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Belize 2015 Crime and Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Belize; Western Hemisphere > Belize > Belmopan

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, is the only English speaking country in Central America. Belize is located south of Mexico and east of Guatemala on the Caribbean Sea. Tourism is a major part of the Belizean economy, with high season November-April. Hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world visit Belize. Favorite destinations include the eastern cayes (islands), including Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, and the coastal areas in the south, including Placencia. Tourists also frequent ecotourism destinations located in the lush rainforests in the west and south.  

Crime Rating: High

Crime Threats

The majority of crimes are burglaries and thefts, often without injuries. In 2014, however, there were a disturbing number of robberies that ended in serious injuries and fatalities. Corruption, human smuggling/trafficking, the drug trade, money laundering, and organized gang activity remain significant problems. Criminal organizations and individuals often operate beyond the ability of the police. Compounding this problem is the very modest capacity to prosecute offenders.

Due to the small population (335,000) and high murder rate per capita, Belize consistently ranks among the top 10 in the world for homicides, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, with an average of around 40 homicides per 100,000 residents. After setting an all-time record in 2012 for homicides at 145, the number of murders significantly decreased to 99 in 2013. However, in 2014 the number of murders rose to 121. The Belize District, which includes Belize City, continues to have the highest number of murders in the country, due in large part to dozens of street gangs that operate in the city. Belmopan, the capital (pop: 14,000) and home to several diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy, recorded four murders in 2014, marking a decline in total murders from the previous mark set in 2013. One of those killed was the charge d’affaires at the Panamanian Embassy, Jose Rodrigo De La Rosa, who was killed approximately 2.5 miles from the U.S. Embassy. There were widely reported murders of Westerners, including Lynn Nichiporowich who was stabbed to death in a small village in the northern district of Corozal. Many of the Western expatriates who were killed in 2013 and 2014 lost their lives in rural areas of Belize, to include the popular tourist destination of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. Over the past several years, there has been a shift in major crimes from being concentrated mostly in the population center in Belize City to districts in the north, west, and south of Belize. 

Overall crime in Belize City increased significantly in 2014 due in part to the increase in gang violence and drug trafficking. Although major crime in general dropped throughout much of Belize in 2013, Belize saw a dramatic increase in violent and major crimes in 2014, to include an increase in murders and assaults. 

Major crimes remain low around popular tourist destinations including the Mayan ruins but the risk still exists. Several tourist areas along the western border with Guatemala have active military patrols due in part to the several border incidents that are reported each year. Some of these excursions require a military patrol to view ruins located on the border with Guatemala. Tourist attractions, including cave tubing and zip lining, remain relatively safe. While crime against tourists exists on the cayes, it is less frequent and generally non-violent, though murders do occur in these areas. 

There were several high-profile investigations involving ministerial-level officials involved in the illegal sale of Belizean identity documents, including passports. Other government officials, including immigration department officials, have been investigated. Even though these investigations are on-going, the U.S. Embassy and other law enforcement organizations are following the progress of these cases closely.

Areas of Concern

Travelers are advised to avoid areas of the south side of Belize City where numerous gangs are known to operate. The government has designated certain areas on the south side of Belize City as “crime ridden,” thereby enabling law enforcement and security authorities to conduct random searches without a warrant. It is recommended that travel to the south side of Belize City be minimized to official business only and that personal trips be avoided. 

Individuals wishing to travel via personally-owned vehicle (POV) through the interior of Mexico and other Central American countries should exercise extreme caution.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Road conditions are generally very poor. The road systems range from short stretches of newly-paved roads in Belize City to decades-old pavement on the major highways that connect the country from north to south and east to west. Lane markings are only present on a few major highways and only for short stretches. Major highways are two-lane in some stretches, but the roads can quickly narrow depending on the paving and the frequent break-off of the pavement that occurs along the edges of the roads. The highways are mostly unlit, laden with potholes, and contain unpaved dirt shoulders. The primary highways – Philip SW Goldson Highway (northern), George Price Highway (western), Hummingbird and Southern highways – are in generally better condition (paved) than most roads, although the quality and grade of the roads are inconsistent. Roads in rural areas and villages are typically dirt or loose gravel and in poor condition. The rainy season, which occurs in the winter into the spring, exacerbates poor road conditions.  

