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Narcotics and the Human Trafficking Problem in Belize

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2019. 12:44 pm CST.

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University and
Kendra Hoyt, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, and Life Coach Counselor, Galen University, Belize

Central America has long been recognized as a common transit zone for both human trafficking and narcotics trafficking. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Drug Threat Assessment Report, Central America and Mexico form the main corridor for South American drugs heading to the U.S. market. The majority of cocaine and heroin produced and exported from Colombia is transported through Central America and Mexico.

While this presents challenges for all of Central America, the small nation of Belize has also been affected by recent narcotics and human trafficking trends. Belize is the only English-speaking nation in Central America and is in a vulnerable geographical location for both narcotics trafficking and human trafficking. Belize is a beautiful country and is making strides to counter the narcotics and human trafficking programs that plague the Central American region.

Belize is located with Mexico to its north, Honduras to its south, and Guatemala on its western border. A border dispute with Guatemala makes enforcement there difficult. Belize is also home to hundreds of uninhabited islands and cays along the Caribbean Sea, which can also present enforcement challenges.

Photograph provided by Galen University

Dr. Sadulski was invited to Belize by Galen University to participate in a March 1 speaking event on narcotics and human trafficking based on his extensive research on trafficking trends through Central America. Galen University, a leading institution in Belize, hosted the event and invited its criminal justice students and selected criminal justice practitioners from around the nation.

Guests included members of the Belize Defense Force, Belize Coast Guard, Belize Police Department, and Immigration officers. Guests also included the Galen University provost, Galen University professors and students. Officers from the Belize anti-narcotics unit, K-9 unit, Mobile Interdiction Team, Belize Immigration Department and Customs, Belize Defense Force (BDF), Belize Police Department, the CEO of the Belize Central Prison, and a human trafficking representative from the court system. Galen University Lecturer Kendra Hoyt was an instrumental partner in the planning and coordination of the event.

Dr. Sadulski gave a three-hour presentation on narcotics and human trafficking.

Problems Included the Use of Narco-Submarines to Transport Illicit Drugs

Photograph provided by Galen University

Dr. Sadulski’s presentation included a survey of current problems associated with narcotics and human trafficking. These problems included the use of narco-submarines to transport illicit drugs. Narco-subs are often built in remote areas, such as the Tumaco region of Colombia’s Pacific coast, and can haul up to six tons of cocaine each. Also discussed was the spread of the heroin epidemic and the connection between the increase in heroin abuse and prescription opioid use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that about 80 percent of heroin users acknowledged taking prescription opioids before turning to heroin. Prescription opioids include legal drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine.

Dr. Sadulski also provided a comprehensive assessment of the drug-control strategies that have been put into place in the major drug source country, Colombia. He discussed anti-drug strategies including crop eradication and crop substitution programs, and the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Dr. Sadulski also discussed the counter-narcotics strategies in Belize’s northern neighbor, Mexico, including the Mexican kingpin strategy and the Sinaloa cartel. He ended the narcotics portion of the presentation by addressing strategies to reduce the demand for drugs in the United States.

Regarding human trafficking, Dr. Sadulski cited victim accounts of being trafficked and smuggled and the role of coercion in human trafficking. Often traffickers and victims share a common nationality, ethnicity, or cultural background. That gives the traffickers a better understanding of how to exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims through coercion. The victims often are people struggling in life. The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide.

Human trafficking indicators and strategies for recognizing human trafficking were also discussed. In particular, a lot of the discussion centered on human branding, the tattoos that traffickers use to mark their victims. Human trafficking victims are often identified as the property of the trafficker by tattoos that might be the name of the trafficker or by various symbols.

Photograph provided by Galen University

An immigration officer in the audience recalled seeing human branding on trafficking victims and the audience shared information about their own experiences on the topic. The conversation was engaging and has provided a platform for continued conversations with students and government officers on how the small nation of Belize can better handle this scary and pervasive issue in the region.

In conclusion, the speaking engagement was an enlightening experience as Dr. Sadulski and Kendra Hoyt fielded a lot of questions and comments from the audience.


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