Belize is a transshipment point for narcotics shipped from Colombia to Mexico en route to the United States. In addition, Belize cultivates a small amount of marijuana, primarily for local consumption. Contiguous borders with Guatemala and Mexico, large tracts of unpopulated jungles and forested areas, a lengthy unprotected coastline, hundreds of small cayes (islands), and numerous navigable inland waterways, combined with the country’s rudimentary infrastructure, add to its appeal for drug trafficking. Officials continue to find a number of abandoned suspect boats and airplanes in Belizean waters and in clandestine areas. In an attempt to diversify Belize’s economic activities, authorities encouraged the growth of offshore financial activities that are vulnerable to money laundering. Although money laundering in Belize is still thought to be limited, combined with weak enforcement of laws regulating offshore financial interests, it contributed to an increase in money laundering incidents in 2009.
The U.S. supports Belize’s efforts to combat transnational crime and narcotics trafficking by providing training, equipment, and technical assistance. U.S. support has helped to modernize and enhance law enforcement capacity in Belize, improve prison management, and assist anti-gang initiatives. In 2009, several in-country training workshops were carried out for members of the Belize Police Department, Customs, Immigration and Ministry of Health. In addition, Belize is engaged in discussions with its Central American counterparts to pursue structured courses in chemical control strategies and techniques.
The U.S. also provides equipment and training to the Belizean Forensic Laboratory to improve investigations and prosecution of crimes. Maritime security and interdiction capabilities are enhanced by donations of equipment and boats through Operation Enduring Friendship, provision of training, and construction of a Belize National Coast Guard forward operating base in the offshore islands. During 2009 the Belize Defense Force monitored and destroyed covert runways used by traffickers.
Given the increase in money laundering activity in Belize, the Financial Investigative Unit (FIU) was given additional resources, including the addition of one police investigator dedicated to its staff. The FIU is currently investigating several cases of alleged money laundering, the most prominent of which has resulted in charges being brought against seven individuals in connection with a scheme run through Money Exchange International. Two cases currently before the courts have benefited from rulings favorable to the FIU and have received a lot of media attention. The Belize Police Department is in the process of setting up a Financial Crimes Unit which will work closely with FIU.