More Belize News

Jails Help Turn Kids Into Criminals. In Belize, There’s a Better Way.

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In recent years, heavy-handed strategies and mass incarceration have been the preferred tactics used by many politicians in the region. Now, facing evidence that this approach has not been effective in lowering levels of violence, some governments are ready to take a different path.

Belize, a country of only 350,000 residents, is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. An investment in crime prevention and alternatives to imprisonment may seem difficult, but the reality is that reallocating resources from punitive strategies to community services and treatment is probably more efficient and less costly.

A gap analysis report, published this month by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), provides a mapping of existing citizen security initiatives and recommends actions for future programs. The analysis is based on the experiences of the program, “Community Action for Public Security (CAPS),” financed by the IDB.

*This story was translated, edited for clarity, and published with permission from Sin Miedos, a blog hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

The report makes two general recommendations: less repression through police and prisons, and more services for at-risk youth with more targeted interventions for those involved in gangs. This approach requires a deeper understanding of young people and families at risk of being involved in violent acts that goes beyond the generic definition of risk — those that neither work nor study. International evidence shows that any contact with the criminal justice system — police, courts or prisons — increases the likelihood that young people will engage in future criminal activity.

In Belize, many young people in jail don’t pose a danger to public safety, nor do they need to be there for judicial process. So how can the government change this reality?

Less Punitive Laws

First, laws that are excessively severe must be reformed. In Belize, minors under the age of 18 can be sentenced to life without parole. Minors may also be charged with “uncontrollable behavior,” which refers to unruly behavior, but does not involve criminal acts. By 2015, 44 percent of minors who entered the justice system were accused for such crimes. Removing this clause in the law would reduce admissions to the system.

Second, universal access to free legal advice would also reduce pretrial detention and severe penalties, especially for minors. Prosecutors and judges must apply their discretion to offer alternatives to prosecution or detention of young people, favoring community programs. While this option may exist on paper, in practice officials need more knowledge about these alternatives, and more programs to receive youth. New facilities, more staff and more mental health and trauma treatment services for young women — especially girls and young women in temporary care of the state — could take them out of prisons and help them meet their needs.

Of course, some young people commit serious crimes and need firmer intervention than simply avoiding contact with the police or prison. Gang violence reduction programs do not need to involve the majority of young people in high crime areas, but must have the capacity to identify young people who are active in gang violence. In Belize City, the Conscious Youth Development Program (CYDP) reaches out to minors involved in gangs and has established the confidence of gang members and police. CYDP offers confidential mediation and helps to halt the escalation of gang-related conflicts — similar to the Cure Violence program in the United States. However, CYDP needs more space, staff and resources. In addition, gang dynamics are rapidly changing in Belize, with more incursions from Central American gangs. Further analysis of these trends, including gender and migration factors, would help to improve programs.

SEE ALSO: The Brazilian Prison System: Challenges and Prospects for Reform

More generally, a focus solely on youth is shortsighted. Many risk factors — such as exposure to violence during childhood and low literacy rates — exist throughout the family unit, not just in young individuals. Many services, such as conditional cash transfers and parenting skills classes, could be better integrated with youth violence prevention services. Some young people and families face many severe challenges that require a more robust treatment of mental health and trauma, not just specific programs aimed at a certain age group.

One potential intervention that could achieve greater integration is a cohesive “one-stop shop” for accessing family and individual services in Southside Belize City, with case consultants who can work across sectors and services. This would complement the successful programs established by CAPS: the Positive Youth Development Program in schools, the Gateway Center for out-of-school youth or after school, and psycho-social support for youth in conflict with the law.

Finally, two other related elements are crucial: good data and gender analysis. Belize has built a data platform for social services — FamCare — which serves as a reference for the region. This helps generate change indicators that have more meaning than crime rates or recidivism rates. Developing more data disaggregated by gender is a key step. Designing policies with a gender perspective — such as alternatives to jail, mental health treatment and temporary care, as well as issues of “violent masculinity” — helps programs better respond to the different needs of boys and girls.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons

Belize’s significant investments in preventing violence and reintegrating youth in conflict with the law, through CAPS and other programs, are showing positive results. This new report underlines that at this crossroads, with the support of international cooperation and major legislative and policy changes, Belize has the opportunity to consolidate and expand its progress.

