Comprehensive Crime & Safety Report March 2009
UNCLAS BELMOPAN 000111
FOR DS/IP/WHA, DS/DSS/ITA, WHA/CEN - C. ASHE, WHA/EX/PMO -
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC BH
SUBJECT: BELMOPAN - ANNUAL OSAC CRIME AND SAFETY REPORT
REF: A. (08) BELMOPAN 161
¶B. (07) BELMOPAN 643
¶C. (07) BELMOPAN 609
¶D. (07) BELMOPAN 179
¶E. (07) BELMOPAN 118
¶1. (U) Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Crime throughout Belize continues to remain a problem and has
steadily risen over the past two years. Major crimes in
Belize (defined as murder, rape, robbery, burglary, theft and
carnal knowledge) increased in 2008 by 8.1% from 2007. Most
disturbing is that the murder rate within Belize has
continued to increase on an annual basis by 5% since 2003.
The number of murders in 2008 ) 103 homicides ) has now
more than doubled those reported in 2000 (47 homicides) and
represents a nationwide murder rate of 34 per 100,000
persons. This, coupled with an understaffed and poorly
resourced police force, make the high crime threat in Belize
a primary concern of the government. The U.S. Department of
State's Consular Information Sheet for Belize
provides a current and accurate overview of the environment.
¶A. Crime Threats: vehicle thefts, personal robberies and
Throughout Belize, the number of 2008 reported robberies
increased by 3.4%, burglaries by 3.6% and thefts by 12.7%
over their 2007 levels. Overall, the total number of
reported robberies, burglaries and thefts increased by 7.5%
in 2008 over the previous year,s reported numbers (3248 in
2008 vice 3003 in 2007). Criminal perpetrators are also more
regularly carrying firearms in the commission of a crime.
The number of firearms seized in gun-related crimes in 2008
increased by 33% over 2007 levels (194 in 2008 vice 129 in
2007). This number has steadily increased and returned to
the high previously experienced in 2003 (198 firearm
In years past, if victims cooperated during robberies they
were generally left unharmed. Unfortunately a trend of
violence has emerged where cooperation is no longer a
guarantee of safety. Residential theft can be deterred,
though not completely eliminated, with the addition of metal
grills on windows and doors and extensive exterior lighting
and perimeter fences and/or walls. Vehicle thefts,
especially involving new or expensive models, remain a
problem and caution must be exercised when leaving vehicles
¶B. Safety: Road conditions and road hazards
Road conditions are average to poor. The primary highways )
Northern, Western, Southern, and Hummingbird Highways are in
generally good condition once away from Belize City. Close
to Belize City the road conditions are very poor. There are
no lighted highways, no shoulder, and driving can be very
dangerous, especially after dusk and during the frequent
Hazards are many and frequent as pedestrians, bicycles, and
animals use the highways for traffic, and stopped or unlit
vehicles create a very real hazard. Heavy trucks and buses
make frequent and unexpected stops along the highway and poor
driving practices, to include vehicles passing on curves,
blind spots and hills contribute to a high vehicular accident
¶2. (U) Political Violence
¶A. Historical Perspective
Political violence is almost nonexistent in Belize. February
2008 Belize General Election marked a major turnover in
government. The transition from one party to another proved
very peaceful. Early 2007 saw several political protests,
and one that had begun peacefully turned violent when a
criminal element used the protest as an opportunity for
initiating a riot. The 2008 General Elections proved once
again that Belize adheres to democratic principles.
¶B. Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime
Organized crime still remains an issue with money laundering,
stolen vehicles, human smuggling and trafficking and the drug
trade beyond the ability of the police to address
effectively. There is some recent indication of a growing
presence of gangs in Belize. In November 2007, reports of
Mara Salvatrucha gangs (MS-13 and MS-18) indicate a stronger
base of operations than previously known.
¶C. International Terrorism and Transnational Terrorism
While there does not appear to be any links to Middle Eastern
terrorist groups currently active in Belize at this time,
minimal immigration controls, the theft of passports and the
ease with which documents can be obtained make the country a
potential transit point for transnational terrorists.
¶D. Civil Unrest
Demonstrations in Belize are generally peaceful. However for
a week in late January and early February 2009, a protest by
cane farmers against Belize Sugar Industries in Orange Walk
(approximately 120 miles north of Belmopan) turned violent.
Approximately 1000 protesters successfully shut down the
Northern Highway, effectively severing the northern districts
from the remainder of the country and disrupting the main
artery of vehicular traffic, commerce and trade with Mexico.
On 02/02/2009, the demonstration culminated in a violent
clash between Belize Police Department (BPD) units and
protestors resulted in the death of one protester and
injuries to two BPD officers and eight protesters.
