Crime and Punishment in Belize

Crime in Belize

Crime in Belize

I understand that The Economist magazine recently labeled Belize the murder capital of the world, based on the number of murders relative to the country’s population. The label is similar to the one Mexico got when it was called on the border of being a failed state because of the ongoing struggle between the drug gangs and police/army.

There is no question about it, Belize does have a crime problem, particularly murders, in Belize City. Many of them are in Belize City, but occasionally it will spill out of that community into the communities west of it. I think there are several causes. The country of Belize has a small population, and Belize City is the only even moderately large city, so the crime there skews the numbers for the country as a whole.

First, there is a big community of Belizeans in Los Angeles, California, and another in New York. There are people who travel between those cities and Belize, bringing elements of culture of those cities. As I read about the senseless killings in the paper, I occasionally see references to gangs, specifically the Bloods and the Crips (?), which are notorious gangs in LA. There are a lot of young men in Belize City who are un(der)educated, un(der)employed and are fodder for gangs. So I think there are gang against gang killings, and there may be initiation killings.

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There is a growing sense of frustration in Belize City about it; even this weekend there was a “peace march” there to protest the violence. In the meanwhile, although the police frequently catch the perpetrators, they rely heavily on eye witnesses. But Belize is small country (see below), and it’s said everyone knows everyone, and witnesses often fail to appear at the trials, presumably because they have been threatened or just intimidated, so the murderers go free.

Although, I my view, alcoholism is rampant in the whole country (except, I believe, among the Mayans), Belize City is also the center of hard drugs. So armed robberies are not uncommon, frequently drug related, but if there is anything different about Belize from the western world, it seems to be a willingness to shoot.

Belize has a very small military, unlike other Central American countries, and they don’t get involved in law enforcement. (Having traveled in Mexico and Guatemala, I don’t mind not having trucks with mounted machine guns patrolling the roads.)  Belize is not a wealthy country by a long shot, and outside of the “cities”, the police are hired and trained, and answer to, the national government. There are not nearly enough of them to deal with the problem, nor are they given the resources they need. The Judiciary seems competent, but they can’t do much without evidence or eye witnesses.

A note about the population of Belize and the impact on national resources: Belize is the size of New Jersey, which is the most densely populated state in the US at 452 persons per square mile.  Belize, on the other hand, ranks 170 in a list of population density of 192 countries, with a density of 31 persons per sq. mile.  For comparison, neighboring Honduras has 161 p/sq/mi, Guatemala has 348 p/sq/mi, and Mexico 139 p/sq/mi. This means there is a small population base to provide taxes to support the government.  Although wages in Belize tend to be higher than surrounding countries, they are still low.  We attract and keep good workers on our construction crews because we pay well – masons earn $75/day.   With a generally poor local population, there is not a strong base to support the government, so programs like police protection are not supported as much as they need to be.  In fact, we had a spate of boat motor thefts here in Placencia, and the local police came to our Rotary club asking for funds to fix their boat so they could patrol and pursue.

20% of the country’s population lives in Belize City.  The most significant crime belt is from Belize City west through Belmopan, Cayo and Benque Viejo del Carmen.  Those four communities have 35% of the population and probably in excess of 50% of the violent crime.

Before I came to Belize, people who had come here would tell me they didn’t like it. I would ask them if they had come on a cruise ship, and they would answer yes, which is all I needed to hear. The cruise ships stopped at Belize City, and people who did not take excursions by bus to attractions in the country, but stayed and wandered around in Belize City, saw the worst of Belize. People here in Placencia express fear that when the road is paved all the way to the Southern Highway that thugs will come down from B.C. I tend to doubt it – it is a 3 hour drive, but the improved road will make a difference.

I should also note that the violence tends to be among people in certain neighborhoods, and you rarely hear of any tourists or expats being targeted. In fact, there is a division of the police called the Tourism Police, and they not only look out for tourists, but also insure that tour operators are qualified and licensed to provide the services they offer.  So tourists and expats are safe provided they don’t walk around bad areas of Belize City at night – and that can be said for many, many cities around the world.

The most rampant crime in our area is petty theft of opportunity. I always lock my truck, even if I’m going into the bank or a store for a minute, but I did that in Maine, too. Most people with items of value in their homes will have bars that go over windows, and metal gates at their doors, to prevent break-ins. People leaving their Belize homes for extended periods will often find someone they trust to stay at their house.

Fraud is so common it is almost taken for granted.  The previous national government left office in disgrace, with millions of dollars missing or unaccounted for.  The current mayor of Belize City, as well as other local officials, has been arraigned on charges related to $275,000 missing as a result of a practice they called “underdepositing of funds”.  This stuff is in the news constantly, and it doesn’t seem that anyone goes to jail for it, and I think it filters down the food chain so to speak.   It is not unusual for tradesmen to request full payment for a job before completion, and then disappear.  Would you go along with that wherever you are now?  Probably not, and there is no reason to do so here.

I’ve recently read some good stuff about the prison at Hattieville. Seems that they have a good program for training inmates in making crafts that are in demand, and so the recidivism among that group is very low. When Bob and I went to Belize City to go shopping, we stopped at the prison store. There was very little there, but there were some amazing carved doors and other large carvings.

Finally, I don’t mean to create a negative impression of Belize, but the reality is that crime exists here as it does everywhere. I live in a resort area, adjacent to a village marked by poverty. On almost every trip to and from Placencia village there are people looking for a ride. I have no hesitation to offer rides, and if there is room, they ride in the cab of my truck with me. I know several by name. I feel perfectly safe, but I do lock the doors to my apartment and truck when I am not in them, but that was true in Maine as well.

So if you come to Belize to visit, don’t go to Belize City, there is very little to see. You are safe if you take the same precautions you would take anywhere you travel.

