In 2011, the United States added Belize to the list of Major Illicit Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries. Belize was susceptible to the transshipment of illegal drugs due to its position along the Central American isthmus between the United States, Mexico, and the drug-producing countries of South America. Large stretches of unpopulated jungles on its borders with Guatemala and Mexico, and a relatively unpatrolled coastline that includes hundreds of small islands and atolls, made controlling the territory difficult in 2011. The remote jungles of Belize provided a hospitable environment for growing cannabis. Drug trafficking and related crimes increasingly threatened the stability of Belize.
Belize generally tolerated the use of cannabis. Drug possession penalties included a $5,000 fine for first-time offenses and, albeit infrequently, a three-year prison sentence for second offenses. Crack cocaine was the second most abused drug in Belize according to a 2008 Central American Integration System (SICA) study, a finding re-validated by the National Drug Abuse Council in 2011. Synthetic drugs were not widely used or manufactured in Belize, although precursor chemicals transited Belize en-route to Mexico.
Despite enhanced efforts to monitor coastal waters, limited funds, equipment, and personnel hampered the Belize Coast Guard (BCG) and the Anti-Drug Unit (ADU). Belize’s counternarcotics efforts were limited by corruption and deficiencies in intelligence gathering and analysis, the judicial sector, and political will. Belize is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
In an effort to provide greater security for its citizens, Belize instituted several legislative reforms in 2011. The government expanded its control of firearms by increasing the penalties for firearms offenses, increasing the minimum age for application for firearm and ammunition licenses from 16 to 21, and mandating the registration of bulletproof vests. Belize also passed the Interception of Communications Act to allow judicially-authorized wiretaps of telephones and other forms of communication. Following the passing of that legislation, the government required mandatory registration of all existing, prepaid cellular phones by March 15, 2012. Thereafter, all unregistered numbers will be deactivated.
In 2011, Belize launched an institutional reform of its police academy and police institutions. This project – responsible for the training of over 300 police officers in 2011 – will continue in 2012. Much of the training consisted of instruction in community policing philosophies and techniques.
The government readily assisted in the capture and repatriation of U.S. citizen fugitives. In 2011, 14 U.S. citizen fugitives have been repatriated back to the United States through mechanisms other than extradition. Although the United States and Belize have an extradition treaty, Belize’s response to formal U.S. extradition requests has been very slow, in part due to limited resources in its criminal justice system. Currently, there are two narcotics related extradition requests from 2006 pending with Belize.
The United States assisted the government of Belize in developing a protocol for the destruction of methamphetamine precursor chemicals, including criminalizing the trafficking of phenyl-acetic acid (PAA). Belize is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Belize is one of six countries (along with Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, France, Guatemala and the United States) that ratified the Caribbean Regional Agreement on Maritime Counter Narcotics, which is now in force. Belize passed the Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act in 2008, establishing money laundering as an autonomous offense. Belize is a party to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols on trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling.
In 2011, the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) representatives assisted government personnel in mapping out an action plan to begin implementation of a national drug information system, which will share data with CICAD on the demand, use, and supply of drugs in Belize. Belize became a member state of the Inter-American Observatory on Drugs (OID) in May 2009, and CICAD provided training for Belize’s national project coordinator.
Bilateral agreements between the United States and Belize include a protocol to the Maritime Counterdrug Agreement that entered into force in April 2000, a bilateral Extradition Treaty that entered into force in March 2001, and the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad that entered into force in 2005. The Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) entered into force in 2003. In 2011, the Belize Coast Guard for the first time participated in the Multilateral Maritime Counterdrug Summit, which also included participants from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and most Central American countries.
2. Supply Reduction
The Belize Police Department’s (BPD) Anti-Drug Unit (ADU) maintains its headquarters in Belize City. The unit was often unable to promptly respond to unauthorized air traffic in remote parts of the country. Belize in turn used ADU to counter the spiraling violence in Belize City whose elevated murder rate contributed to the 5.8 percent increase nation-wide.
In 2011, Belizean authorities seized and eradicated 72 metric tons (MT) of cannabis. This is an estimate based on actual seizures of dried cannabis, and the number of plants removed from the ground. There were no seizures of heroin, but the government confiscated 14,981 doses of pseudoephedrine and 300 kilograms (kg) of cocaine. The cocaine seized in 2011 represents a small increase from the 28.3 kg seized in 2009. In November of 2010, a single joint United States-Belize operation seized 2.6 MT of cocaine. Belize did not produce cocaine, heroin or precursor chemicals. The government seized limited amounts of bulk cash in 2011.
