Belize just ended its 2nd most murderous year in history

By Adele Ramos
Freelance Reporter

In late December 2017, I wrote an article published in the Reporter newspaper in which it was estimated that the murder count was at 141, based on a compilation of police and media reports. Whereas the media is reporting a total of 144-145 murders for the year 2017, Minister of State responsible for Police, Elodio Aragon, Jr., said in Parliament on Friday that 2017 recorded 142 murders. We would hope that the quarrel being made over the discrepancy in numbers is not a smokescreen to gloss over the fact that Belize just ended its second most murderous year in history—that is, if we were to go with the police tally and not the media’s.

I’ve been analysing data tracked since 1993 (a span of 25 years) in five blocks of 5 years, and the assessment has been quite revealing. During that time span, over 2,100 persons were murdered in Belize. If we were to look at absolute numbers, it is inarguable that the bulk of the murders happened during the past decade. In fact, almost 6 in 10 of those persons were murdered just within the past decade.
Belize's annual murder count
However, when we look at the pace at which the number of homicides escalated, the period which showed the fastest escalation spanned 2003-2007. Whereas the number of murders rose from 248 for the period 1993-1997 to 280 for the period 1998 to 2002 (a growth of 13%, or 32 more murders); the period 2003-2007 saw an increase of 48% or 134 murders. The next 5-year period (2008-2011) saw things escalate at a similar pace, with a growth of 44%. The total number of murders for that period grew by 184, from 414 to 598.

Here are some more interesting stats: The final 5-year period (2013-2017) has seen two years of record numbers: 2012 – with 145 murders and 2017 – with 142 murders. Still, the increase in murders over the last 5-year period, as compared to the previous 5-year period was just 4%. There were 280 murder victims over the 5-year period spanning 1998 and 2002 – the same amount of people killed just in the past two years alone.

This demonstrates that the problem had already become entrenched, and the sustained high murder counts that we are seeing in today’s Belize are a result of leaving the proverbial horse to run wild after it had left the barn roughly 15 years ago.

For the period studied, the biggest year-on-year increase in murders happened in 1999, when the figure jumped from 32 to 56 – an increase of 75% on the heels of a substantial 31% fall in murders the year before. The largest decrease over the quarter-century was recorded in 2013, when the number of murders was reduced from the record high of 145 to 99 – a reduction of 31%. Perhaps a reassessment needs to be done of those years to see if any successful tactic can be revived in 2018.

Whereas the two major political parties have been debating the crime issue for quite some time – with another round playing out in Parliament on Friday – the data show that the period during which this problem got out of hand actually spanned the second consecutive term of the last People’s United Party administration and the first term of the United Democratic Party administration. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard of a true bipartisan approach to tackling this headache. I suggest here that the time has long arrived for a concerted effort to be made to tackle this national crisis.

The international financial institutions say that high crime rates, and particularly high murder rates, hurt the economy. It means that if we want a better Belize, a more prosperous Belize in 2018, this has to become a top national priority.

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