The Belize government is introducing new security measures designed to curb crime. This after the loss of life of a tourist on San Pedro Ambergris Caye along with that of his Belizean freelance tour guide. To put the incident involving tourist Gary Stark in context, from our own research:
“Freelance Tour Guides are illegal in Belize. All tour guides must be hired through a licensed Tour Operator. The rational is that a Tour Operator Company has the resources to continuously monitor the tour guide’s performance and background. The Tour Operator carries liability insurance and is wary of bad actors that could damage the company’s reputation. Our researchers have confirmed with the Belize Tourism Board that directly hiring a Belize Freelance Tour Guide is against the law. In reality, many tourists hire Freelance tour guides for a variety of reasons including lack of knowledge, cost, dislike for government regulations, liking a particular guide, and knowing that “their” guide may enable certain things that a Tour Operator would never countenance. With this practice comes a high degree of risk.
“Freelance tour guides often work as gypsy taxi drivers, boat captains and run men. They masquerade as (INSERT FAKE NAME HERE) TOUR GUIDE SERVICES or TOUR AGENT to try and get around the law. They are found trolling for customers on social media offering their services at deep discount. On the ground in Belize, they can be seen aggressively pursuing tourists. The Belize.com Editors strongly advise that visitors to Belize not engage the services of freelance tour guides.” (Image Credit: J. Stephen Conn) Now to the official press release issued by government on how it is tackling crime in Belize:
The National Security Council of Belize (NSC), chaired by the Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, met in special session yesterday, June 27th, 2019 in Belmopan to discuss the crisis arising out of the recent murder of a tourist, Dr. Gary Swank, in San Pedro.
The NSC recorded its grave concern over the tragic development and its implications particularly for the tourism industry in Ambergris Caye and nationally. The NSC also recorded its deep sympathy for the family of the deceased. It also noted that there was no targeting of the tourist and that his murder was made even more tragic by the fact that he was an innocent victim of a dispute between his tour guide and the murderer. Those very circumstances underscore the critical need for our authorities to do better at increasing security both for our citizens and our visitors.
The NSC, therefore, agreed to some immediate measures that will later be expanded after the return of the National Security Minister Hon. John Saldivar to the country, and after a more robust consultation with Cabinet and stakeholders:
- At once, new special police personnel will be hired to boost law enforcement numbers in San Pedro;
- Additional law enforcement equipment will be allocated to improve police response time;
- New permanent checkpoints will be placed in strategic locations on Ambergris Caye, including the reopening of the Tres Cocos police booth;
- Police cameras will be mounted at hot spots and areas of particular security concern; and
- The Belize Coast Guard will now play an integral role in ensuring security at sea and in the lagoon at Ambergris Caye.
The Commissioner of Police is in San Pedro today and has assumed personal responsibility for bringing to justice the killer of the murdered tourist and tour guide. As well, a task force comprising members of the San Pedro contingent and the local chapter of the BTIA will be formed to monitor law enforcement performance and crime reduction in Ambergris Caye. The NSC stressed the unalterable imperative of ensuring the safety of residents and visitors of the island.
The NSC assures all that nationally a full court press is being mounted to deal with citizen security issues, and that in this regard, the processing of a new police intake of over 170 recruits will begin within the next two weeks.
The Ministry of National Security has been charged by the NSC with undertaking all necessary dialogue to get and keep the public engaged in the development of what will be a comprehensive initiative to control and contain crime in Belize.