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The Elephant in the Room Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 10 January 2013 00:00

There’s a huge elephant in the room that cannot be moved. It stands perfectly still while we work to pick up the dung it is dropping on the carpet, all the while ignoring its presence. Its name is geography.
Belize is within the Central American geographical area and our current murder rate now puts us squarely within a region infamous for having the highest murder rates in the world. Jamaica and Trinidad also join as honorary members of the region. Sociologically there are many similarities such as poverty, inequality, unemployment and family breakdown exacerbated by migration. However, some or all of these sociological problems are shared by the majority of other countries in the world which have much lower murder rates. It is obviously important for countries to pay attention to sociological drivers of crime but equally obvious that there must be one or more other drivers. There has to be something else that all the countries in this region share and that brings us back to the elephant in the room, the elephant known as geography.

The geography that we all share is being on the trade route from drug production centres in South America and proximity to the United States. This guarantees that organised crime in the United States has an interest in supporting criminal gangs along the drug supply route. Other shared similarities include large numbers of deportees often with few family or other ties to their countries of origin and criminal records and links to organised crime and criminal gangs developed in the United States. Our shared geography also ensures that our countries are flooded with weapons and ammunition from one of the most unregulated arms markets in the world.

Recognition of the elephant in the room does not mean that we give up on reversing the increasing rate of violent crime and murder but it does indicate that we need to strategise around the elephant. The new President of Mexico has expressed the intention of doing just that. He will no longer focus on staunching the flow of illegal drugs into its neighbour to the North but will instead concentrate on improving the investigative and judicial ability to keep Mexican citizens safer. He has also recognised that taking out senior drug barons often results in a process of fragmentation that actually makes them more violent and dangerous. Another related focus of Mr. Nieto is improving Mexican schools and the education they offer.

Lessons for Belize abound. The United States did not tame organised crime in the wild days of prohibition by going in with greater fire power. Instead it took the politically explosive step of repealing prohibition laws, improving law enforcement and focusing the full power of the law on making organised crime less profitable through the RICO legislation. Belize cannot influence the decisions of the United States in the realm of its drug and gun policies but we can and must take steps that improve our own security. Improving the capacity and function of the police must be paramount. This starts by developing better structures from the top down and some steps are already being taken in this direction. However, putting new people into a broken structure will not succeed. One of the frustrations faced by those trying to clean up the Police is their inability to weed out rogue members of the Force. Some thought has to be put into finding the right balance between safeguarding the rights of individual officers and safeguarding the public at large. Those who cause cases to crumble due to deliberate or inadvertent Incompetence must face consequences. The size of the Police Force is less important than its efficiency. When the authorities are able to successfully bring criminal cases to conviction in Court there will be less incentive to take the law into their own hands and administer extra judicial justice.

We cannot remove our geographic elephant so we have to find ways work with it and around it.