Gang member in Belize City

The Belize government, struggling to meet national debt payments, has ended its controversial gang truce program, a measure almost certain to result in increased violence and homicides in 2013.

After spending more than $1 million, the Belize government announced that funding for the gang truce had dried up, reported Belize Times. The last payment was scheduled for this month. Begun in September 2011, the gang truce provided work opportunities for some 200 gang members, essentially paying them not to kill each other, at a cost of around $20,000 a week.

The truce led to an immediate drop in homicides, even though there were some isolated outbreaks of gang violence, particularly in April and May 2012. However none of the government money went into finding long-term solutions to address Belize's gang problem.

InSight Crime Analysis

Inspired in part by the Mara truce in El Salvador, the Belize program took a different direction. Whereas in El Salvador the truce was brokered by the Catholic Church, and involved better prison conditions for gang leaders, in Belize the government effectively paid the 13 gangs in the program not to engage in criminal activities. This caused controversy, with critics insisting there were far more deserving targets for the funds, and better social investment projects that would have a longer lasting impact.

While the gang truce certainly lead to a reduction in violence, it may have actually strengthened some of the gangs, which better organized themselves to take advantage of the government subsidies. While there is the presence of both the powerful Central American gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, most of the Belize gangs style themselves after the US Bloods and Crips. The most powerful street gang in Belize is believed to be the George Street Bloods. Other Bloods gangs include Kings Park Posse, P.I.V., The Jungle, and Brick City, while the Crips have Majestic Alley Crips, River-Side Crips, Ghost Town Crips and Third World.

The tiny nation of Belize is becoming increasingly important as a transit nation for cocaine heading northwards to Mexico and the principal market of the US. There is not yet any evidence of Belizean Street gangs getting involved in the transnational element of the drug industry, although they do make money from the local distribution of drugs, particularly marijuana.