Narco Crime In Belize

By Editorial Team

Last updated on January 27th, 2023 at 03:41 pm

From its roots as a pirate haven British Honduras, now Belize is been recognized for its strategic location. Then for dozens of estuaries, rivers, creeks, mangrove swamps, islands, atolls and more importantly the Great Belize Barrier Reef providing shelter for marauders and their ships. Now the very same geographic features are in high demand by drug traffickers moving their illicit cargo to the bountiful north American market.

Drug trafficking like any other cargo business has inherent freight losses. Planes crash and cargo is spilled. Planes are hastily unloaded and some cargo left behind. Wet drops have been a viable alternative in the drug trade since the 70s when they were introduced in Florida and the Caribbean. Wet drops are easier for drug traffickers as the aircraft does not need to land. It drops its cargo at predesignated points in the sea for high-speed boats to retrieve. Parcels inevitably break off and float away to be trapped in the numerous mangroves or ending up in the beaches. Belizeans call these parcels “square grouper” and some locals keep powerful fishing boats ready to seek this alternative catch. Other locals actively comb the beaches at night and in the early hours or the morning looking for the packages. Finding one or a few can have life-changing benefits – or life-ending consequences.

“We do have the playadores (beachcombers) who continue to walk the beach and look for drugs and again the rivalry between the two gangs in San Pedro is over drugs.” – Commissioner of Police Chester Williams 4 January 2023.

Traffickers cannot report their lost cargo to the authorities. And they likewise cannot report the theft of their cargo by common criminals and not so innocent locals looking to win the “Sea Lotto” – another term that has entered the Belizean vernacular. And this the reason for disappearances and killings when the traffickers figure out who has taken their product. Drug cargo, particularly cocaine as transshipped from South America through Belize is compressed and packed into one kilogram “bricks” or “keys”. Each brick is worth about US$10,000. on the streets of Belize, and about US$30,000. in the North American market.

Like the hurricanes that flush out cocaine bricks trapped in the coastal mangrove, the impact extends far beyond eye of the storm. Lowly paid law enforcement, fisheries officers, tour guides and ordinary fishermen are caught in the trade. Their skills and knowledge of the hundreds of coastal marine channels, inlets, caves and the bolt holes of their ancestors, the Scottish and British pirates that founded modern Belize, are in high demand. Well paid. And often deadly.

The other dimension and one that is more visible on the evening news in Belize, is the ongoing war between rival narco-related gangs. The gangs fight over turf. Collection and distribution turf. Local gangs work for international traffickers providing logistics for drug planes landing in Belize or doing wet drops off its coast. The gangs are paid with drugs and weapons. The drugs are sold on the streets of Belize. The tourists that come into Belize bring their needs with them and the local gangs provide the product. Like in North America, fights over street corners, city areas, hot spots near nightclubs and parks erupt into gunfights and innocent civilians, sometimes tourists may get caught in the crossfire.

Does Belize Have Drug Cartels?

Belize has drug-cartel affiliates that reach into law enforcement, military and the general population. The porous borders and sparsely populated geography make it easy for cartel operatives to circulate in Belize. The affiliates are within existing gangs found primarily in the Belize district, that are in turn affiliated with the U.S.A. Crips and Bloods. Cliques with links to Mexican and Central American gangs have been reported in northern, western and southern Belize. Like in other Caribbean jurisdictions, for example Jamaica, gangs in Belize are politically affiliated. The Bloods (red colors) are linked to to the conservative United Democratic Party, and the Crips (blue colors) to the progressive Peoples United Party. The U.S. classes “Belize as a major transit country for drugs coming from South America“.

The authorities know that more powerful underground forces have access to marine craft such as fishing and dive boats, heavy ground transport, small aircraft, airboats and ATVs used for tourism and other logistical equipment but “big fish”, though sometimes detained, are rarely successfully prosecuted.

“Belize is unique because we are the land corridor that leads to the United States of America. Now most any other Caribbean territory, for example Trinidad and Haiti, you need to get on a plane to get to America. It may be time to review the regulations under the Treaty of Chaguaramas where any national of CARICOM can come here without a visa. And then walk across our border into Mexico on the way to the U.S. It is a national security concern when the cartels are moving people using Belize as a land bridge.” – Peoples United Party official Vaughn Gill on The Whip Morning Show, POSITIVE VIBES TV 27 January 2023.

Local gangs are primarily involved in drug distribution and related illicit activity such as contraband and human smuggling via Nigeria, Ghana, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, India, Nepal and South America. In November 2022 the U.S. State Department named former Minister Hon. John Saldivar for improper acquisition of immigration documents. It is believed that this may be connected to among others, the case of a Nepalese national acquiring Belize citizenship.

Ministerial intervention to secure citizenship for a national of Nepal Raj Kumar Karki, among others, was the subject of a Senate Select Committee Inquiry 2016-2017.

Corruption In Belize

Corruption in Belize traditionally follows patterns long established in western jurisdictions – fraud and bribery. On 9 December 2016 Belize became the 184th country to sign on to the United Nations Convention against Corruption known as UNCAC. Since then several meetings and committees have been set up at the local government level in Belize and it appears that the bureaucratic meanderings may bear fruit in 2023. In December 2022 a new Belize Integrity Commission was seated in accordance with Section Three-two and one of the Prevention of Corruption Act Chapter 105 of the Laws of Belize.