Belize is a major transit country for illegal drugs destined for the United States from source countries in South America. 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 on the border with Guatemala and a relatively unpatrolled coastline that includes hundreds of small islands and atolls make 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 trafficking organizations.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the drug routes are predominately maritime and via air. Due to Belize’s unique geography, maritime craft are able to avoid law enforcement detection by moving at night and using the hundreds of cays (islands) to conceal their movement. Drugs are moved in vessels ranging from container ships to more common small “go-fasts” vessels, which can utilize their small profile, and powerful motors to evade law enforcement. Alternately, drug trafficking organizations use air routes over Belize to smuggle narcotics. The remote and sparsely populated terrain of Belize is well suited for undetectable airstrips on which planes can quickly land and refuel to continue their flight to countries north or south. Belize has no air defense systems and limited capability to monitor aircraft at night.
Despite enhanced efforts to monitor coastal waters, limited funds, equipment, and personnel hamper the Belizean Coast Guard (BCG) and the Anti-Narcotics Unit (ANU). The ANU was upgraded to a U.S.-vetted unit in 2014 with additional support and a full-time DEA advisor. Belize’s counternarcotic efforts are adversely affected by corruption, deficiencies in intelligence gathering and analysis, an ineffective judicial sector, and a lack of political will by some senior officials.
According to Belizean authorities, marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug used in Belize and consumption appears high. While Belize generally tolerates the use of cannabis, it remains a crime to use, cultivate, or sell it.
B. Drug Control Accomplishment, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
The Government of Belize has implemented some successful initiatives to enhance citizen security, including many supported by U.S. funding. In 2015, these included steps to improve precinct-level policing in Belize City, modernize police department technology, and institute the COMPSTAT crime-tracking system in Belize City to better allocate police resources to high-crime areas. The Belize Police Department (BPD) established a crime analysis unit and continued a vigorous K-9 program. The BPD continued implementing community policing programs throughout the country, and provided strong support to neighborhood watch programs. The United States supported ongoing reforms in the Belize Police Academy, as well as the establishment of a pilot Field Training Officer Program in 2015.
According to annual government statistics major crimes have been falling for the past 15 years – from 4,392 in 2000 to 2,419 in 2014, a drop of 45 percent. The number of murders has fluctuated over the past few years, but decreased over the first half of 2015 from the previous year.
Beginning in 2012, the United States has assisted the Government of Belize in establishing a Mobile Interdiction Team (MIT), which includes members of the Belize Immigration and Nationality Departments and the BPD. A second team was added in 2014, and 19 additional officers were added in 2015 to expand the MIT to 34 officers in total. The teams’ mission is to interdict narcotics and other illegal materials that are being transported around ports of entry. The MIT targets roads, highways, and clandestine border crossing areas throughout the border regions.
Belize is one of six countries (along with Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, France, Guatemala and the United States) that ratified the Caribbean Regional Maritime Counterdrug Agreement, which is now in force. To assist this program, the United States has provided training, boats and equipment to the BCG to assist its interdiction activities.
2. Supply Reduction
Belize is not a source country for illegal drugs or precursor chemicals, but it continues to be used as a transshipment point for cocaine and precursor chemicals. Belizean and U.S. authorities have identified Belize coastal areas as rich targets for drug traffickers pushing north from South America. Belizean security organizations have had minimal success in limiting this criminal activity. The BCG continues to receive U.S. assistance, but is unable to routinely utilize its assets due to insufficient resources for fuel and maintenance.
Through the first 10 months of 2015, Belizean authorities eradicated 50,897 cannabis plants (down from 53,399 through the same period in 2014) and seized slightly over 26 kilograms (kg) of heroin. Authorities also seized 2.8 kg of cocaine and a trace amount of methamphetamine. In October 2015, Belizean authorities organized and led a successful marijuana eradication mission with U.S. assistance, including helicopter transport provided by the U.S. Southern Command. .
3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment
The National Drug Abuse Control Council (NDACC) is the central coordinating authority responsible for the activities of demand reduction, supply reduction, and control measures. The council has 21 employees and a government budget of approximately $417,743 for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, plus an additional $33,300 from outside sources. This is an increase of approximately nine percent from the previous biennial period. The NDACC supports special projects such as a training and certification program for personnel specializing in drug and violence prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation. NDACC staff reportedly visited 379 classrooms countrywide and taught prevention education classes to 12,746 students. They assisted 18 high schools in hosting drug week activities, as well as 116 community empowerment activities nationwide.
According to the NDACC, marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in Belize, followed by “crack” cocaine. The NDACC also reported a gradual increase in the prevalence of stimulants and inhalants in 2014, though methamphetamine and pharmaceutical drug abuse appears virtually non-existent. The NDACC has reported an increase in the number of clients approaching their office for assistance and referrals for drug treatment. Eleven drug educators and six outreach case workers work for the NDACC countrywide, conducting demand-reduction education programs in schools as well as public education campaigns during community activities.
