BELMOPAN—Recently, Amandala demonstrated, using official statistics, that the rate of homicides in Belize City continues to show a persistent trend, with those crimes really being concentrated within 2 square miles of the City. In speaking with the Belize media at a roundtable last Thursday, August 14, US Ambassador to Belize, H.E. Carlos Moreno, described the Belize City crime phenomenon as “quite terrifying.”
We spoke with the US Ambassador about public discussions on the connection between the Belize City crime crisis and the importation of gangs—the Crips and the Bloods— from the USA into Belize. The deadliest parts of the City are actually the home turf of these gangs.
While Ambassador Moreno said categorically that the US, in his view, does not bear the brunt of responsibility for the crime phenomenon, he did assert that the US does have a responsibility to help countries such as Belize to address the root causes of crime.
He also pointed to similar problems in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which have driven the migration of children to the USA.
Moreno, who sat for 7 years as a trial judge in California, said that he has had to deal directly with cases involving gangs such as MS-13 and 18th Street, considered the largest in Los Angeles. He told us that the deportation of those individuals to these Central American countries is “a serious question,” but adds that people are responsible for their own actions.
He said, though, that the US could work with local communities to provide assistance directed at deterring people from joining gangs, which he said is a serious problem.
“The homicide rate for such a small country and small area, Belize City, is quite terrifying,” said Moreno, who told us that he would make the crime problem a priority issue in his tenure.
Two Saturdays ago, Belizean cycling icon, Ernest “Jawmaine” Meighan, was gunned down in the heart of Belize City in a broad daylight execution. This incident triggered calls for the resurrection of the death penalty by hanging. This call was most notably made by Minister of State Santino Castillo, Meighan’s employer/cycling manager.
Kent Bowers was the last person to be executed by hanging in Belize, and that occurred 29 years ago, in 1985. Although the death penalty remains on Belize’s law books, the state of Belize has not used the death penalty since. When we last posed the question to Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow, he indicated that the Europeans had threatened sanctions against Belize if the country were to resume hanging murder convicts.
Moreno said that while serving on the bench as a Supreme Court judge in California, he sat on over 200 death penalty appeals, and affirmed the death penalty in 90% of those cases.
The United Kingdom has publicly called on Belize to excise the death penalty from its law books, but would the US support Belize in the resumption of hanging in Belize or could Belize face sanctions by the US or a withdrawal of financial support, we asked the Ambassador?
Moreno told us that this is a hypothetical question, and he would not want to speculate on what the reaction of the US government would be.
He said that this is really something for the people to decide, like the issue of same-sex marriage. The Ambassador also said that the latest attack on death penalty [in the US] has been based on issues such as the extensive delays in executions, as long as 25 years after the crime in some cases.