In the fight against organized crime, Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras grab the headlines—but politicos and analysts neglect to mention Belize.
This Central American country of 330,000 bordering Mexico and Guatemala is fast becoming fertile ground for organized crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and piracy. At 39 murders per 100,000 persons Belize is the fifth most dangerous country in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Honduras is the most dangerous with 86 homicides per 100,000, and Venezuela registers fourth at 67 per 100,000.
UNODC also adds that “intentional homicides” have doubled in Belize City, the country’s coastal commercial capital, since 2004.
Gangs working for Mexican cartels are to blame: according to the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB), 43 percent of youth aged 14-24 are unemployed, while 46 percent of the total labor force is illiterate. Moreover, only 12 percent of the total labor force has completed high school.
Poor education quality and lack of economic opportunity are variables that push youth into environments of crime. Initiation into a local gang could lead to contract work for Mexican cartels that promise anything a young man could ever want: money; drugs; status; and power. Aside from routine murders and robberies, these same gangs are also responsible for the 2011 raid of the Belize Defense Force (BDF) armory in Ladyville, taking M-16 and M4 military issue riffles, 9 millimeter handguns, and grenades.