Country Listing

Belize Table of Contents


Chapter 10. Belize: National Security

Mayan god of war

SINCE INDEPENDENCE IN 1981, the major threat to Belize's external security has come from Guatemala. Guatemala continued to voice claims on Belize's territory and various Guatemalan governments have expressed interest in annexing the country's eastern neighbor. As of mid-1991, Belize's dispute with Guatemala had not erupted into hostilities and appeared close to resolution. Nonetheless, the possibility of conflict with Belize's much larger neighbor continued to form the central strategic concern for the country's defense planners. The Belize Defence Force (BDF) helped secure national defense, but its sovereignty was essentially guaranteed by Britain, which maintained troops and aircraft in the nation.

The small BDF had a strength of approximately 700. It was principally a lightly armed ground force, but it also had small air and maritime elements. The force assisted the approximately 1,500 British troops and played an aggressive role in counter-narcotics operations. British forces in Belize comprised one infantry battalion, one Army Air Corps flight, and one-half squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF) equipped with fighter and ground-attack aircraft.

The nation was internally stable, and there have been only a few disturbances of public order since independence. These disturbances consisted chiefly of isolated and short-lived public demonstrations or labor activities, and violence rarely erupted in any of these actions. The Belize National Police was responsible for internal security. Civilian authorities controlled this force, which was generally capable of maintaining public order without resorting to extraordinary means or excessive violence.

Crime associated with international drug trafficking posed the principal challenge to peaceful daily life. The government devoted considerable resources to combating trade in narcotics. Still, Belizeans and foreigners participated in the drug trade because of the opportunity for quick profits and because it was relatively easy to move drugs through this sparsely populated country, where remote areas were difficult to patrol. As a result, the nation continued to be a producer of marijuana and a conduit for cocaine trafficking to the United States.

The central government was responsible for administering criminal justice. The criminal justice system and national penal law were both based on British models. The Supreme Court had jurisdiction over serious criminal offenses. The attorney general and the director of public prosecutions were the top legal officers representing the state in criminal and other issues. The system routinely honored constitutional guarantees regarding fundamental rights and freedoms and the right to a fair trial.

Data as of January 1992