Citizen Security in Belize
by Jennifer Peirce and Alexandre Veyrat-Pontet
Crime and violence are becoming a top priority for governments, development institutions, and the general public in Latin America and the Caribbean. As part of both the Central America and Caribbean sub regions, which have seen dramatic increases in some forms of crime and violence in the past decade, Belize faces serious security challenges internally and regionally. Insecurity negatively affects quality of life, prospects for social and economic development, and social cohesion. The government, multilateral development institutions, and the general public have all recognized citizen security as an important priority for Belize and have launched several major initiatives aimed at reducing crime and violence.
Belize’s homicide rate—the most basic indicator of violent crime—increased 150 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 16 to 41 per 100,000 inhabitants (OAS, 2012) and was the sixth highest in the world in 2010 (López, 2013). According to official Belize government data, in 2012 there were 145 murders for a population of 340,786, that is, 42.5 per 100,000 inhabitants— Belize’s highest rate to date (JICC, 2013).1 This is higher than the average rate for Central America and the Caribbean,2 and ranks behind only Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Jamaica in terms of national rates. Belize City’s homicide rate is far higher—estimated at 106 per 100,0003—putting it on par with other violent cities in the region, such as Guatemala City and San Salvador, although not as high as San Pedro Sula. Impunity is also a significant concern: between 1999 and 2007, only 10 percent of homicide cases resulted in a conviction (U.S. Department of State, 2012).
In terms of broader crime indicators, Belize had the worst results in eight of the nine victimization indicators: (i) murdered family member; (ii) being kidnapped or kidnapped family member; (iii) sexual assault or rape; (iv) death threat; (v) blackmail or extortion; (vi) verbal or physical abuse by the police; (vii) being hit; (viii) gunshot wound; (ix) stab wound (LAPOP, 2008), and the highest victimization rate in LAC for sexual assault and rape (UNDP, 2009; Seligson and Smith, 2010), although officially reported police data on rape are lower (54.3 per 100,000 in 2012) (JICC, 2013).
Given the extent of the local and transnational security dynamics of Central America and the Caribbean, Belizean government institutions have very limited resources, capacity, and ability to coordinate and implement programs. By some estimates, the government spends only $150 per citizen per year on public security (López, 2013). Resources are limited in absolute terms due to the small size of the population and the economy. As a proportion of the economy and budget, however, expenditures on security (defined as the expenditures of the Ministry of National Security), public prosecutions, and the judicial system are significant. Public expenditures in these areas amount to approximately 3.7 percent of GDP and, at 14 percent of total government noninterest expenditures, are the second largest category of expenditures after education (Table 1). Moreover, expenditures on national security, public prosecutions, and the judiciary are among the fastest-growing categories of expenditures.
Belize has a strong set of policy frameworks and strategic plans that analyze the characteristics and socioeconomic root causes of crime and violence. These plans contain fairly elaborate multisectoral and multiagency approaches. For example, the Restore Belize framework has a well-developed strategic plan, with specific actions and targets (Catzim-Sanchez, 2011), but it has not been implemented, due to lack of resources and weak management approaches. Current violence prevention interventions are scattered across different agencies and NGOs and appear to be simultaneously insufficient, underfunded, and duplicative or contradictory in terms of strategies and areas of focus. There is scope to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending and international cooperation on citizen security.
This situation—rising crime and violence combined with relative inaction and lack of capacity from the state—undermines public trust in Belizean institutions. According to the Americas Barometer (2010), public trust in the judicial system is at the midpoint for the hemisphere (43 percent), but trust in the police is at 38 percent—the second-worst in Central America, after Guatemala (UNDP, 2009).
The nexus between insecurity and development is complex, but in Belize’s recent history, worsening crime rates have coincided with relatively negative trends in economic and social indicators. After a period of relatively rapid economic growth between 1998 and 2003, Belize’s GDP grew by an annual average of only 3.1 percent in real terms from 2004 to 2012. This was barely ahead of the 2.65 percent annual growth in the country’s population, with the result that GDP per capita has remained broadly unchanged in real terms since 2004 (Statistical Institute of Belize and UNFPA, 2010; Statistical Institute of Brazil, undated). Unemployment has risen from 8 to 14 percent in recent years (and even more among youth, 23 percent of whom are officially unemployed) (SISCA, UNFPA, and Interpeace, 2012), and poverty increased from 33 percent in 2002 to 41 percent in 2009 (Halcrow Group Limited, 2010). Furthermore, Belize has dropped three positions in the Human Development Index (UNDP, 2011). Over 60 percent of youth between 14 and 17 years old are not enrolled in school (SISCA, UNFPA, and Interpeace, 2012). These data raise questions about the extent to which unequal social and economic development has contributed to rising crime and insecurity.
There is evidence that crime and violence are affecting economic competitiveness. Belize ranks 123rd out of 142 countries globally (WEF, 2011), with institutional factors (including security institutions) considered the fourth most serious concern. In terms of the costs of crime and violence to business, Belize ranks in the bottom 10 with its neighbors: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras; Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela; and, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and Jamaica. In the 2010 Enterprise Survey, over 50 percent of firms in Belize considered crime, theft, and unrest a major constraint to their business, with nearly 12 percent citing this as the principal constraint (World Bank, 2010). The Belize Tourism Board considers crime the biggest threat to the tourism industry, which is the leading economic sector in Belize.
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How to Cite:
Peirce, J., & Veyrat-Pontet, A. (2013). Citizen security in Belize. from http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/news/102313.AB-Belize-IADB.pdf