Tragedy in the Banana Republic of Belize

A Canadian lady and  her American boyfriend recently vanished after leaving a bar in Corozal Town in Northern Belize about 9 miles from the Mexican border.  It is sad news that the couple was recently found deceased in a sugar cane field.

Their vehicle had the driver side back door lock broken and there was rust coloured liquid stains on the back side of the driver seat and door which probably wasn’t coffee.  The police are speculating that it might just have been an “ambush”- a robbery gone bad as they apparently “had a lot of money on them”. But if so it doesn’t explain why the bodies were dumped on top of each other and far from the car location  and why the wrists were duct taped. It appears to be too professional for your average Belizean  thief.

The car was abandoned in a  cane field near Paraiso and bodies found  in another cane field between Patchakan and Chan Chen further west not far from the unmonitored  Mexico border…

I am familiar with this area of remote cane fields and streams in an area of largely Mayan villagers who speak little to no English and variable Spanish.

This does not seem to have been  a random act. Someone pissed somebody off. The gang drug trade is very active in Belize and not just restricted  to the south end of Belize City. Belize has the highest per capita consumption of marijuana and alcohol in the region of Central America.  Local thugs stab or shoot. Strangulation and duct tape are Mexican cartel criminality.

One day while I was working at a clinic at north of Corozal two men from Mexico (8 miles away) asked to see me. It wasn’t a sore throat. They wanted to purchase my luxury SUV and had a briefcase with 50K USD$ inside. I declined. My pharmacist associate told me that one was a big drug dealer from nearby Mexico and the other his interpreter.

Welcome to Belize. Living there is an adventure. Apparently one of the victims Francesca-told her mother the place was  “lawless.” The majority of the roads are dirt, the traffic laws are lax, there are few police, the borders are porous, corruption by government officials is rampant and overt, there are scary tropical diseases, deadly snakes, multiple biting insect species, and health care is relatively primitive. The violent crime rate is astronomical putting Belize in the top five on the global homicide hit parade. The justice system is a joke and violent offenders regularly walk free.

It’s like anything goes and I tried not to be surprised or outraged at the most  inexplicable things. Life there can have an edge to it and it is not for everyone. It’s the wild  west and it currently appeals to libertarians who like the idea of paying a yearly property tax of  less that $75. I have elsewhere described my experiences and impressions . This crime will most likely sadly go unsolved. The clearance rate is only 12%. (Canada is 70%).

The police are poorly paid, motivated and equipped. They use police vehicles to give rides to family and things tend to go missing.

Community policing is at a very early stage, which was confirmed after a meeting I had with a retired police Sargeant. In Nicaragua, despite a greater poverty level (50% vs 43% in Belize), the homicide rate is half due to intense community policing and less gang drug trade activity. The judiciary has been overhauled as well. I suppose that having a socialist president “dictator” (Ortega) has its benefits.

Some of the CBC and Global news commentary is what I have come to expect eg

“I have been there and the people are warm and friendly.” This is true but they are burdened by a very corrupt plutocratic government. Political graft, bribes and “fleecing” are what expats become accustomed to. Plus if you are poor, a little money from “rich gringos” makes lives expendable.

“Crime is everywhere.” This is a common remark and also true but misleading because the low Belizean crime resolution and conviction  rate increases the danger factor. A Belizean view: “Better get US & Canadian investigators down here asap, before Belize messes the investigation all up… we do not have the skills or training to solve 1+1.”.

The murder of Anne Swaney remains unsolved. That of Mathew  Klink was  but securing a conviction might be difficult. Witnesses and jurors tend not to show up as intimidation is common.

Property crime like home invasions and petty theft are ubiquitous and 80% of expats have been victimized.

The Belizean  take on this violent  crime is a bit more realistic  than the rose coloured glass tourist-expat view..