*This story was translated, edited for clarity, and published with permission from Sin Miedos, a blog hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

US Report Shows Revitalized Central America Cocaine Corridor

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The US State Department named seven Central American countries as havens for laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking and organized crime, and described the region as a main cocaine corridor for US markets, confirming the importance of Central America in the international drug trade.

This is the first time since 2013 that the State Department has included Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama together in the list of primary money laundering countries that forms part of its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR).

An important development in the 2017 INSCR — which refers to trends and statistics from the previous year — is that El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have re-entered the list of “major money laundering countries,” which the State Department defines as those “whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking.” 

The INCSR explains that one of the main difficulties faced by Central American countries in combating money laundering is that their criminal investigation systems do not have the ability to trace money associated with drug trafficking or other types of criminal transactions. These include human or arms trafficking, or legal activities that are increasingly being used for money laundering, such as hosting high-level musical concerts or betting on popular sports.

The United States considers Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador — the latter dollarized since 2001 — important financial centers where most money laundering occurs through banks.

The case of Honduras is illustrative of the relationship between state agents and local crime syndicates.

According to the report, “Honduras is not a major financial center. Here, money laundering is mainly generated by traffic throughout the region. The trafficking of undocumented people to the United States, extortion, kidnapping and public corruption also generate significant amounts of money to be laundered.”

Something similar, according to the report, is happening in Nicaragua.

The report also reiterates that from the jungles of Panama’s Darien region on the border with Colombia, to the Usumacinta River and the jungles of Petén in northern Guatemala, cocaine continues to flow freely by way of air, land and water.

According to the INCSR, some 1,000 tons of cocaine were transported last year through Guatemala. This figure could be much higher if we take into account that, according to InSight Crime, Colombia, the main coca producing country in the world, transported about 1,350 tons of cocaine last year.

Additionally, record opium poppy production numbers were recorded last year in Guatemala, presumably to supply the growing demand for heroin in the United States. In 2016, the Guatemalan government destroyed 17 million poppy plants.

In Guatemala, and to a lesser extent in Honduras, there was an increase in the traffic of chemical precursors used to convert opium poppy into heroin, but also in those used to convert coca leaves into cocaine hydrochloride.

InSight Crime Analysis

The figures published by the United States reveal a fact that seems obvious, but that is sometimes obscured by the dynamics of violence in Central America, especially in the Northern Triangle region: Drug trafficking, as well as much of the state corruption that protects traffickers, continues to be the main driver of flourishing criminal economies in the Central American isthmus.

SEE ALSO: Defining a Mafia State: The Case of Guatemala

Since the middle of the last decade, Central American drug traffickers have evolved from being simple “transporters” who collected cocaine from Colombia at the porous borders of Costa Rica and Panama to then move it on to Guatemala. These groups have begun to diversify their criminal enterprises.

Traditional groups such as the Lorenzanas in Guatemala, the Matta Ballesteros network in Honduras and the Perrones in El Salvador have joined up with more specialized money laundering groups. One of these is El Salvador’s Cartel de Texis, whose leader, José Adán Salazar Umaña, holds a White House designation as an international drug kingpin and has been investigated by the Attorney General of El Salvador for money laundering.

However, the Honduran case best illustrates how criminal actors in the drug trade permeated the political ranks of these countries and, as InSight Crime has pointed out, received favors and protection from them.

Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, the former leader of the Cachiros in Honduras, recently accused former President Porfirio Lobo of having received bribes from his group, something that the politician has been quick to deny. In El Salvador, drug trafficking groups have made similar accusations: Perrones operators have also said they paid bribes to former President Antonio Saca, who is currently being held on corruption charges.

SEE ALSO: The Fixer and El Salvador’s Missed Opportunity

Guatemala remains, however, the crown jewel in the Central American drug trafficking landscape. Last month, the United States accused former President Roxana Baldetti and former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla of conspiring to ship cocaine into the United States.

The State Department report has once again highlighted the revitalization of Central America’s narco-trafficking corridor, which had reached one of its last peaks in mid-2009 after a military coup in Honduras helped open the air route between that country and Venezuela.

After that, US officials and analysts talked about the possibility of a resurgence of Caribbean drug routes, but that did not happen, at least not in the same way that it happened in Central America.

Today, due to an increase in coca production in Colombia and the infiltration of criminal groups at the highest levels of political power, especially in the Northern Triangle, it is clear that entry and exit avenues for drugs and illicit money are working at full throttle.

US and Central America’s Top Law Enforcement Officials Meet

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Top law enforcement officials from seven Central American countries met with the US Attorney General to discuss rising violence, drug-trafficking, and organized crime, underscoring how seriously the US now views security concerns in the region. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with her Central American counterparts in Washington on August 5 to address the region’s alarming security situation in a closed-door meeting. The agenda covered issues related to gang violence, drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime. Attorney Generals from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama all took part in the meetings. The summit was the first time law enforcement representatives from all seven countries have met jointly with US officials, including high ranking officials at the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Departments of Justice, State and Treasury. The meeting comes amid escalating violence in the region, particularly in El Salvador. The country recently endured a debilitating gang-enforced transportation strike, and violence has soared to record levels. News came this week that the number of police killings so far this year has now surpassed the total number of police killings reported for all of 2014. El Salvador Attorney General Luis Martinez reportedly requested additional aid from the US during the meetings, saying that crime in El Salvador has overwhelmed his office.

InSight Crime Analysis

While past summits on issues of security and organized crime in Central America have typically involved diplomatic exchanges, this is the first time that top law-enforcement officials from the entire region have sat down to collaborate directly. The change is a good sign that all parties involved are now operating with an appropriate sense of urgency. The talks come amid rising concern in Washington about the Central American security situation. In June, the US State Department held a high level security dialogue to address concerns of violence and security in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Delegations from Mexico and Colombia participated in that dialogue to share lessons learned on combatting drug-related violence and sophisticated trafficking networks. In January, the Obama Administration proposed a $1 billion aid package for the Northern Triangle to improve economic growth, curb violence, and stem the flow of child migrants seeking refuge in the US. The aid package is still being reviewed by US lawmakers.

UN Drug Control Board Scolds Reform in Latin America

In its most recent report, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) — responsible for overseeing the implementation of the United Nation’s drug conventions — finds itself in a bind: the Board remains adamant that these conventions be enforced, yet a wave of drug policy reform across the Americas speaks to increased resistance to the status quo. 

The INCB’s annual reports are meant to “identify and predict dangerous trends” when it comes to drug control. This year, when it comes to Latin America, five trends in particular stand out, although some are arguably more “dangerous” than others. 

1.) The INCB’s Resistance to Drug Policy Reform

The INCB, established in 1961, is mandated with upholding and enforcing the UN drug conventions. Recent legislation in the Americas, however — including marijuana legalization in Uruguay, Jamaica, and the US states of Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia — are in direct contravention of the UN’s international drug treaties.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Uruguay Marijuana Legalization

Indeed, increased discussion of alternative drug policies in the region — and a general shift towards greater leniency with drugs on the part of governments and voters — has put the INCB on the defensive. In the foreword of its new report, the INCB states that while international drug control conventions are often portrayed “as instruments of prohibition and punishment,” such an interpretation is “misguided.” A fundamental principle of the UN treaties is limiting drug use to medical and scientific purposes, the document goes on to say, adding, “This legal obligation is absolute and leaves no room for interpretation.”

In 2016, the UN will host a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discuss drug policy reform, largely as a result of growing demands for changes to the international drug control regime. Various political leaders in Latin American nations have been especially active in calling for reform and taking action towards that end.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

Nonetheless, despite the wave of small drug policy reforms throughout the Americas, and in the shadow of the upcoming UNGASS, the INCB is sticking to its guns, maintaining that the current international regulations remain necessary and relevant. 

2.) Increased Trafficking of Precursor Chemicals in Central America

The INCB report documents how precursor chemicals, particularly chemical substances not controlled by the 1988 drug convention, are increasingly being moved through through Central America. This includes shipments of methylamine — an uncontrolled substance used to produce methamphetamine — seized in Mexico while en route to Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Belize has also become a hub for precursor chemicals (again, sourced from Mexico) for methamphetamine production. Over 156 tons of precursor chemicals were seized in the Central American country in June 2012 alone. 

Indeed, recent years has seen Central American nations — Guatemala especially — play a bigger role in the region’s synthetic drug trade, with Mexican trafficking groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel leading the way. 

3.) Mexican Meth Production on the Rise

According to the INCB, seizures of methamphetamine at the US-Mexico border have significantly increased, from just over two tons in 2008 to over 10 tons in 2012,  a trend that InSight Crime has previously reported on. California alone seized almost 15,000 pounds of methamphetamine at points of entry during the 2014 fiscal year, a record for the state. Much of this methamphetamine is believed to be sourced from Mexican drug trafficking organizations, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Citing the DEA, the INCB report states that the price of methamphetamine in the US has dropped 70 percent since 2007, while purity has increased 130 percent, further indication of the drug’s increased availability in the country.  

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Authorities in Japan — where methamphetamine seizures have been increasing — have also suggested that Mexican drug trafficking organizations are supplying the drug to its domestic market, according to the INCB. This insinuation is in line with past attempts by the Sinaloa Cartel to establish a greater presence in Asia.

4.) Coca Cultivation, Cocaine Seizures Decrease in Andes

Bolivia saw coca cultivation drop to 23,00 hectares in 2013, its lowest level since 2002, according to the INCB. This is just above the target of 20,000 hectares that Bolivia set as part of its 2011-2015 national strategy to combat drug trafficking and reduce coca leaf production. The INCB also noted that the number of clandestine, cocaine-producing labs destroyed by the government rose sharply, reaching 67 in 2013. That year also saw Bolivia seize 22 tons of cocaine, the lowest level since 2007. 

All together, this numbers suggest that preventing transnational, cocaine-trafficking organizations from entrenching themselves in Bolivia remains a serious challenge for the Andean country

SEE ALSO: Evo’s Challenge: Bolivia the Drug Hub

The INCB also reported that the total area under coca cultivation in Peru dropped about 22 percent between 2012 and 2013. These numbers, however, are several years old, and  it remains to be seen how delays in rolling out crop substitution programs in the VRAEM — Peru’s most prolific coca-growing region — will affect efforts to reduce coca and cocaine production.

In Colombia, one important development identified by the INCB was the country’s high rates of cocaine and coca base seizures, the highest in South America, with 230 tons seized in 2013. Indeed, Colombian drug trafficking groups have been experimenting with trafficking coca base instead of powder cocaine, while domestic drug use has also been on the rise in recent years.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cocaine Production

5.) Marijuana Use on Rise in South America

The INCB observed rising marijuana use in various Latin American countries like Colombia and Chile, and took note of the major role that Paraguay continues to play in the regional marijuana trade, as seizures in that country more than doubled in 2013. Paraguay is estimated to produce roughly half of South America’s marijuana, much of which supplies demand in neighboring Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

Belize Gang Violence Spikes Months After Ceasefire Attempt

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A string of shootings in Belize City has fed concerns about a spike in gang violence, less than five months after the government’s most recent attempt to negotiate a gang truce.

According to police in Belize City, three people were killed and five were injured in four shooting incidents that took place on September 17, reported 7 News Belize. The violence began after the father of an alleged gang member was killed by a gunman while playing dominoes in his yard. Police said the incident set off a string of retaliation killings, reported News 5.

Following the spike in violence, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow held an emergency meeting with police to discuss their response to the violence. At a press conference after the meeting, police officials stated that they would increase street patrols and set up more checkpoints for vehicles.  

InSight Crime Analysis

Gang truces are difficult, if not impossible, to sustain. They are usually dependent on the will of leaders who often do not have enough command and control over the gang members to keep the peace, especially when there is a long history of tit-for-tats between organizations, and there are long-standing social issues that do not have quick fixes. 

The government of Belize has found this to be true as well. It has made several attempts to stem the violence by negotiating gang truces, all of which have fallen apart. In September 2011, Belize’s government created a work program, paying stipends to gang members who agreed to participate in a truce. The program led to an immediate drop in homicides, but by December 2012 funding had run out and the government ended the initiative.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Belize

More recently, in April 2014, a senior police superintendent negotiated a ceasefire between rival gangs in Belize City after seven gang-related killings occurred over a 10-day period. By early June, however, the gangs were back at war with nine people shot in the span of three days.

The gang allegedly involved in the most recent shootings — the George Street Gang, which is also known as the George Street Bloods — is believed to be the country’s most powerful. Belize has a number of homegrown gangs modeled off of the Los Angeles Crips and Bloods, and there have been recent reports that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) is also developing a presence in the country. 

Gangs have fueled high levels of violence in Belize, turning the country into one of the most violent in the world. According to a 2013 US Department of State report, Belize is the world’s sixth most violent country with a murder rate of over 40 homicides per 100,000 residents. 

Belize Arrests Fuel Reports of MS13 Gang Presence

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Police in Belize have arrested six suspects allegedly linked to the MS13 for attempted extortion and arson, in a case that supports earlier reports the transnational street gang is setting up shop in this vulnerable Central American nation. 

Belize City resident Edwin Flores was detained on July 22 along with his girlfriend in a police sting operation, after a local businessman told police the couple had demanded he pay them $8,000. After Flores’ girlfriend received the cash, police arrested the couple and four associates. One of the men was also wanted for armed robbery and confessed to committing a recent deadly arson attack, reported the Guardian

Authorities believe Flores and the four other male suspects are members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) street gang, reported Channel 5 Belize. Flores has been charged with blackmail and — along with the other detainees — displaying gang insignia, reported CTV 3 News

According to Senior Police Superintendent Edward Broaster, the MS13 maintains operations in Belize, but these are generally focused on extortion.  Their activities are less violent than in nearby El Salvador, making it harder for police to detect the gang’s operations, reported Channel 5 Belize.

InSight Crime Analysis

There have been reports of an MS13 presence in Belize since at least 2003, according to a 2012 La Prensa Grafica article that claimed both that gang, and its Barrio 18 rivals, had increased their presence in the tiny Central American nation — which has a large Salvadoran population — in recent years. The newspaper also reported that an unnamed Salvadoran gang with 400 members operated in the Cayo District, where capital city Belmopan is located. Since then, there have been scattered reports of authorities in Belize capturing suspected MS13 members. 

Nonetheless, it may be the case that alleged MS13 activity is really that of Belize’s many local gangs posing as maras to provoke fear — as has been known to happen in neighboring Honduras

The MS13 was founded by Salvadoran refugees in California in the 1980s and has since expanded to the East Coast of the United States and into Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The March arrests of 35 alleged MS13 members in Spain indicate the group has established a presence in that European country as well. 

SEE ALSO: MS13 Profile

As the MS13 continues to expand, Belize could become a strategic operating platform. The state’s weak central government has helped make it a center for money laundering, and its location next to Central America’s principal drug transit nations also makes it potentially useful as a transshipment point. Meanwhile, the violent turf war currently being waged by numerous local gangs could offer an opportunity for the MS13 to expand while homegrown groups are engaged in conflict.

The State’s Secret: Belize’s Money Laundering Regime

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Nestled on the northeastern coast of Central America, Belize is often named one of Central America’s most beautiful vacation destinations. With its ornate coral reefs and rainforest, the small English-speaking country has plenty to offer for tourists looking for tropical adventures. Yet, Belize is rapidly becoming known to the international community for attracting many drug trafficking organizations known for transporting marijuana and cocaine into North America. 

Since the country’s currency is conveniently pegged to the US dollar, Belize also offers nonresidents the opportunity to run offshore accounts. Money laundering has become a prime form of funding for many criminal organizations. As a result, the United States Department of State has recently named Belize one of the world’s “major money laundering countries.”

One might ask, “Are all poor countries more open to private investment?” No. However, in nations like Belize, there is a greater problem of overall government mismanagement, which can lead to illegal private investments typically going unnoticed or unpunished by government officials. According to the US State Department, Belize has a complete catalogue of rules and regulations that should be serving the purpose of monitoring various government investments. These regulations include such measures as the Fiscal Incentives Act, Export Incentives Act, the Export Processing Zone Act, Commercial Free Zone Act, International Business Companies Act, the Trusts Act, Offshore Banking Act, and the Gaming Act and Companies Act, which, according to the US State Department, “offer some attractive incentives to investors, but in practice these incentives are often not realized.” This means that while Belize has taken measures to prevent underground ventures from happening, its constituents are failing to realize the power of the current laws and the potential negative consequences of not adhering to them. Hence, this shows the vulnerability of the state and highlights the money laundering issues facing Belize.

