I hear stories like these all the time. Belize is a very corrupt country, and shakedowns of tourists by police happens all the time.
As for me, when I lived in Belize, I kept a machete beside my bed when I slept, and also carried it with me during the day. Also I never ventured much out at night by myself like I do in Mahahual.
So in conclusion, in my opinion, and the U.S.A. State Department, Belize is not a very safe place to live. So if you are considering living or retiring in Belize, you might want to consider somewhere safer, like Mahahual, Mexico. Tomorrow I will talk about crime and safety in Mahahual and Costa Maya.
Thanks for reading,
Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina