The colonial police system was inherited by Belizeans from Britain. Designed to give some police performance for the public, but also designed to protect the interests of colonial authorities, the new aristocratic elite of the Belizean political parties over the years have discovered they like this police model; while ordinary citizens hate the oppression.
The police are essentially autonomous. They operate under their own bosses and are national in scope. When public complaints arise in the villages and towns, if they are big enough and outrageous enough, to effect the political party votes, that has current 5 year ownership of the country and everything in it; the party in power will attempt to bring the police to heel. Or at least put on a show of scolding the Police Commissioner in the capital and both will promise never ending promises of reform. Nothing though, ever changes! The police are useful, the elite political party bosses have found out. They can be used to harass political opponents, bring false charges, imprison and physically abuse opposition political supporters. So the political elites keep this unruly, gang of thieves in uniform, because of the political advantages when they need them. Otherwise, the politicians leave the police to their own autonomous devices. There are some good officers, probably in the majority, but new recruits soon become disillusioned with the corruption within the force from older heads.
There is a growing revolt by the population against the way Belize is governed, and the colonial national police system subject only to political control is one of those problems the population are dissatisfied with. Below is a copy of a letter, one in a long line of many complaints, both published and unpublished over 40 long years of police and political oppression. This letter was written to the editor of the newspaper THE REPORTER and printed in the Sunday issue of September 5th, 1999.
I first came to Belize in 1986 as a teacher in Punta Gorda. I loved Belize, especially living in the beautiful Toledo District for over six years. I eventually moved on, now living with my Belizean family in England, but visiting Belize whenever possible-until now.
I keep in touch with happenings in Belize by e-mail and the World Wide Web and read with concern the increasing impact of crime and its negative impact on the Belizean way of life. What concerns me more is that the effectiveness of the Police Force is not enhanced by tolerating the actions of ( in this case ) one mindless thug of a Police Constable based in Punta Gorda by the name of PC Choco.
My wife recently made a trip from England, meeting her lifelong friend in New York and they both travelled home to Punta Gorda for the stay. Unfortunately, her friend's house where they were staying was burglarized and her friend lost all her money. My wife fortunately had successfully hidden her valuables and they were not taken. Unfortunately and to her profound shock, she was ARRESTED as the prime suspect. She was subjected to interrogation, intimidation and threatened to be taken to court unless PC Choco received the answers he wanted -i.e. those convenient to make him look good in solving the robbery so quickly.
My wife was humiliated, highly distressed and reduced to sobbing tears. She was alone, 6000 miles away from her children, living a nightmare of what should have been a happy trip to her birthplace. When picked up at the trip address she was staying, the police arbitrarily ransacked her possessions and those of the owner of the house, a friend completely distant from the whole business.
They illegally smashed in the door without a search warrant, and even accused her of having a CIA camera. She was told she would be locked up for 72 hours despite the fact that she was scheduled to return to England in less than 24 hours. The entire tirade of bullying, mind games and totally illogical arguments of the police was pathetic and frightening in its level of stupidity. They run round like headless chickens and cannot in most cases investigate their way out of a paper bag. All this happened and still PC Choco had not even taken a written statement from my wife.
Such total disregard for the law by an individual supposedly committed to supporting social justice and sworn to uphold the law is not even laughable. It's unconsciounable!
In fairness to the Inspector of Police in Punta Gorda, he eventually muzzled PC Choco, but how can he allow officers under his charge to act in this way to start with? Anyway, my thanks to him for his common sense and decency to prevail over mindless disorder and licensed uniformed thuggery.
To cap this sorry saga, before releasing my wife, PC Choco DEMANDED to keep some Sterling currency that he had previously confiscated along with her passport and US currency, "for all the trouble she had caused him." (EXTORTION?) My wife missed her flight to New York, and as a result missed her connection to London, and had to buy new tickets.
My wife is a Belizean and now does not want to go back to her own country. I think that speaks volumes about the problems Belize is facing. If this can happen to her in her own country, what is the impression left with other visitors to Belize ( unless they are protected within the cocoon of an expensive tourist resort )? I'll leave you with that thought.
signed: Ike Dart
Belize suffers from police abuse on locals and also on tourists with various scams designed to extort money from tourists. The fledgling Belize Reform Party, which MIGHT contest the next elections, has stated in a rough draft MANIFESTO, found under Development Issues on the Belize Electronic Library at: http://AmbergrisCaye.com/BzLibrary on the internet; that they as a Reform Party, if they decide to contest the next elections, will change the police system, to one of locally ELECTED Police Chiefs and locally hired constables. The National Police Force will be reduced to specialized teams to respond to serious crime scenes with professionalism. In contrast, neither the last government by the UDP party, or the present government PUP have any plans to change the police system to one of VOTER CONTROL, rather than political party control. The two major political parties like the advantages with the old colonial oppression system. All indications are, that the current rulers of Belize the PUP party, are continuing to issue public announcements, their intention to strengthen the existing oppressive police system.