This article was originally published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COAH). See original here

As previously cited, Belize is a hot spot for the illegal activities of creating, storing, and disguising offshore accounts. While it is not a country that is rich in resources, Belize does have high mineral production in clay, limestone, marble, sand, and gravel, all of which form the greater part of its construction industry. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MTC), Belize’s thriving mineral industry is one of the nation’s biggest attractions for overseas’ investors, along with the country’s beaches and resorts. The MTC also states that “the government supports joint venture[s] and partnership investments as a preferred mechanism; however it also allows 100% foreign ownership of an enterprise,” which is a power that is currently being abused by commercial businesses looking over Belize.

These resources, along with the country’s natural allure and fairly remote locations, draw visitors from near and far, adding to the appeal of illegal fund transfers. While private investment does not necessarily mean corruption, in the absence of an effective power structure, corruption is imminent. Therefore, the total number of private investments allowed within the country needs to be monitored and controlled by the government.

SEE ALSO:Coverage of Belize

Since 2001, the United States has become more involved with regions of the world where these types of financial crimes are carried out. The US government’s concern is driven by the fact that financial crimes have been known to fund terrorist organizations. In a report released earlier this year concerning money laundering and other financial crimes, the US Department of State named Belize one of the world’s top locations in which financial crimes can occur (pdf).The report dives deeper, explaining that Belize’s government has encouraged the growth of offshore financial banking while attempting to diversify its economy. However, due to the country’s weak government and ineffectual control of its financial sector, these monetary activities soon became vulnerable to financial crimes.

Much of the problem lies with offshore businesses and lenders in Caribbean nations and remote islands. Due to the countries’ lack of resources, trade, and capital, these smaller nations are often willing to host, promote, and disguise questionable incoming funds in an effort to diversify their economies.

Caribbean and island nations elsewhere in the world, in the past have been hotspots for international corruption and money laundering among corrupt politicians, fugitives, and the like. According to an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, more than $32 trillion “in private financial wealth is hidden in offshore havens — roughly equivalent to the annual output of the US, Chinese and Japanese economies combined.” The article suggests that a company could be based in the Seychelles, for instance, and the identity of the owner could remain completely hidden due to the concept of “putting ‘a company inside a company inside a company.'” Many offshore lenders are known to use this tactic. Such a structure allows businesses to hide in multiple places, such as in Belize, without a trace of their pre-existing businesses or professional ties. These nations are notorious for having shell corporations, which make accounts untraceable. Such industries have been extremely beneficial for politicians worldwide, and have been accused of financing pirates, terrorist organizations, and other fugitives.

International organizations have begun to pressure Belize to take more serious steps towards preventing money laundering. The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), an organization dedicated to implementing “common countermeasures” to prevent money laundering, has argued that Belize has not made sufficient progress in creating preventative measures (pdf). The CFATF also claims that Belize has refused to comply or act fast enough. The group has gone as far as to call upon its member states to consider imposing countermeasures to protect their financial assets from financial risks in Belize.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also taken measures to ensure that another crisis in the form of money laundering doesn’t occur in the future. This initiative is known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as Dodd-Frank. According to researchers for the Council on Foreign Relations, this piece of legislation specifically has the purpose of “monitoring systemic risk, limiting bank proprietary trading, placing new regulations on derivatives, and protecting consumers” to prevent another financial crisis.”

SEE ALSO:Coverage of Money Laundering

Belize has fired back against the allegations of inaction, citing its Domestic Banks and Financial Institutions Act (DBFIA) of 2012 as a serious step towards preventing financial crimes within its borders. On a positive note, the DBFIA did help strengthen the Money Laundering and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2008, which was passed by Belize’s Parliament. The DBFIA helped to improve provisions to govern domestic banks and financial institutions and strengthened Belize’s Central Bank’s powers to oversee and regulate the financial sector. However, as a result of weak governance and rampant corruption among elected officials, the act has not actually deterred criminals from carrying out their illegal financial activities.

Overall, smaller nations like Belize are commonly used by foreign authorities, among other officials, to hide suspicious activities. With a weak central government, Belize has become especially vulnerable to financial crimes. In order to fix this issue, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will need to enforce the Dodd-Frank legislation in order to prevent these types of situations from occurring in the future; and through the continued monitoring of countries like Belize, progress is expected to follow.

