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July set to be fifth straight month with fewer murders than 2022 despite second-half jump

Posted: Monday, July 31, 2023. 9:03 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: There are still reasons to be optimistic that Belize is looking at under 100 murders for the first time in over a decade at the end of December.

At the midway point of July, there had already been four murders – those of Jahfeth Stamp, Gabriel Tillett, Rosita Olivera, and Jasmine Domingo, making the unofficial count 48. Since then, five more murders have been reported – Nicholi Rhys, Phozhaun Lewis (though not officially confirmed), Steve Moss, Brodam Santos and James Escarpeta, with several other shooting incidents also reported.

As of tonight, that puts the total count for the month at nine – two less than the eleven reported last July when a State of Emergency was also triggered near the end of the month. The unofficial count through seven months of the year is thus 53 as of tonight, still behind last year’s total of 70.

In the second half of 2022, there were 54 murders reported as observed by the Belize Crime Observatory (BCO): 11 in July, three in August, 13 in September, seven in October, nine in November, and eleven in December. A similar pace in 2023 would put the country short of the century mark for the first time in over a decade.

And though some complain this is supposedly motivation for the criminal element, the Commissioner of Police told us last week before the recent spike in violence that crime is not a matter for politics or for those who think they have all the answers: “I think that the strategy we have in place right now with the LIU [Leadership Intervention Unit], the all of government approach is working. Yes there is more that needs to be done and we’re trying to get those other things done. We now have the new leader of LIU installed and she is coordinating with the different organizations to make sure that we come together and look at the other areas that we need to focus on to make sure that we can address the issue of crime. But again, no matter what we do, there is always going to be crime. Certainly, we can do more to manage the crime situation better and that is exactly what we are doing.”

And according to the Commissioner, there are fewer incidents of major crime in which action in court is being sought, so where last year’s total only lists incidents for which court action was sought, this year’s combines both court action-requested and non-court action-requested incidents.

Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs, points to the illegal cannabis trade and use of weaponry as another factor: “I think a lot of the times it’s so taboo that we don’t want to speak of it. But we are a cannabis-consuming country. And every time a shipment of cannabis comes in from Mexico, because that is where the cannabis is coming in from, The cartels in Mexico are providing guns to individuals on the streets of Belize, and in particular, Belize City. And we’re not talking about one or two guns. Every single year, the police department recovers over a hundred guns off the streets. That’s a lot of guns, but those are only the guns that the police are able to recover. Imagine how many hundreds more are out there being hidden by these criminals, and so we always have to have these operations in place.”

Minister Musa contends that regulating the sale of marijuana will drastically decrease the number of gangs and illegal firearms across Belize City. He is of the view that with these regulations in place, murders connected to the sale of cannabis will see a drastic reduction: “… do you see anyone killing anybody for a bottle of rum, for the sale of a bottle of rum? No, because rum is regulated. Beer is regulated. Both of those substances are more harmful than cannabis. But yet, we continue to live in the dark. It is this one-hundred year propaganda, which has fostered this environment now to create this illegal trade that results in guns coming over and gangs being created around this particular plant.”

Whether that is a trial balloon for the shelved referendum on the cannabis reform bills still before Parliament, to which a coalition of churches have objected, is as yet unknown.

 

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