STRONG MS-13 PRESENCE IN WESTERN BELIZE


UNCLAS BELMOPAN 000655

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR DS/IP/WHA, DS/DSS/ITA, DS/DSS/OSAC, CA/OCS, WHA/CEN - ROIS

BEAL

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: ASEC AMGT BH

SUBJECT: STRONG MS-13 PRESENCE IN WESTERN BELIZE

REF: (A) BELMOPAN 643; (B) BELMOPAN 609; (C) 05 BELIZE 657;
(D) 06 BELIZE 579; (E) BELMOPAN 118

1. (SBU) Recent reports from Belize of the Mara Salvatrucha gang
(MS-13) presence in Belize (REFTELS A, B) indicated a stronger base
of operations than previously known. Reports from a Confidential
Source (CS) (REFTEL A) led RSO to independently determine MS-13
strength in the Cayo District of western Belize. Interviews and
observation show not only MS-13 but MS-18 are widespread in that
area, with an estimated 400 actual gang members (not just
hangers-on).

2. (SBU) The description of a CS of an MS-13 presence strong enough
to cause emulation by school children by drawing MS-13 "tattoos"
caused concern. On October 30, 2007, RSO and FSNI traveled to the
Cayo District. Meeting with a high school vice principal, RSO
received confirmation of the CS reports. MS-18, an offshoot of
MS-13 had graffiti at the school. Tattooed gang members were seen
frequently in the area, and the violence was well known. The vice
principal recommended speaking with a specific teacher who, she
said, was more familiar with the problem.

3. (SBU) The teacher, a former police officer, joined the meeting,
and described a grave situation. He and the vice principal related
the story of a student recently killed by an MS-13 gang member: he
had been hit over the head with a bottle, went home and died that
night. The gang member - who had the gang sign tattooed on his
forehead -- was identified to police. Police took no action. After
some time, the incident was further reported to an Assistant
Commissioner, who promised to look into it. The teacher and
principal report there has still been no response by police.

4. (SBU) The teacher estimated 400 hard-core gang members in the
western part of Cayo. He described graffiti immediately outside his
residence and at the central park (RSO confirmed this). With an
estimated population of 40,000 in the entire district, such a number
of MS-13 and MS-18 operating without police interference is cause
for concern.

5. (SBU) On 20 October, 2007, the GSO and POL Officers were in San
Ignacio, the capital of Cayo. While at the market, they observed
two Hispanic males going from booth to booth. They describe the two
simply receiving money from each booth operator: no conversation, no
papers or merchandise, simply money being given by each vendor.
While this may be perfectly innocent, the appearance of extortion
cannot be discounted, especially in light of the news related to the
MS gangs.

6. (SBU) The inability of police in Belize to control the existing
high crime level is already a problem. Very low funding allows
almost no training, little equipment, almost no vehicles, etc. When
tracking U.S. fugitives, cars must often be rented for the police to
use; occasionally when a police vehicle is available, RSO must
provide fuel. RSO feared the level of violence and organization of
MS-13 would be beyond the ability of the police department to
handle. Several recent press stories have focused on arrests and
deportations of MS-13 members or sympathizers. Whether these
efforts will be enough to slow or stop the gangs' growth in Belize
is not clear.


7. (U) POC for this cable is RSO Patrick Harms at 011-501-822-4011,
ext. 4007.


DIETER


[Source: WikiLeaks]


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