The Organization of American States has signed a memorandum of understanding to fund a drug treatment court in Belize. The steering committee is led by Chief Justice Benjamin. Supporting legislation and regulations were still pending at the close of 2015, but the Chief Magistrate launched a pilot-project drug treatment court out of the Belize City Magistrates Court while appropriate policies are drafted and approved. For the first time in Belizean history, some first offenders are now sentenced for treatment vice incarceration in an effort to address the cause of the criminal behavior.
The Ministry of National Security appointed an eight-member committee in 2015 to explore the possibility of decriminalizing small quantities of marijuana for personal use. Under current law, any amount of marijuana over 60 grams is considered possession and carries a fine of up to $12,500 and/or up to three years imprisonment. The committee was tasked to explore the possibility of reducing or eliminating punishments for small-scale possession in order to decrease the backlog of cases in the courts and prison. The committee did not recommend legalization or complete decriminalization of marijuana, but it recommended more treatment-oriented sentences, handed down throuhg drug treatment courts.
Belize has three operational drug rehabilitation centers in country. The primary facility is operated at the Belize Central Prison and run by the Kolbe Foundation, a non-governmental organization, which also manages the prison. The prison-based program, started in 2006, is a residence program open to inmates and members of the public who are willing to overcome addiction. The program can treat up to 120 inmates and 20 non-inmate for a three-month program.
The other rehabilitation centers are privately run, one by a religious organization and the other by a foreign business, specifically for upscale clients. Jacob’s Farm, a faith-based residential center, has a capacity of up to 15 clients for up to six months. Remar Rehabilitation Center is also a faith-based residential program and has capacity for approximately 30 clients for up to six months stays.
The United States provides assistance to demand reduction efforts throughout Belize. One beneficiary is the Belmopan Active Youth, which received a new grant in 2014 to support efforts in drug prevention, skills training, and employment for at-risk youth. U.S. funding through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) also supports Gang Resistance Education And Training (GREAT) classes in about 50 schools around the nation.
The Belizean government does not, as a matter of government policy, encourage nor facilitate illicit drug production or distribution. However, a lack of resources, weak law enforcement institutions, an ineffective judicial system, and inadequate compensation for civil service employees and public safety officials provide a facilitating environment for corruption. Belize lacks laws that specifically address narcotics-related corruption. The Prevention of Corruption Act, passed in 2000, includes measures to combat corruption related to illicit monetary gains and the misuse of public funds while holding public office. It provides a code of conduct for civil servants. The Government of Belize did not charge anyone under this act during the reporting period.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
The United States supports citizen security, law enforcement, and rule-of-law programs in Belize mainly through CARSI. Through CARSI, the United States works with Belize to disrupt and decrease the flow of narcotics, weapons, and illicit proceeds generated by sales of illegal drugs, and to combat gangs and criminal organizations. The United States provided funding to the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to implement an interconnected Personal Identification and Registration System at all immigration offices, and land, sea and air border posts of Belize. The project strengthened the capacity of immigration services to more efficiently manage the nation’s borders. The project included the installation of a computerized information management system designed to detect and register entries and exits throughout the country. With continuing U.S. support, Belizean authorities and the IOM are planning a second phase to focus on passport production and control in 2016.
Other CARSI-funded projects, including the expansion of the MIT, support for justice sector institutions, and the provision of equipment and training to police, have resulted in improvements to law enforcement efforts around the country.
The Government of Belize readily assists in the capture and repatriation of U.S. citizen fugitives. Seven fugitives were repatriated back to the United States via expulsion orders through the first 10 months of 2015, following the expulsion of seven over the course of 2014. Though Belizean authorities readily assists in the capture and repatriation of U.S. citizen fugitives facilitated through provisions of the Belize Immigration Act, extraditions from Belize have yet to be successful and the constitutional legitimacy of the Belize-U.S. extradition treaty is currently being contested in Belizean courts.
Belize faces a challenging battle against the threats of drug trafficking, and continuing efforts are needed to reduce the impact of drug trafficking and crime in the country. The United States will continue to assist Belize by providing additional training and equipment, along with support for program development. The United States will continue to coordinate assistance with the United Kingdom, which has provided a Crown Prosecutor who serves as a Criminal Justice Advisor to the Government of Belize. The United States encourages Belize to strengthen its public security and law enforcement institutions through more effective anti-corruption legislation, comprehensive background checks and vetting of new and existing personnel, better training, and continuing education programs. The United States will maintain its strong partnership with Belize and assist in its fight against transnational criminal organizations.