Reproduced by kind permission of Carl Laws, the author of

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  1. Marc Buck November 13, 2009 at 9:18 am


    I’ve been thinking of visiting Belize to possibly relocate there on a permanent basis.

    Where should I visit that we e the most desirable place to live. must be near the ocean as I love the water..


    • James Adams MD January 11, 2014 at 12:51 am

      Belize is the largest sewer rat public toilet in Latin America and Belize has the highest murder rate in Latin America after Colombia! The sewer rat Belize politicians are all criminals and should all be arrested and dropped down into the nearest public sewer in Belize! Belize is nothing more than a grossly incompetent satanic evil catholic public toilet society today! You would need to be a complete dimwitted brain dead senile idiot to visit or to live in the sewer rat public toilet of Belize today! This report about Belize as a place to live was written by a grossly incompetent sewer rat defecation that dropped down out of a Belize sewer rat’s dysentery filled rectum!

  2. Frank Tull January 19, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Belize is a beautiful country with a pleasant climate. Come to San Ignacio. We are 70 miles from Belize City.

  3. Bonny March 9, 2010 at 1:25 am

    Regarding your comment: ‘you rarely hear of any tourists or expats being targeted’, I think some clarification is in order. True, you don’t often hear about it, but it happens all the time. Just the other day I bumped into a girl who was traveling from the U.S. and had her passport stolen. A police friend of mine told me about an older woman who got off the cruise ship, went down the wrong street and was mugged. Don’t get me wrong, I have Belize Police Officers who are excellent friends of mine. However, as a rule, the police enforcement in Belize has a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude. A lot of what happens is not even recorded as a statement. They may feel, ‘what’s the point if the crime is committed and everyone knows the robber will go free anyways?’ Every day in Belize City, tourists and young local girls let their guards down in the bars, and end up drugged and raped. Myself, as an expat, can state with authority that in the 1.5 years we’ve lived here PART-TIME, my streetwise ex-military husband was mugged twice. But unless (to quote the Police) you break their legs so they can’t run off, no one can do anything about it. We’ve suffered THREE burglaries as well, but with no serious forensic department, the Police can’t charge the individuals we know to be responsible. I had to press assault charges in a separate incident, but the ‘higher-up’s were bribed. & I haven’t even mentioned the swindlers that have crossed my path. & believe me, my story is FAR from unique. So, regarding ‘you rarely hear of any tourists or expats being targeted’, that’s why you never hear about it! The entire government system in Belize is corrupted from end to end. Belize is not for the faint of heart.

    • Depakote Lawyer August 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      I am going to have to disagree with Bonnie, as I don’t believe she knows what she is talking about. Singling out Belize as if it is any worse than any of the other impoverished nations of the world is ignorant, and if you were getting mugged and robbed so often you clearly were not being cautious enough to know how to avoid those type of situations, or worst case scenario, protect yourself from them if they are unavoidable. Would you walk down the streets of South Central Los Angeles, California and expect it to be any different or less dangerous than Belize? I have traveled a lot, been to Belize, Rio, almost everywhere in Mexico, and I never thought of Belize as being any more dangerous than anywhere else. If your husband is a “streetwise ex-military” guy, it seems like he would have been more capable to keep you both out of so many bad situations. Belize is a wonderful place, and people should not be discouraged to travel there.

      • Manny October 14, 2011 at 11:23 am

        “Would you walk down the streets of South Central Los Angeles, California and expect it to be any different or less dangerous than Belize?”

        Less. You sound as though you’re saying that with a straight face.

        I disagree with Carl’s statement here:

        “The country of Belize has a small population, and Belize City is the only even moderately large city, so the crime there skews the numbers for the country as a whole”

        Have you read what you wrote here? Lower population density = greater likelihood of lower crime/murders. If Belize had the density of El Salvador it would very likely be significantly more murderous.

        You’ve lost me Carl you really have.

  4. Macarena Rose August 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    There is good and bad about Belize and its crime issues. The facts are the facts, there is crime in Belize. With that said, I help people relocate to Belize, and have an education process we help folks with that is full spectrum. We believe in the facts-and Bonny comes from the truth side, which is awesome !
    Crime is in all places of the world, knowing how to work with realms of each area is what helps. Some areas are not ones I recommend for most people- then there are others that I truly do recommend –
    “Belize is not for everyone, and everything for some people ” I always say.
    If you are one that Belize is for, you will need to know the good, bad and ugly- to for sure see the whole beauty of what Belize is and has !

  5. Hector Mar August 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Often I would have people ask me what is the crime situation like in Belize. My answer is that crime is something you find everywhere and more so in larger towns or cities. The questions is, what can be done to correct this problem. A lot of it starts at home and with education. A country that knows how to read and write is one that will more likely excel. Most the crimes recorded are ones that occur late nights or that are gang related. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will find trouble or trouble will find you. With population growth also comes more issues like pollution, unemployment and crime etc. So is there an increase in crime? It seems that way especially with the internet-technology we have today. Years ago, you would not hear about it because the news channels in Belize were not up to date like today. I have friends in different parts of the world that keep up with Belize by hearing the radio online and reading the newscasts and with this, the news spreads like wildfire. People are bombarded with bad news like I was some weeks ago when I decided to follow Channel5 on Twitter. It automatically gives you all the news in tweets, right before your eyes (you don’t have to follow it, it follows you). But there is good in Belize too. Like any place, if you do what is right and if you become a part of the solution instead of the problem, you shall not find or be trouble to the community. Belize is a great place. I have lived in Belize all my life and it’s the country I love, one I don’t plan to leave. I invite you to visit Belize and experience what good things it has to offer and what great cultures you can meet.

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