If this legislation is not properly enforced or there isn’t any improvement, training should be provided to the respective government officials. In extreme cases, where there is knowledge of illegal activities occurring, international consequences should be set forth by the main governing entity and be enforced. That being said, change also must come from within. Though Belize has taken some steps in recent years towards ending money laundering, more must be done for the sake of protecting financial investments. For one, corruption within the government that allows these financial crimes to occur must be tackled first as one of the main roots of the problem. Oversight of the financial sector can also be increased through stricter regulations that can help deter financial institutions from promoting and hiding illegal fund transfers. However, due to the nature of international money laundering, it is also imperative that states continue to work together to abolish international financial crimes by establishing international laws and norms that can deter illegal investments from occurring.

*This article was originally published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COAH). It is reprinted with permission. See original here

Belize City Gang Ceasefire is Temporary Reprieve

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Authorities in Belize have reported a ceasefire between gangs in the south of the country’s largest city following a surge in homicides, though the country’s prime minister is pessimistic it will lead to a wider initiative.

Belize’s Prime Minister Dean Barrow told 7 News Belize that National Police Senior Superintendent Edward Broaster led the peace talks between the gangs, which had agreed on a ceasefire.

The discussion was called by the police in the wake of seven gang-related killings in the space of 10 days in the Jane Usher Boulevard area of Belize City.

According to News 5, the ceasefire would be complimented by added police capacity in the zone.

“Even as the Police are stepping up their enforcement actions in the area, an effort is being made to talk through the situation with the gang leaders, with the principals to see if some kind of ceasefire, if you will, might be mediated,” Barrow told News 5.

The Prime Minister denied that the initiative would lead to a renewed national gang truce, like the one that ended in late-2012, reported News 5.

InSight Crime Analysis

Gangs are the main cause of violence in Belize City, one of the planet’s most dangerous urban areas. The UNODC’s 2013 Global Homicides Report (pdf) put the 2011 murder rate in Belize City at 105.1 — comparable to some of the world’s most violent cities.

But forging gang truces are hard, as Belize’s government has discovered. Belize City’s most recent attempt to develop a gang truce began in September 2011, and involved 13 gangs who took part in work programs that cost the government an estimated $20,000 per week. The truce led to an immediate reduction in homicides, with only nine reported murders in its first 100 days. Nevertheless, in December 2012 the Belize government ended the initiative due to lack of funds.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Belize

The homicide rate consequently jumped from a rate of 39.2 per 100,000 people in 2012 to 44.7 in 2013, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  

Belize Arrest Shows Once-Mighty Guatemala Narco Clan Still Alive

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The heir to what was once one of Guatemala’s premier drug trafficking organizations has been arrested in Belize, illustrating both the diehard nature of the region’s “transportista” groups and the role of this often overlooked corner of Central America in the drug trade.

Adolfo Eribel Rodriguez Barrientos was arrested in Belize by agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), reported Emisoras Unidas. Following the arrest, police and prosecutors launched a series of raids on properties in Guatemala linked to Rodriguez, who now faces a US extradition order.

According to Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, Rodriguez had taken over drug trafficking operations once run by Jorge Mario Paredes Cordoba, alias “El Gordo,” who was arrested in Honduras in 2008 and then extradited to the United States.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Paredes organization was one of the most powerful of Guatemala’s so-called transportista clans — groups hired to move drug shipments. According to the US State department, the group used connections in Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico and El Salvador to move multi-ton cocaine shipments into Guatemala. Once in the country, it was either sold in bulk to a third party distributor or moved on to the United States and distributed by contacts there.

Paredes, his brothers Ever Omar and Arturo, and his right-hand man Otoniel Turcios Marroquin, alias “El Loco,” are all believed to have worked closely with Mexico’s Zetas. However, by some accounts, after the arrest of Paredes and the murder of his two brothers, the Zetas turned on Turcios, forcing him out of his territory.

SEE ALSO: The Zetas in Guatemala

However, time and again Guatemala’s transportista networks have proven their ability to survive in the face of such setbacks; this latest arrest shows that despite major losses, at least part of the Paredes organization continues to operate today.

The arrest is also a reminder of the role Belize plays in the drug trade. While the country is rarely mentioned in discussions on Central American drug trafficking, there is plenty of evidence to suggest its ample coastlines and institutional weaknesses have not gone unnoticed by the region’s traffickers.

This certainly appears to be the case for the Paredes — in addition to the recent arrest of Rodriguez, “El Loco” Turcios was also arrested in the country in 2010.