“This situation is indeed one that must put everyone to think. This situation concerns everyone. I see in my little village too many young people doing nothing but moving around the village creating mischief and terrorizing villagers. Late at night they move throughout the village causing everyone to be fearful and concerned. Parents…village leaders..churches.. schools and politicians must all get involved in ensuring that our young do not end up as criminals. I am as scared and angry as many citizens of Corozal and perhaps am talking foolishness but something must happen to change things and make Corozal the safe place that it once was”

And a former Belize ex pat now in Mexico wrote..

The corruption of the government, crumbling infrastructure, rampant petty crime, ineffective police force-that has all happened in the last two decades. I’m in Chetumal, looking across the bay towards Corozal-and I feel infinitely safer. Very sad…….”

What must change is effective governance or else Belize will ultimately  join the ranks of failed states.

For now, this horrible crime will likely remain unsolved, and sadly, closure for the families will probably not be forthcoming.

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17 Responses to “Tragedy in the Banana Republic of Belize”

  1. Amy says:

    Thanks to the insights! Just crossed Belize off my list of “maybe one day…”

  2. kristina nadreau says:

    Unfortunately for all of us who were foolish enough to buy housing, our investment just plummeted in value due to the media reportage of crime here in Belize. More unfortunately, is that the media is under reporting crime and consequences here. I was attacked thru the bars of my locked gate, injured when my gold necklace was ripped off my neck by a fruit seller. The necklace was largely concealed under my Tee shirt In spite of a clear description including a location where the thief hangs out no arrest has occurred. My necklace was worth $2000 US dollars and it has taken over 2 months for the wounds on my hands to heal. I was pulled into the bars of my gate by the force of the man pulling on my shirt and necklace. Also we were robbed of $20,000 of tools and jewelry by a Belizean tenant over a period of 2 months. I believe we may be lucky to be alive. It is possible to live uneventfully and comfortably in Belize if one is very careful no drinking or going out after dark, avoid all interaction with the government. keep interactions with the Belizeans as brief as possible.

  3. Esperanza Montez says:

    Sure, that will work. Wear very expensive jewelry, and refuse to make Belizean friends. Just look at them as necessary but repellant purveyors of services.

    I’m being sarcastic.

  4. Steve says:

    I understand Kristina’ s concern but this tragedy (and her unfortunate experience) can and does happen EVERYWHERE! I live in Key West – another paradise on earth – and people get robbed and occasionally murdered, yet our population still grows and more tourists visit every year. And yes, the local government and its policies aren’t very different – just better at hiding their nefarious activities.

    We are building our new Belizean retirement home I the Corozal District and are fully aware of unfortunate problems – and the great advantages – of living in Belize and cannot wait to move there. If you are looking for Shangri-La, you have a very long wait.

    • Richmcintyre says:

      Total bullshit. Key West and Belize are nothing alike. Police actually solve crimes in the US. Only 12% of violent crime in beluzexresults in arrest. You want to revisit that insane statement?

  5. Curious says:

    Wow! Very sad to hear this woman discriminate Belize . Belize is such a small country compared to other places . She should get her facts together before degrading the place. This sad crime was not committed by Belizeans . That have a Canadian national in custody and neighbor of Matus . Who knows! Maybe some deal went sour ! Follow the news ! The FBI just joined the crew !

    • Richmcintyre says:

      And how in the hell do you know that? The police? Ha-ha: they may be the ones who did it.

    • Bob Wilson says:

      I don’t see any discrimination here, she is angry with people who robbed her, and well she should be and she is angry with police who are not doing their job. Where is the discrimination? I would be angry too.

  6. Mark says:

    Hey Allan,

    The survey says that you have a mix of speculation and little fact.
    Seems like the Canadian renter did it as a crime of passion. That is speculation right now, but has more of a sound basis than the fear mongering you are putting out.
    I for one love my home and my friends here in Belize. Would not trade it for the world.

    • Allan Seltzer MD says:

      He was let out of custody. No evidence of criminal culpability except perhaps a burglary in Placencia.
      This was a planned methodical crime.One person cannot take down a combat experienced US marine, let alone tie up two people by himself.
      This was not done by Belizeans or your average expats.It was professional.Forensic psychology is conjecture no doubt however.

