Despite limited interdiction capabilities, authorities in Belize have made a number of recent drug busts, underscoring that the Central American country is grappling with a surge in cocaine moving north from Colombia.
In early September, police in Belize confiscated 1,210 parcels of cocaine from an aircraft that took off from Venezuela and landed off the Coastal Highway near the village of La Democracia, the Gleaner reported. After a shootout, six people were arrested: four from Honduras, one from Mexico and one from Ecuador.
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This was but one in a string of recent drug busts. In March, police found 23 kilograms of cocaine on a beach at Northern Ambergris Caye, an area known for its drug-related violence, reported News 5. Commissioner of Police Chester Williams said he believed the cocaine was part of a larger shipment.
“Belize is a transshipment route for drugs. Gangs are fighting to be in charge of moving the drugs through Belize,” General Steven Ortega, commander of the Belize Defense Force (BDF), said to Diálogo.
Though reporting is lacking, figures of drug seizures show a steep rise. In 2018, authorities confiscated about a ton of cocaine from aircraft across the country, which represented the first seizures on this scale in eight years, according to the US State Department. In comparison, in the first nine months of 2017, Belize police reportedly seized just 58 kilograms of cocaine.
Belize is mentioned as a significant transit country for illegal drugs that originate from South America in the US State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. In 2011, the country was added to the US “blacklist” of major drug transit countries, and it has remained on the list since.
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Belize is suffering from the same consequences that have afflicted other Central American nations. Colombia’s cocaine production is higher than ever, and routes through Central America are seeing an increase in shipments reflecting this trend. Guatemala has witnessed a growing number of flights carrying drugs, while Honduras too has seen an increased flow of drugs.
Belize is an ideal transit country for cocaine shipments, receiving drugs from Honduras, Colombia, and Venezuela through small aircraft and go-fast boats. The drugs then make their way northward to the United States through Mexico.
Its coast guard has been dependent on the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which has provided major assistance by financing 70 percent of its fleet and training most of its officers.