¶3. (U) Post-Specific Concerns
¶A. Environmental, such as earthquakes and floods
The most likely and most feared natural disaster is a
hurricane. Between the months of June and November, it is
hurricane season in the Western Caribbean, with the September
and October period as the most likely time for tropical
storms and hurricanes. Belize has almost no capability to
respond to such a disaster, and the vulnerability is well
known. Although the Belize National Emergency Management
Office (NEMO) has analyzed the country,s vulnerability to a
hurricane, no systemic actions have been taken in response to
these reports. Hurricane shelters exist along the coast
line, but food and water supplies are either non-existent or
inadequate. Waterways require dredging, so flooding will be
exacerbated. Belize has no evacuation plan.
In 1961, damage from the Category 5 Hurricane Hattie
precipitated the inland of Belize,s capital from vulnerable
Belize City to Belmopan. The continuous threat of tropical
storms and hurricanes was a primary reason for the move of
the U.S. Embassy into a new facility in November 2006.
While Belize is tropical and has regular rainfall, clogged
drainage and waterways combined with urban growth lead to
frequent flooding of roadways, even during the &dry8
season. The rainy season typically last from June to
November and heavy rains can cause flooding at any time
during this period. Hurricanes and tropical depressions can
and do cause severe flooding throughout Belize. In June
2008, Tropical Depression Arthur caused severe flooding
resulting in 10 deaths, total destruction to the Kendall
Bridge in Stann Creek District, and effectively severing
access to Southern portions of the country. Tropical
Depression 16 in October 2008 resulted in over 30 villages
countrywide being declared disaster areas and millions of
dollars of crop damage. Moreover, extensive road damage is
still evident in places on all the major highways and in some
areas is still under repair.
Two category 5 hurricanes ) Felix (September 2007) and Dean
(August 2007) ) caused extensive damage throughout the
entire country, although a greater humanitarian disaster was
averted as Belize City was spared from a direct hit. These
major storms have resulted in extensive U.S. Government and
international assistance rendered aid to assist the
Government of Belize in recovery efforts.
Minor earthquakes have occurred in Belize, notably in
Southern portion of the country. There is no record of a
sever earthquake in modern times. There are no active
volcanoes in Belize. There is a risk for forest fires at the
end of the dry season, Typically around April and May.
¶B. Industrial and Transportation Accidents
To date, Belize is the only country in Central America to
have no kidnapping of tourists or foreigners for ransom.
¶D. Drugs and Narco-terrorism
The porous borders with Mexico and Guatemala contribute to
Belize,s status as a transit point for the continued
trafficking of narcotics and money laundering. Recent events
in Mexico are worth monitoring to determine what impact, if
any, law enforcement activity will have on the cartels and
the potential ramifications for narcotics related criminal
activity in Belize.
¶4. (U) Police Response
While the Belize Police Department remains supportive and
responsive to requests for security assistance and
investigations, their ability to respond and deter crimes is
very limited. Unfortunately chronic staffing, equipment and
administrative deficiencies undermine the ability of BPD to
quickly respond and provide a comprehensive investigation.
For example issues such as vehicle shortages or continuously
busy general police and emergency telephone lines, make even
the timely resolution of routine issues problematic.
¶A. How to handle incidents of police harassment or detention
Police are very cooperative with the Embassy regarding
Americans who are arrested or detained, and always inform the
Embassy. Any American citizen who feels he is being harassed
should contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in
Belmopan. The Consular Section and Consular Wardens maintain
a list of attorneys in their respective areas. Local
attorneys will charge based upon the magnitude of the case.
¶B. Where to turn for assistance if you become a victim of a
Belize City Police Department tel: 227-2222,
San Pedro Police Station tel: 226-2022,
San Ignacio Police Station tel: 824-2022,
Punta Gorda Police Station tel: 722-2022
Orange Walk Police Station tel: 223-2022
Independence Police Station tel: 523-2022
Dangriga Police Station tel: 522-2022
Corozal Police Station tel: 422-2022
Caye Caulker Police Station tel: 226-2022
Benque Viejo Police Station tel: 823-2038
Belmopan Police Station tel: 822-2222
¶5. (U) Medical Emergencies
¶A. Contact information for local hospitals and clinics
There are 10 hospitals located in Belize. All medical clinics
see only outpatient cases and are not staffed to handle
emergencies. Therefore there are no organized medical
"clinics" within Belize. Belize City is the center for
medical care in Belize. The two major hospitals equipped to
handle serious medical problems are located in Belize City:
Belize Medical Associates and Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital
in Belize City. Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital is adequate
for many serious problems, but the blood supply is not
screened for Hepatitis C. On two separate occasions,
infected blood is known to have caused Hepatitis C
infections. Medical facilities outside Belize City, even in
Belmopan, are not adequate to handle serious medical
conditions, such as cardiac problems, and often fail to meet
Belize Medical Associates (5791 St. Thomas Street, Kings
Park, tel. 223-0303)
Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City (Princess
Margaret Dr., tel. 223-1548).
