Organized Crime and Insecurity in Belize

Posted By: Marty

Organized Crime and Insecurity in Belize - 01/28/13 04:33 PM

Inter-American Dialogue Working Paper

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The Inter-American Dialogue is pleased to publish this working paper by Julie López, an independent journalist from Guatemala who covers regional crime and security issues. Our aim is to stimulate a broad and well-informed public debate on complex issues facing analysts, decision makers, and citizens concerned about Latin America’s policy agenda.

In this working paper, López offers an in-depth look at the security landscape in Belize, a country too often ignored in regional policy discussions, but one which faces criminal challenges similar to those of its larger Central American neighbors. Combining policy analysis and journalistic accounts based on her recent stint in Belize, López examines the political, social, geographical, and institutional factors that have contributed to Belize’s role as a transit point in the international drug trade. She also discusses the rise of other illicit enterprises, including arms trafficking and human smuggling and looks at the impact of growing gang activity. Finally, López analyzes national policy alternatives being explored in Belize, such as marijuana decriminalization and a state-sponsored gang truce, and the particular challenges the country faces in integrating into the Central American regional security framework.

This working paper is part of a series of studies carried out through the Dialogue’s initiative on security and migration in Central America and Mexico. The project works with leading think tanks, research centers, and independent journalists in Mexico and Central America on these two pressing policy challenges. Our work seeks to influence the policy and media communities in the United States, Mexico, and the nations of Central America; introduce Mexican and Central American viewpoints into policy debates and discussions in Washington; and promote fresh, practical ideas for greater cooperation to address security and migration challenges.

This major Dialogue initiative has featured three important meetings. The first, in Washington in July 2011, focused on the challenges posed by current migration and security crises in the region and examined the prospects for shaping US policy on these issues. The second meeting in Guatemala in February 2012—featuring special guests President Otto Pérez Molina and Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz—addressed increasing criminal violence in the northern triangle countries and cooperative strategies for future action. In October 2012 in Managua, the Dialogue held the third meeting of the initiative to compare Nicaragua's security situation to the rest of the region and to examine its unique police model.

We are pleased to recognize the generous assistance provided by the Tinker Foundation for the work carried out under this initiative.

January 15, 2013

Inter-American Dialogue

Posted By: Marty

Re: Organized Crime and Insecurity in Belize - 01/30/13 01:50 PM

Belize asks for Canadian help in fighting spillover of Mexican drug war

Spillover from Mexico's violent drug war is prompting the Harper government and the Canadian military to become more involved in helping defend the tiny Central American country of Belize.

A series of internal reports, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, show the government has quietly increased co-operation with the Commonwealth nation, formerly known as British Honduras.

Canada is providing non-lethal equipment for security services and helping with strategic planning and the training of soldiers.

The documents, which all date from the spring of last year, describe the situation in Belize as deteriorating in the face of ultra-violent drug cartels that are battling not only Mexican and U.S. law enforcement, but each other as well.

"Belize is of growing importance to the Canadian government due to the increasingly precarious security situation in Central America, particularly along the Belize-Mexico border," said a March 23, 2012, briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

"Following increasing success to counter transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) in Mexico, these organizations have advanced into Belize, bringing with them violence and public insecurity."

The long coastline, coral inlets and dark, gnarled jungles have been a mecca for tourists over the years, but also perfect cover for cocaine smugglers in fast boats coming up from Columbia.

The increasing cartel focus on Belize prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to add the country to the so-called “black list” of countries considered major drug-producing states or transit nations for narcotics.

Both the internal Defence Department reports and U.S. experts on the drug war in Central America say the small Caribbean Sea nation has become an important thoroughfare for South American drug cartels.

"Many of the countries in Central America and the Caribbean are facing increasing worries and in some cases documented pressure on their law enforcement and justice systems from transnational organized crime groups," said Shannon O'Neil, an adjunct fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"All of these countries will benefit from strengthening their law enforcement institutions — police, courts, and the like — in the face of these threats."

Eric Olson, associate director of Latin American programs at the Washington-based Wilson Centre, agreed and said the success of anti-drug operations in both the U.S. and Mexico has been overplayed.

To some extent, the shift in drug routes has almost as much to do with cartels battling each other and smugglers looking for easier laneways than with better law enforcement, he said.

"The Belizean security forces are over-matched when it comes to the kind of firepower and capacity that the traffickers have," Olson said.

The coast guard in that country should be a priority for modernization, given the way smuggling patterns have unfolded, he added.

Engagement in the Americas has been an evolving economic and security priority for the Harper government, said defence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The country's minister of defence requested help from Canada when conducting a strategic defence review in 2011 involving the country's more than 1,050 military, coast guard and national police forces, say the internal documents.

Canada's special forces recently delivered a batch of military equipment, including binoculars, combat clothing, helmets, boots, gloves and other gear.

Times Colonist

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