Crime — 09 November 2012 — by Adele Ramos
“Safe zones” vs “crime-ridden” areas: where are we now?

In June 2010, Prime Minister Dean Barrow conceded that Belize had been facing a crime crisis and he announced the launch of the RESTORE Belize program (RESTORE being the acronym for Re-Establish Security Through Outreach Rehabilitation and Education), operating under the Office of the Prime Minister, with the stated aim of steering the process of taking back Belize, and particularly lawless Belize City. Asked what his favorite part of the crime plan was, Barrow said that the “showpiece” was the establishment of “safe zones” in the city, and Government announced that two pilot safe zones on the Southside would have been established within the coming months.

Today, only one such safe zone exists, and it spans the area bordered by Central American Boulevard, Neal Pen Road, Fabers Road, and the Caribbean Sea in the Yarborough area, adjacent to the Cumberbatch Field. That area was declared a “safe zone” in August/ September 2010—more than two years ago. The government lacked the resources needed to establish the second “safe zone” in the Mayflower Street/Ghost Town area.

The socio-economic interventions in that zone have been limited, due to shortage of funds, and the security interventions have been even more limited and nowhere near enough to truly stem the tide of violent crimes in that area.

Sadly, reports of violent crimes, and particularly brazen murders, have not been quelled, and in fact, that stretch of the Central American Boulevard between Fabers Road and Neal Pen Road has continued to be the slaying ground of criminals among whose victims was a boy only 11 years young. Daniel Matura was shot to death in broad daylight in May 2012.

In July 2010, Government had explained that under the Community Safe Zone Project, it would aim to rehabilitate communities besieged by gun-toting criminals. It studied what had been successfully done in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, where the program was implemented for a four-week period in a 3 square-mile zone. Officials had said that the rate of homicides and shootings dropped by 86% due to the project. No such success has been reported here in Belize.

Amandala checked with RESTORE Belize today to see what statistical impact the “safe zone” declaration in the Fabers Road/Yarborough area has had on the crime rate in that area. However, no statistics are yet available.

Director of RESTORE Belize, Mary Vasquez, told Amandala that the safe zone program looks more at crime prevention—quite different from the declaration of “crime-ridden” zones which the Ministry of National Security is now trying to implement as a reactionary measure to the crime problem.

We note that the five “crime ridden” zones are being proposed for the Lake I area, and they do not overlap with any of the areas intended for the safe zone project.

Vasquez furthermore pointed out that under the safe zone project there are targeted social intervention programs; whereas security measures are the focus of the “crime-ridden” zones. However, social intervention programs require millions in people-centered investments. This is what RESTORE Belize has, admittedly, been lacking in order to ensure that it meets the kind of success benchmarks it had originally hoped for.

Still, Vasquez today was rather hopeful that there is renewed interest in RESTORE Belize from potential donors. The program has recently been circulating its strategic plan (2011-2015) in the hope that funds would be injected to bolster the $300,000 allocation from Government, since fundraising efforts cannot by any means secure the kind of financial resources needed.

According to Vasquez, the CARICOM Secretariat, which has included Belize in a pilot project to address gang violence, has expressed interest in helping to finance the second safe zone in the Ghost Town area; however, that approval is still pending.

That Southside area is vastly lacking in key community assets, such as parks, playgrounds, positive institutions, business enterprises, and spiritual centers; and this has been a major contributor to the social breakdown in that part of the city.

We asked Vasquez what happened to the US$5 million that we had initially heard would be earmarked for the RESTORE Belize program. She indicated that program funding to date has only tallied about BZ$1.5 million. RESTORE Belize hopes that within the next few months, it can put together a proper progress report, and it will also be looking into the possibility of getting together a program budget, which some potential donors have already requested.

Beyond the need for financing, though, is the need for greater security interventions in the area. Notwithstanding the fact that the Ministry of National Security is not proposing the “safe zone” area to be included in the 5 initial “crime ridden” areas, Vasquez highlighted the need for more security interventions, so that the safe zone can truly live up to its name.

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