¶B. Air ambulance services
Those with serious or life-threatening problems who need
medevac should contact Air Ambulance. Medical expenses in
Belize can become costly. It is important a few weeks prior
to traveling to Belize to check that you have sufficient
coverage with your insurance company. You should bring
prescription drugs you will need with you. There are
reasonably well-stocked pharmacies in most major towns and
Air Ambulance Professionals (Ft. Lauderdale Executive
Airport, Hanger 36B 1535 S. Perimeter Rd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL
33309, tel: 800-752-4195; 954-491-0555, www.airambulanceprof.com
¶6. (U) Travel precautions: Tips on how to avoid becoming a
¶A. Alert our constituents to any crimes/scams that are unique
or especially frequent in your region.
There are no crimes/scams that are unique to Belize. Caution
should be exercised, as always, when using ATM machines or in
the use of credit cards.
¶B. Include any area of town to be avoided and best security
Areas to Avoid
Almost half the murders in Belize in 2008 occurred in Belize
City, with the overwhelming majority of those occurring in
the south/west side of Belize City. Overall, crime in Belize
City is at a substantially higher rate than the rest of the
country. The city itself is relatively small and
neighborhoods of different qualities are close to each other
without the buffer zones typically found in larger cities
that might separate higher crime areas from others.
Generally speaking, it is strongly recommended that the area
of Belize City south/west of the Belize River should not be
visited, particularly at night or while alone.
Best Security Practices - Personal Security
Maintain a low profile - Do not advertise the fact that you
are American. Dress casually, keep valuables out of sight,
and do not draw attention to yourself with your actions.
Vary your routine - Be unpredictable in your movements; vary
your routes from home to the office as well as your departure
and arrival times.
Be alert to possible surveillance - Note any individual who
appears out of place along your routes to regularly scheduled
activities, such as going from home to office.
Be alert to your surroundings - Minimize valuables and do not
carry large sums of money. Be aware of potential scams and
robbery tactics used to distract your attention.
Avoid wearing jewelry and carry a clutch purse or a neck
purse instead of a shoulder bag. Carry a wallet in the front
trouser pocket or front jacket pocket.
Never leave shopping bags or merchandise unattended.
When hiring domestic help, thoroughly check their references
to the greatest extent that you can. Ensure that they are
trained not to volunteer information to strangers or to allow
access of workers without prior authorization.
Best Security Practices - Protecting Your Vehicle
Spare tire - If your tire is mounted on the outside of the
vehicle, secure it in place with chain and padlock, or
similar device. If this is not possible, remove the spare
tire and keep it at home, reinstalling it only for extended
trips outside the city.
Items inside the vehicle - Theft of small, easily pilfered
items is a common crime, as is the theft of car sound
systems. The installation of a car alarm is strongly
recommended. If you purchase a car radio, look for models
that can be removed from the dash and locked in the trunk.
Also, keep your vehicle sterile, storing anything that would
entice a thief out of plain view.
Locking hubs - Replace one lug nut on each wheel with a
specially keyed bolt that locks or can only be removed with a
special attachment to the tire iron.
Parking - Parking on the street can rarely be avoided. If
left overnight, ensure you park in a well lit area, with
security guards (most hotels have security guards). At the
very least, attempt to park within view of the location of
Car Alarm - As previously mentioned, installation of a car
alarm is a necessary precaution in deterring vehicle thefts
and thefts of interior contents.
Best Security Practices - Road Travel Precautions
Prior to road travel, ensure that your vehicle is good
operating condition, paying particular attention to the
engine, tires, brakes, head and tail lights, spare tire and
jack, horn, seat belts and fluid levels. Particularly on
trips to remote areas, try to travel in tandem with other
vehicles, and advise someone of your travel plans, including
anticipated arrival and departure times and contact numbers.
The following items are recommended for extended road trips:
- Cellular telephone with charger (although some areas
between cities lack coverage);
- A spare tire;
- Potable water;
- Non-perishable food items;
- First Aid kit;
- Fire extinguisher;
- Emergency tool kit with the following:
- Flashlight and additional batteries;
- Battery operated radio;
- Extra fan belt/drive belt;
- Extra fuses, spark plugs, and light bulbs;
- Duplicate ignition key;
- Screw driver (regular and Phillips head);
- Socket wrench set;
- Electrical tape;
- Jumper cables;
- Compressed air tire pump;
¶7. (U) Further information: How to Contact the U.S. Embassy
The Embassy is located at 4 Floral Park Road, Belmopan, Cayo,
Belize; the Embassy is open for regular business Monday
through Friday, 8:00 am to 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
The Embassy is closed on American and Belizean holidays.
Americans are encouraged to register with the American
Citizens Service Office.
¶A. Embassy contact numbers
Embassy Main phone number: 501-822-4011
Regional Security Office: 501-822-4011 ext 4105/4007
Political/Economic Section: 501-822-4011 ext 4197
Embassy Nurse: 501-822-4011 ext 4286
Consular Section: 501-822-4011 ext 4219/4209
¶8. (U) OSAC Country Council
OSAC had its first meeting July 2007. Interested parties can
visit the Belize Country Council website at belize.osac.gov.
¶A. Point of contact
Robert F. Kelty, Regional Security Officer at 501-822-4011
ext 4105/4007 or email DS RSO Belmopan@state.gov.