March 25, 2018
In both World Wars the United States started neutral, that is, in World War I it did not join the Allied or the Central Powers initially and the same held true in World War II when the Allies and Axis were fighting. The United States would eventually join Allied forces in both great wars on what was widely believed to be a matter of principle and a mission to defeat tyranny. What is not widely known is that in the first war, one of the primary motivations behind US President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to enter was that France and England owed the US a combined $2 billion and the US realized that if the Central Powers were to win, this debt would remain unpaid. During the second war, Franklin D. Roosevelt made a similar decision after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but also because France and especially Great Britain had racked up considerable debt with the US which, with a Nazi victory, Hitler would surely not honour. Fast forward to 1991 to the first Gulf War and if you think that was purely about the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, think again; it was more about the continued flow of Middle Eastern oil to the United States and the stabilization of global oil prices. The saying goes, follow the money and you will get the real answer. The accumulation of monies remains one of man’s greatest motivation to do just about anything, wars included. Wars have been fought over money, just as the one Belize City is now facing.
Violent crime has the capacity to breed both a legal and an illicit industry. Just ask the many security companies that have appeared since the upturn in violent crime in the old capital, how is business and more than likely it is very good. I am certain that the major financiers behind the drug trade are saying the same thing. While it would take me countless pages to outline all the social decay that has contributed to the sad state of Belize City, one thing is certain: the lack of opportunities and extreme poverty on the southside are major factors. When New York City was facing a crime epidemic in the 1970’s primarily over turf warfare as a result of gangs and La Cosa Nostra, a little-known US District Attorney named Rudolph Giuliani turned to a law that was on the books but rarely used which ultimately destroyed the gangs and greatly reduced the scope and influence of the Mafia: The Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as the RICO Act. The act was basically geared at targeting organized crime and criminal organizations along with their assets but most importantly those at the top who were essentially in a position of command and control. To date the law is one of the most feared by any criminal organization on US soil.
The law is successful because it targets every level of a criminal organization and every penny that was made through that enterprise. It does not focus only on the man on the street doing the theft, jacking, killing or drug peddling, as we have been doing in Belize, but it targets those at the top as well. No one wants to lose their money, that includes both legitimate businessmen and criminals. Countries have gone to war to protect their financial interests and it remains the key to the real question of poverty alleviation. What Belize needs is its own version of the RICO Act, because we have been targeting the wrong segment in the criminal chain. Our law enforcement agencies tend to target the small people at the bottom, who are the most replaceable people in the organization. What needs to be done is to target those who are making the massive illicit profits from the criminality and those who are ordering the hits. In other words, target the big players and their monies. Confiscate assets, valuables, monies and the organization will crumble. If Belizeans are still under the impression that the violence in the nation is as a result of minor small-time drug peddlers and that organized crime at the highest levels does not exist, then that refusal to believe it may well be part of the problem.
The government needs to develop a program whereby these confiscated assets or more so the funds generated from them can be reinvested back into the communities most affected by it. In Belize, we are well aware that this would potentially be in the tens of millions of dollars. Illicit gains in Belize, be that from robberies, jacking, theft, home invasions, illicit drugs of every kind, prostitution, blue-colour crime, contraband and every other type of illegal activity that we can think of, could almost run a parallel economy with its own GDP. Now imagine the government getting its hand on that and investing it in its people. How long you think before you see a decrease in illicit activities and an increase in citizens’ quality of life? The big problem is that it’s not that we do not know who the players are, because Belize is small. The problem is that there is not the motivation to do it because most of these people are connected politically, socially, are high up in the public or private sector and are therefore insulated from the type of investigation and prosecution that the ordinary citizen would receive. Money, whether illicit or otherwise, has to be kept somewhere and the Financial Intelligence Unit has to play a more active and vigorous role in seeking and punishing criminals.
Belize is awash in dirty and blood money and that is no secret, and while I will say that while the necessary laws are in place, most white-collar crime