There were no successful prosecutions related to large seizures of illicit drugs in 2011, though small scale drug possession convictions were relatively common. Many police prosecutors – responsible for prosecuting minor offenses – still lacked strong investigative and prosecutorial training, and a scarcity of staff and resources did not allow the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to manage each case efficiently. For example, three customs officers – arrested and charged in 2008 for facilitating the disappearance of a container of pseudoephedrine – went to trial in 2011, and two of the customs officers had their case dismissed due to lack of evidence. A second jury acquitted the third officer on two counts of forgery.
The government’s cases frequently relied on witness testimony instead of forensic evidence, or a combination thereof. Widespread victim and witness intimidation and lack of forensic analytical capacity prevented successful prosecutions. System wide, the conviction rate in Belize hovered around five to seven percent.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
In 2011, Belize updated its three-year National Anti-Drug Strategy to cover 2011 to 2014. The central coordinating authority in charge of demand reduction, supply reduction, and drug control measures remained the National Drug Abuse Control Council (NDACC). Belize’s Ministry of Health provided funding for the NDACC. The council had 21 regular employees and a budget of approximately $150,000 USD for the year.
Belize operated two drug rehabilitation centers for its own citizens. The primary facility operated within the Belize Central Prison. It was run by a non-governmental organization, the Kolbe Foundation, which also managed the prison. The 120-day residence program, started in 2006, was open to inmates and members of the public willing to overcome addiction. A total of 163 persons graduated from the program in 2011, including 19 women. The second rehabilitation center – named Remar – was run by a religious organization and had approximately 35 patients in treatment at any given time.
In 2011, the Ministry of Health personnel from the Schools and Community Programs Unit conducted demand reduction education when invited by a specific school. NDACC worked with the Ministry of Education to implement prevention programs in the school curriculum.
The Belizean government did not, as a matter of government policy, encourage or facilitate illicit drug production or distribution. The government of Belize was not involved in laundering proceeds of illicit drug sales. Combined with a lack of resources and weak law enforcement institutions, Belize’s ineffective judicial system and inadequate compensation for civil service employees and public safety officials allowed illegal activities to continue at various levels within the government. Belize lacked laws that specifically address narcotics-related corruption. Its Prevention of Corruption Act – passed in the year 2000 – includes measures to combat corruption related to illicit monetary gains and the misuse of public funds while holding public office and it also provides a code of conduct for civil servants. Belize is the only country in Central America that is not a party to the UN Convention against Corruption. While some low-level government officials were arrested for corruption, no senior or high-level officials were arrested or charged with corruption-related offenses in 2011.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
Through equipment, training, and technical assistance, the United States bolstered Belize’s own efforts to combat drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and narcotics trafficking. Through the Central American Citizen Security Partnership, the United States worked with Belize to disrupt and decrease the flow of narcotics, weapons, and illicit proceeds generated by sales of illegal drugs, and to confront gangs and criminal organizations. U.S. support included infrastructure upgrades, training, and the provision of equipment for the Belize Defense Force (BDF). This included the donation of four new maritime vessels to boost the government’s counternarcotics interdiction capacity. Other support from the United States helped to modernize and enhance law enforcement capacity, support police academy reform, improve prison management, and assist in anti-gang initiatives. In an effort to improve the Belize Coast Guard’s (BCG) capacity to deny drug traffickers the use of its territory, the United States Coast Guard continued to provide the BCG with training in maritime law enforcement, engineering and maintenance, leadership and management, port security, and incident command systems. The United States worked with the governments of Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala to develop a strategy to strengthen security along their shared borders in order to inhibit the trafficking of illicit substances.
In 2011, Belize created an official strategy plan, called the Restore Belize Strategic Plan 2011-2015, to improve civil society and Belize’s overall citizen security situation.
In 2011, Belize took incremental steps to address the growing threat of narcotics-related crime within its borders. It must make greater strides toward improving citizen security and disrupting the flow of illegal drugs if it is to reverse the new wave of corrosive criminal activity. Without action and redress, Belize’s security environment will continue to deteriorate. Reports indicate that drug trafficking and drug-related violence rose in Belize, and that those figures will continue on an upward trend. 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 for new and existing personnel, and better training and continuing education programs. Belize should strengthen its border security through better management and leadership, increased training, and augmenting the border management staff. Belize’s criminal justice system will be more effective when the government provides adequate funding and training for prosecutors in the DPP’s office, as well as police prosecutors. Belize will be more capable of successfully confronting illegal drug trafficking by placing a greater emphasis on institution and capacity building. The United States will maintain its strong partnership with Belize, and assist in its fight against DTOs and other criminal organizations.
By: Rhenae Nunez