Belize is a major transshipment point for cocaine and precursor chemicals used in the production of illicit drugs. Belize is susceptible to the transshipment of illegal drugs due to its position along the Central American isthmus between the United States and drug producing countries in South America. Large stretches of unpopulated jungles exist on its borders with Guatemala and a relatively unpatrolled coastline that includes hundreds of small islands and atolls makes it difficult to conduct interdictions. Remote jungles provide a hospitable environment for the growing and transferring of cannabis. Belize is bordered by countries where the drug trade is controlled by well-organized and extremely violent drug cartels.
Belize society generally tolerates the use of cannabis, though the police enforce the laws criminalizing it. The National Drug Abuse Control Council reported that there was an increase in the use of marijuana in 2013, while “crack” cocaine remained the second most abused drug. Synthetic drugs are not widely used or manufactured in Belize, but are trafficked through the country, along with their chemical precursors.
Despite enhanced efforts by the Belize Coast Guard and the Anti-Drug Unit to monitor coastal waters, both organizations continued to be hampered by limited funds, equipment, and lack of personnel. Belize’s counter-narcotics efforts are adversely affected by corruption, deficiencies in intelligence gathering and analysis, an antiquated judicial sector, and a lack of political will.
INL programs seek to increase citizen security by addressing broader justice sector concerns in Belize in accordance with the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America. INL aims to professionalize the Belizean Police Department, increase community involvement, establish an elite cadre of police, strengthen Belize’s ability to secure its borders, and counter criminal gangs by engaging youth and other at-risk demographics. We expect these objectives to increase security and rule of law, which impacts all Belizean citizens.
The INL-funded Criminal Justice Advisor was instrumental in supporting new Criminal Procedure Rules that were adopted nationwide in January 2015. These rules outline fair, transparent, and efficient procedures for criminal courts in Belize. INL also supports a Scenes of Crime advisor in Belize to train crime scene technicians on the proper handling, documenting, analysis, and testimony of evidence in Belize. Both of these projects have received overwhelmingly positive feedback through local media from the Belizean public and government officials.
The INL-funded Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) presents Central American police officers as mentors in classrooms across the region, teaching children gang-resistance tactics and techniques and establishing or strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and youth populations. In January 2015, 32 officers and non-commissioned officers completed the INL-sponsored G.R.E.A.T. Instructor Course. These train-the-trainer courses make assistance projects such as G.R.E.A.T. more sustainable as partner-nation personnel develop training capacities and assume leadership in project execution. Since 2010, G.R.E.A.T. has trained over 3,000 young people, mostly in at-risk neighborhoods across the country.
CARSI provided a grant to the Cayo Neighborhood Watch Program that led to a dramatic drop in burglaries and related crimes in San Ignacio and Santa Elena, the largest population center in Belize after Belize City. The grant facilitated improved communication between the Neighborhood Watch and the U.S.-trained community policing unit, which has become a model for the rest of Belize. The grant led to the direct improvement of community-police relations.
Trained by Customs and Border Protection’s Special Operations Group, Post facilitated outfitting and training of a Mobile Interdiction Team; an elite squad to intersect goods and human smuggling. They are integrated with the U.S. and Belizean jointly-funded K-9 unit. The squad has had numerous successes at finding illegal firearms, narcotics interdictions, and human smuggling operations.