Belize has been black-listed as the third most violence-prone country in the world.
Fourteen years ago, at the turn of the century, the murder rate for Belize was 18.8 homicides per 100,000 persons.
By 2012 the murder rate had doubled to 39.0 homicides per 100,000 persons, and last year’s reports show the murder rate at 41.7 per 100.000 persons.
Most of the homicides reported are gang- related.
When there is a gang truce the number of homicides go down dramatically, but when the gangs are in strife with one another, the numbers go up. Since the periods of gang truce do not last long enough, they do not make much impact on the yearly average.
If Belize could somehow neutralize the gangs or get them to abandon their internecine strife, we could do a lot more to promote our tourism and social programmes to benefit our young people.
Gangs create a virulent lifestyle of intolerance and disregard for human life. They subscribe to a jungle philosophy of “kill or be killed,” and they make it difficult for young people trapped in their neighbourhood to lead a normal life.
Gangs cause a lot of suffering to others, to themselves and their womenfolk. Gang members seldom live to see their full maturity and their children are often left orphaned to grow up on the streets, to carry on the same vicious cycle.
Gangs operate by stealth. The ride-by shooting is their stock in trade, but they are good at entrapment too. Their intelligence network, which is often very good, depends heavily on the use of the cell phone. They also have a color policy. If you don’t wear their color, you can’t live in their neighbourhood.
Many countries have tried and failed to bring the gangs under control. Those who have succeeded have developed a formula for a quick but fair trial and long prison sentences. Such a formula requires making some changes to the traditional way of doing things.
The formula requires the use of court reporters to keep an accurate record of everything that goes on in the courtroom and it requires an efficient witness protection programme. Belize also needs to develop its own intelligence network to keep abreast of the gang intelligence network.
These are necessary measures to keep gang activity in check, because one thing has become clear over the years – if we don’t control the gangs, the day will come when they will control us.