Belize Table of Contents
As of 1991, official statistics on the incidence of crime during the 1980s were not available. Still, according to some observers, Belize suffered from relatively high rates of crime. Drug trafficking, in particular, spawned violent crimes of all kinds. The principal trafficking threat came from Colombian organizations that transshipped cocaine through Central America. The extensive domestic cultivation of marijuana posed a significant problem. Growers and traffickers of marijuana were also blamed for much of the country's crime. Most of the cocaine and marijuana was destined for markets in the United States. Some, however, was diverted to local markets. Studies in the mid-1980s revealed that drug abuse was on the rise among Belizeans, especially among teenagers.
During the late 1980s, local law enforcement, backed by the BDF, enjoyed only limited success in combating cocaine traffickers. During the early 1990s, the nation had to rely on foreign assistance, principally from the United States and Britain, to maintain antitrafficking operations. The government's efforts to eradicate marijuana were more effective, however, and the local press carried regular reports on confiscation of the drug or eradication of it through crop spraying. Despite the destruction of large quantities of marijuana, observers estimated that enough marijuana survived herbicidal crop spraying to provide a significant income. Most observers agreed that drug trafficking seemed unlikely to decrease as long as the potential for profit remained high and no alternate crops could net comparable profits for local farmers.
Crime associated with illegal immigration posed another serious challenge for law enforcement. Traditionally, illegal aliens posed problems from an economic and regulatory standpoint. But in the 1980s, some illegal immigrants posed problems from a social standpoint. During the mid-1980s, aliens, who had been hardened by the civil strife and the resulting social chaos in their own countries, were implicated in a number of kidnappings for ransom in northern Belize and for various other violent crimes nationwide. Efforts to address these problems culminated in 1987, when the government stiffened laws to penalize employers who hired illegal aliens. The new legislation also provided for the expeditious expulsion of illegal immigrants. Such laws notwithstanding, the government, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, planned and implemented a variety of assistance programs aimed at Belizeans and aliens in an attempt to defuse resentment against the latter. During 1990 Belize forced or pressured no refugees to return to their countries of origin.
As a reflection of the growing incidence of crime, tourists in the late 1980s began to complain about being openly harassed, particularly on the streets of Belize City. Theft and assault were the two offenses most commonly reported. The government was particularly concerned about publicity surrounding such crime because national economic planning focused on expanding tourism. One response to the problem was imprisonment of "veteran muggers" convicted of repeat offenses.
Data as of January 1992