Certain stretches of the George Price Highway (western highway) that connects Belize City to Belmopan and continues west to the Guatemalan border have been the site of several fatal accidents. The combination of inconsistent paving and slick roadways due to rain have been contributing factors in several fatal accidents along this highway. Traffic fatalities remain an urgent, very real danger.

Driving can be extremely hazardous after dusk and during the frequent rains. The major highways are the only reliable avenues to transit the country, aside from small tourist airplanes operated by two Belizean commercial carriers. Pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and buses utilize the same roads day and night. Stray dogs also wander freely in close proximity to the many small villages that dot the major highways.  

Defensive driving is critical to navigate the road systems. Local drivers may use turn signals to signify different vehicle movements. For example, a left-hand turn signal in a vehicle ahead of you on the highway may be a signal for your car to pass on the left, or it could indicate a left-hand turn by the vehicle ahead. Drivers should always use maximum follow distances to allow plenty of time to react to the unexpected.

Due to the absence of stoplights and vehicular police patrols, speed bumps are utilized to control speeds, especially in/around small villages, schools and population centers. There are several different signs that indicate speed bumps, and many speed bumps are not marked at all. Speed bumps can be a significant hazard to vehicles and occupants, as they tend to be very large and damaging to vehicles that hit them too hard. Drivers should always be aware of the speed bumps, especially during dusk, dawn, and night driving and should be aware that vehicles may slam on their brakes unexpectedly to try and avoid hitting an unseen speed bump.

Traffic circles are used throughout Belize to take the place of traffic lights. At traffic circles, you must yield to exiting traffic in the circle before proceeding and then signal before you exit to alert the vehicles behind you.   

The police regularly operate checkpoints, especially in/around Belize City, Belmopan, and sporadically along the major highways leading west and south. All personnel, including diplomats, should stop at these checkpoints and fully cooperate with police. The police may ask for a form of identification. Often the focus of the checkpoints is to ensure that the vehicles are properly insured or to spot-check the window tinting on cars to ensure that it is within the legal limit. There have been few reports of false checkpoints or extortion of persons in vehicles passing through these checkpoints.

Prior to road travel, ensure that your vehicle is in good operating condition, paying particular attention to the engine, tires, brakes, head/tail lights, spare tire and jack, horn, and fluid levels. Particularly on trips to remote areas, try to travel with other vehicles, and advise someone of your travel plans, including anticipated arrival/departure times and contact numbers. The following items are recommended for extended road trips: Cellular telephone with charger (although some areas in Belize lack coverage); A spare tire; Potable water; Non-perishable food items; First aid kit; Fire extinguisher; Emergency tool kit; Jumper cables; Compressed air tire pump; and Flares/reflectors. If your tire is mounted outside, secure it in place with a chain/padlock or similar device. If this is not possible, leave it at home, reinstalling it only for extended trips outside the city. Replace one lug nut on each wheel with a specially-keyed bolt that locks or can only be removed with a special attachment to the tire iron.  

Parking on the street can rarely be avoided.  If left overnight, ensure you park in an area that is well lit, with security guards (most hotels have security guards) and within view of the location of your visit.  Use of a car alarm is a necessary precaution in deterring vehicle thefts and thefts of interior contents.  Theft of small, easily pilfered items is a common crime, as is the theft of car sound systems.  So keep your vehicle sterile, storing anything that would entice a thief out of plain view.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Public transportation can be problematic and unreliable. Public buses are prone to safety and security problems and extreme caution should be taken when using this means of public transportation. Buses often operate under poor conditions and lack adequate maintenance. Bus drivers are often observed exceeding the speed limits, pulling over suddenly and without warning for passengers, and passing other vehicles at locations where it is unsafe to do so.  

Taxi stands and plazas are located throughout major cities and villages and can be contacted by phone. Do not accept rides in vehicles that are not authorized taxis (taxis have green license plates but perhaps few other markings), and do not hail a taxi with more occupants than just the driver. Taxis should generally only be hailed from reputable establishments. There have been occasional reports of sexual assaults on unaccompanied females committed by taxi drivers.  

Water taxis are an inexpensive and reliable method to travel from Belize City to the cayes, including Caye Caulker and San Pedro. Water taxis are generally safe, but caution should be exercised while using them and travelers should ensure that there are adequate life vests on board. 

Other Travel Conditions

Buses and cars often do not yield to pedestrians. 

Hitch hiking is an accepted means to travel around the country. Hitch hikers often gather at speed bumps where traffic must slow and are often picked up by local motorists. This form of travel, however, can be extremely dangerous to the individual picked up or to the driver who allows a stranger into his/her vehicle. It is strongly advised that motorists do not stop for hitchhikers and are aware that public buses transit these routes frequently for a nominal fee. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Political violence is rare. Lawful protests do occur regularly but are generally peaceful and orderly.

Political Violence Rating: Low

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

In 2012, an individual with suspected ties to Hezbollah was arrested in Mexico. The individual had obtained fraudulent Belizean identity documents that enabled him to travel. Though this individual had suspected ties to the Islamic militant group, there are no known local, regional or international terror groups operating in or out of Belize.  

Terrorism Rating: Low

Civil Unrest 

The government requires a permit that must be requested at least 24 hours prior to a planned protest. Embassy security messages are generally issued to advise personnel to avoid areas where protests are scheduled to occur.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The most frequent natural disasters that affect Belize are hurricanes and tropical storms. Hurricane Hattie destroyed much of Belize City in 1961. Hurricane season in the Western Caribbean runs June 1-November 30. However, September to October is the period when tropical storms have generally affected Belize. Belize has very limited capabilities to respond adequately to the aftermath of a direct major hurricane hit. Although the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) has analyzed Belize’s vulnerability to a hurricane, preparations in response to these reports remain inadequate. Hurricane shelters exist along the coast, but limited emergency food and water stockpiles would be quickly exhausted by the high number of potential victims of a serious storm. Waterways require frequent dredging, so flooding would be exacerbated. Belize has a rudimentary evacuation plan, but practical implementation would likely be difficult. In October 2010, Hurricane Richard slammed into the coast, resulting in power outages throughout 65 percent of the country, extensive flooding, and the blockage of Belize’s major highways. The eye of the hurricane crossed as far inland as Belmopan, causing serious damage across the Cayo district.

Minor earthquakes have occurred, typically in the southern part of the country. The most recent severe earthquake was a 7.1 magnitude quake with an epicenter 140 miles off the coast of Belize and Honduras in May 2009. Electricity in the southern portion of the country was temporarily knocked out; however, damage was minimal, and there were no reported casualties. Minor after-shocks were felt for several weeks with minimal effect. 

Because Belize is tropical and has regular rainfall, clogged drainage and waterways, combined with urban growth, lead to frequent flooding of roadways, even during the “dry” season. Flooding has not been disastrous, but severe storms do cut off vehicular movement in many coastal and inland areas as the low bridges flood.

There is a significant risk of forest fires during the dry season (December-May). 

Much of Belize is protected rainforest, and there is always the threat of attack by indigenous animals. In 2010, an American citizen and a Belizean were killed by jaguars in separate incidents. There are also isolated crocodile attacks that are reported. Belize rivers do contain these large reptiles and extreme caution should be exercised.

Personnel Background Concerns

There is significant hostile sentiment toward individuals who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT). LGBT issues are frequently highlighted in the press and can spur passionate discussions at community forums, and there have been instances of violence reported against LGBT individuals. A well-reported case involving the murder of a transgender person occurred in Belize City in January 2014. Authorities are still investigating whether the person was murdered because of his sexual orientation or as a result of a robbery.  

Drug-related Crimes

The transit of drugs, particularly cocaine and precursor chemicals for methamphetamine, has risen. Belize was included on the FY12, 13 and 14 U.S. Majors List of illegal narcotic producing and/or transit countries.

In 2011, a plane carrying suspected violent drug smugglers crashed outside of Belmopan near the Belize Zoo. In 2012, there was a shoot-out between Belize security forces on the north part of Ambergris Caye that resulted in the deaths of four individuals, dressed in military uniforms with military-style rifles, who had suspected ties to Central American gangs.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping is a major problem throughout Central America, though kidnappings in Belize are relatively rare.  However, in January 2014 two American citizens were kidnapped at gunpoint from a resort area near the western border with Guatemala.  The citizens were fortunately released unharmed. 

Police Response

The police work very closely with the Regional Security Office, but their ability to respond to and prevent crime is severely challenged. The police force is understaffed and poorly equipped. There are shortages of standard law enforcement equipment (vehicles, weapons, handcuffs). Investigations are slow and limited by bureaucratic, administrative, and resource deficiencies.  

Although the government takes crimes against visitors very seriously, deficiencies seriously hamper the police’s ability to respond, investigate, and generate a successful prosecution of offenders. The police and emergency telephone lines are continually busy, and contacting police can be difficult. Response times from police are generally reported to be extremely slow. Senior police leadership has taken measures to address some of these deficiencies. Due to significant resource donations provided by the U.S. government-administered Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the police are receiving more equipment and training that will allow them to better carry out their law-enforcement responsibilities and citizen security.

There have been recent complaints that Western tourists disembarking from cruises are offered drugs and then “set-up” for arrest and payment of a hefty fine. All U.S. citizens are advised that the purchase of drugs in Belize is against the law, and violators are subject to substantial penalties, including jail time.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Emergency assistance from the U.S. Embassy is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During regular business hours (Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.), U.S. citizens with emergencies may appear for assistance in person at the Embassy Consular Section or may call 822-4011. If you are a U.S. citizen with an after-hours emergency, please call the duty officer at (501) 610-5030. If you are calling from the U.S., you must first dial 011-501 and then the seven-digit number. The U.S. Embassy Consular Section should be contacted in the event of an arrest, medical emergency, death, crime, loss or theft of a U.S. passport, or other emergency.   

Crime Victim Assistance

If you are the victim of a crime, you should contact the local police first to obtain a police report and then the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan at (local) 822-4011. This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport. The Embassy’s consular staff can assist in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining how U.S. funds may be transferred to Belize. The investigation and prosecution of local crimes are solely the responsibility of local authorities, though consular officers can assist with understanding the local criminal justice process and with finding a Belizean attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line is also 911 in Belize. 

Police/Security Agencies 

Belize Police Headquarters: police are headquartered in Belmopan and can be contacted at 802-2221. Most police contact information can be found on the Belize Police Department webpage at: http://www.police.gov.bz/index.php. 

National Crimes Branch (NCB): This unit, under the Commissioner of Police, is the lead investigative agency for serious crimes in Belize. Tel: 802-3818.

Belize City Police Station: Responsible for the Eastern District of Belize, including Belize City. Tel: 227-2222.

San Pedro Substation: Responsible for San Pedro. Tel: 702-0137.

Belize City: +501-207-2222 
Belmopan:               +501-802-2221
Benque Viejo:           +501-803-2038
Caye Caulker:             +501-226-0179
Corozal:               +501-402-2022
Dangriga:       +501-522-2022
Independence:   +501-523-2022
Orange Walk: +501-322-2022
Punta Gorda:     +501-722-2022
San Ignacio:       +501-804-2022 
San Pedro:     +501-206-2022

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

Belize Medical Associates 
5791 St. Thomas Street, Kings Park, Belize City
Tel # +501-223-0303
 
Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital
Princess Margaret Drive, Belize City
Tel # +501-223-1548

Regional Hospitals

Western Regional Hospital
Florina Avenue, Belmopan
#+501-822-2264

San Ignacio Hospital
Bullet Tree Rd, Cayo
#+501-824-2066

San Pedro Clinic
San Pedro, Belize
Tel#+501-226-2918

Punta Gorda Hospital
Punta Gorda, Belize
Tel#+501-722-2026

Orange Walk Hospital
Orange Walk, Belize
Tel#+501-322-1468

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

People with serious or life-threatening problems who need to be evacuated to the U.S. should contact Air Ambulance. 
 
Air Ambulance Professionals
Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport
Hanger 36B, 1535 S. Perimeter Road
Ft. Lauderdale, FL  33309
Tel:  800-752-4195; 954-491-0555
Fax:  954-491-6114
www.airambulanceprof.com

Those traveling in the more remote areas of Belize or to the off-shore cayes, should note that emergency transportation to adequate medical facilities may be problematic. Astrum Helicopters provides MEDEVAC flights in coordination with the Belize Emergency Response Team (BERT). For emergency response and transportation, BERT is Belize’s only qualified provider.

Astrum Helicopters
Mile 3.5 George Price Highway
Belize City, Belize
Office: +501-222-5100
Fax: +501-222-5105
www.astrumhelicopters.com

Belize Emergency Response Team (BERT)
P.O. Box 1370
1675 Sunrise Avenue
Coral Grove Area
Belize City, Belize
Tel: +501-223-3292
Cell: +501-610-3890
Fax: +501-223-0549
Email: info@bertbelize.org 

Recommended Insurance Posture

Medical care in Belize can be costly and inadequate by U.S. standards. It is recommended to check with your insurance company to verify you have sufficient coverage before traveling to Belize.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

For vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/belize.htm.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Scams 

There have been numerous reports of fraud committed against expatriates and Belizeans who have attempted to purchase land in Belize. Many expats have reported being the victim of scams in which land is purchased that was not available, land was purchased that was legally owned by other parties; or land that they had purchased was subsequently sold without their knowledge to others. It has been reported that authorities have not been proactive in investigating these crimes. However, the government has recently renewed efforts to address property disputes by converting physical records to electronic records.

