It's hard to go anywhere on the Southside of Belize city and not feel the effects of the crime wave that has gripped the city. Coupled with the economic recession, the once thriving downtown Belize city has become almost a ghost town after dusk. Residents and visitors fear for their safety and have stayed away from what used to be the center of - it seemed - the whole country. And while Restore Belize is still in the blueprint stage, a group of affected merchants say they can't wait and have decided to take some action. Jim McFadzean went downtown today to find out more.
Jim McFadzean Reporting
The old commercial center once abuzz with activity and people has become the latest victim of the increasing lawlessness and climate of fear in the city.
Arun Hotchandani, Honorary Consul of india
"The downtown area Jim is not like what one of my colleagues said yesterday on the radio it's not like what it use to be many years ago. The downtown area has become very gloomy, it become very dark; people are scared to come out. I think this is what we need to revive, we need to revive the downtown area for people to feel safe and to come out once again and to patronise all the business."
Trevor Chee, Downtown Shopper
"Less people are walking on the streets now, mostly cars you see on the streets because they are afraid to get gunshot or rob or something like that."
"Are you concerned about shopping downtown still?"
Arlene Castillo, Downtown Shopper
"I believe anybody would, I mean am not from Belize, I am from Cayo but the things that I hear; time and time I am a bit scared, so we leave our car not far from where we shop and just get back in and head out of here. We don't really walk around that much."
"A steady and significant decline in sales in being reflected at cash registers such as this one. As more and more shoppers are increasingly determined to choose under which conditions they will shop."
And, one of those conditions surely has to be what's become the most all-pervading issues of concern: Where and how safe is it to shop?
"They are talking about increasing the security in the downtown area to encourage people to come back into this area and shop. You think the increased presence of security guards combined with the police is going to encourage people to come back to shop?"
Max Simon, Downtown Shopper
"Definitely because you will feel secure, I mean the people who are doing these crimes are going to have to step back and go away from it so I think it is a very good measure but it shouldn't only be downtown it should be all over Belize."
Manolo Castillo, Downtown Shopper
"It's true that crime is really out of hand that's why the people are not coming to shop or doing the things they use to do. I believe we have to try and get the security to secure our people and our self so that they won't be afraid to come downtown again."
With little or no economic activity taking place on a daily basis within Zone 4, the area which encompasses the downtown shopping center, a group of concerned merchants have decided to take the bull by its horns.
"Well Jim as you know that crime is a national issue it's just not the issue dealing with the government or just Southside. Crime I think is a national issue and I think as Belizeans and entrepreneurs we must do our part that we can contribute towards the solution of this major problem, this crisis that's affecting our country today and as we said yesterday on the radio this is a tripod, we need to have the government support, we need to have the business support, and also the public support. I think this is where we come in, the business sector. We felt that if we can get together, this is actually an Indian community initiative it's not an Indian community program. It's an Indian community initiative as we have started this program; we invested in the first capital investment in buying some equipment for the police, some equipment for the security. We have to coordinate between public and private, we have to get them together, work out the technicalities of it, and we will basically be behind them to monitor them to see how they could work cohesively to see if actually the entire society can benefit from such a program."
And so it is a wait and see whether this combined effort will have any impact in restoring a renewed sense of security and shoppers' confidence in the once bustling and thriving downtown. The fact that a few have decided to act using their own resources is certainly a positive step. Reporting for Seven News, I'm Jim McFadzean.
The patrols started a week ago.