  7. Claudia Peterson says:

    I retired to Belize(San Ignacio area) over 6 years ago….sadly…I no longer feel safe here and am moving back home to the states

  8. Ariana bejerano says:

    Keep interactions with belizeans brief as possible???? why on earth did you move here then?

  9. Ian Anderson says:

    My name is Ian Anderson, I am a Canadian born citizen who has lived in belize full time for 25 years. I am 62 years old.

    I repeat, I have lived in Belize full time without a foreign domocile to return to for 25 years..

    I LOVE BELIZE .. and at no time during my 27 years of living in Belize have I been in fear of crime .. except.. by another expat who was an American and was criminally bi polar.

    I would ask any single person to provide to me a location anywhere in the world, where crime and murder does not occur.. anywhere.. let me know.

    YES, every time a crime occurs anywhere in the world, it has victims and for those victims and their families my heart goes out.. but crime does occur everywhere.

    Since I have personal experience of living almost half my life in Belize, arriving in my in my mid 30’s ,, and now a senior or sorts, I find it TOTALLY OFFENSIVE to read and listen to arm chair critics how have never visited Belize or who come down of a few weeks and invest in realestate then go home until the value increases to the point of them rolling it over to make huge profits. WORST OF ALL .. are the cruise ship clients who come to shore for a whole5 hours.. only see a tiny TINY part of our country mostly while sitting on a bus.. then rip us to shreds because its not full of white people with Blue and Pink hair, mostly like their own. Old white angry people.

    Belize is not for everyone to visit.. it is unique and requires those who are interested in getting to know the country .. getting to know the people.. Belize is a spectacular country.. with a population beyond being friendly.. so much so that you think they are putting on a show for you . but they are not.. they are truly wonderful kind and loving people.

    As a Canadian, there is no where else in the world I would rather live than in Belize ..

    Yes, it is in its infancy of Independence, gaining just 38 years ago. yes, wages are low for gov’t employees and yes there is some corruption.. but again, tell me one country in the world where there is no corruption.

    Yes, there is crime and violence.. but .. statistic show 87 % of all violence is by gangs which are located, for the most part, in three small neighborhoods in Belize city, each approximately 4 sq blocks. But again, ask yourself where there is no crime.. regardless how small your city is.

    I invite all readers to write to me personally for frank responses to any questions.

    I love Belize, have lived here for 27 years and don’t plan to move.. it is a BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY.

    Please write to ian@cavesbranch.com

    • carole kocian says:

      Perhaps,but this is our experience in Belize (Sittee region)…
      We had hired a local scamp to do some handy work around the place. Real friendly guy, Garifuna. After a few days of bonding he tells us his wife needs to get across the lagoon because she was delivering a baby and there was difficulty with the birth. Gave him money for boat. Later that same day, we were asleep around midnight and we hear somebody calling hubs’ name from the outside downstairs. Our employee says his wife died in childbirth and he needed money for funeral. We sympathized and gave him what he said he needed and he shows up for work the next day. When questioned about why he wasn’t at his wife’s funeral we were given flakey answers about his not being able to get to the funeral in Dangriga. Our noggins clicked in and hubs went straight to cops who showed up on the property to talk to the employee while he was sharpening his machete. I was doing laundry and hubs said very emphatically to get upstairs. When questioned about the wife’s name a questioning look on his face told us he didn’t know. He finally said “Berniece”? We had already asked in the village if anyone had died and got no for answers. Cops threw our employee in the back of their pickup and off they went. We had been scammed out of about$500 USD. He was told never to come on the property again but that was it. Teefed we were but no consequences.

    • Bob Wilson says:

      I find it interesting that the people who are the biggest “Belize Boosters” are the ones who are in the process of moving, but are not living there yet and those who have business interests to protect. As for the “crime is everywhere” comment yes that is true but in most places crimes are solved, sadly not so true for Belize.

  10. Carole Kocian says:

    I’m just happy we rode the crest of the wave and got out unscathed before the wave broke over. It was fun. Wouldn’t do it again.

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