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

Visitors and residents should always be aware of the presence of criminals who prey on targets of opportunity. Move about in groups, stay in illuminated areas, avoid short-cuts, and maintain good situational awareness. Although walking or exercising in most Belizean cities or towns after dark has not been problematic, this practice is not recommended in Belize City, especially for women. Make a note of emergency telephone numbers and locations you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the U.S. Embassy. 

Keep a low profile, and avoid wearing expensive or flashy jewelry, especially when in open markets. Do not dress in a manner that displays or indicates wealth. Beware of pickpockets. Men should keep their wallet and cash in their front pants pocket. A woman's purse should be small and held closely in front of her. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, and do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill. Make sure your credit card is returned to you after each transaction.

Criminal acts, including extremely violent acts, can and do happen in all areas of Belize, to include Belize City and the tourist destinations, such as San Pedro and Caye Caulker. When these acts happen in some of the more remote areas, there is little protection or assistance available for the victims. In all situations, if confronted by criminals, resistance may provoke a more violent response. If you are confronted, do not fight back -- give up your valuables; they are not worth your life. It is always best to leave valuables and large amounts of cash locked in a secure location. Break-ins and vandalism of automobiles do occur. Do not leave items visible inside your parked car, and keep important items out of reach of outsiders while driving.  

Females should be particularly attentive to risks associated with being in public alone or in the company of only one other female. Sexual harassment and sexual assaults against visitors have occurred.   

Particular caution and situational awareness should be exercised by expatriates living in smaller communities in Belize.

Keep your hotel door secured at all times. Meet visitors in the lobby. Do not leave money and other valuables in your hotel room while you are out. Use the hotel safe, if available. If you are out late at night, let someone know when you expect to return. If you are alone, do not get on an elevator if there is a suspicious-looking person inside. Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room. Know how to report a fire, and be sure you know where the nearest fire exits and alternate exits are located. Count the doors between your room and the nearest exit; this could be a lifesaver if you have to crawl through a smoke-filled corridor. 

Belize offers a tremendous variety of ecotourism adventures including diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, cave tubing, rappelling, bird watching, and exploring caves and Mayan ruins. While engaging in tourist activities including diving, snorkeling, cave tubing etc., it is prudent to assume that safety procedures and standards at tourist destinations are not up to U.S. standards. These adventures are mostly “at your own risk” and can involve long hikes, climbs and dive sites that are not within cell phone range. Personnel who engage in these activities are recommended to have portable first aid kits and satellite phones available.  

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

U.S. Embassy Belmopan
4 Floral Park Road
Belmopan, Belize

Mailing address:

U.S. Embassy Belmopan
P.O. Box 497
Belmopan, Belize

The U.S. Embassy, located in Belmopan, is open for regular business Monday-Friday, 8:00 am-12:00 pm and 1:00 pm-5:00 pm. The Embassy is closed on American and Belizean holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

(Belize Country Code: 501):

Main Embassy Number 822-4011
Main Embassy Fax                           822-4012
Embassy Duty Officer 610-5030
Regional Security Office 822-4011 ext. 4105
Economic/Political Section 822-4011 ext. 4197
Embassy Nurse 822-4011 ext. 4286
American Citizen Services 822-4011 ext. 4219/4209
Regional Security Office BelmopanRSO@state.gov
Websites: http://belize.usembassy.gov/ and http://www.facebook.com/Belize.USEmbassy

Embassy Guidance

Americans are encouraged to register with the American Citizens Service Office (http://belize.usembassy.gov/service.html) located in the Consular Section.

OSAC Country Council Information

Belize has an active OSAC Country Council. Interested parties can contact the council through the Embassy’s Regional Security Office at +501-822-4011 ext 4105 or go to http://www.osac.gov/ and search for Belmopan. To reach the OSAC’ Western Hemisphere team, please email: OSACWHA@state.gov.