In late July, Belize declared its fifth gang-related state of emergency (SOE) since 2018, putting into question the effectiveness of the government’s SOEs in dealing with gang violence. The shootings of Tevin Cacho, Darien Banks, and Alrick Smith (the latter two were shot fatally) resulted in the declaration of this SOE. Each instance is categorised as gang violence in nature; Cacho was part of the Backa-Land gang, and Banks led the PIV gang (Peace in the Village) that Smith partook in.
The Police Commissioner, Chester Williams points out that according to the Belize Crime Observatory, the per annum homicide rate in Belize District has decreased from 78 (per 100,000 people) in 2018 to 51 in 2021, defending SOE’s. The Home Affairs Minister, Kareem Musa, commented: “Like I always say, a state of emergency is not in any way a solution to crime, but a pause button to stop the surge.” However, there is a danger that the Belizean government could get caught in an endless loop of SOEs like the Jamaican government has in recent years.
The roots of Belizean gang culture trace back to Hurricane Hattie that hit Belize in 1961, instigating homelessness for 10,000 people and causing 30% of Belizeans to migrate to the US, mostly California. A vulnerable minority then became involved in Los Angeles’ crime culture, joining gangs like the ‘Bloods’ and the ‘Crips’. An LA crime increase in the 1980’s then caused the US government to deport thousands of undocumented Belizeans with their new violent practises back to Belize.
Both gangs, illicitly trading in $5 bags of marijuana, have become more complex since the 1980’s with the gradual expansion of the city and the gangs’ family trees. There are still the Bloods and the Crips, but there are at least factions that affiliate themselves with one or the other. The Backa-land gang, for example, associates with the Crips and the PIV the Bloods.
Prime Minister Johnny Briceño proposes a simultaneous improvement of intelligence gathering on the gangs and an increase of opportunities for young people to tackle gang culture. He believes this will decrease the city’s issue by “getting kids off the street” However, Briceno’s government is undermined by corruption and bribery that results in sex-trafficking and police brutality, and many citizens are even terrified by the violent nature that the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) undergoes its duties.