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more serious problem than violent crime in Belize
Police dishonesty in Belize discredits the country. What a shame that such a beautiful tax haven should be ruined by corruption and prejudice!
After the initial violent crime in Belize, I had hopes the police would be able to do something, or at least would take the matter seriously. Unfortunately, what happened was so shocking that it is hard to comprehend. Although at the time of the incident I made quite a good job of making a report, especially considering I'd been strangled, the police left it up to me to see if could find any more information and to let them know. The next day I visited my neighbours, who were all very sympathetic and helpful. They didn't like it that their fellow neighbour had been robbed, and were keen to help to catch the culprits. In the towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio, Belize, communities are close knit, and people look out for each other. It was interesting and reassuring that the neighbours almost all named one particular source of trouble in the area, so now that was where to tell the police to look next.
I was quite ill, but in light of this new hope of information which might help to solve the crime, I set off for the police station. When I arrived I explained what I'd found out, and got ready to make an additional statement. It was then that I started hearing prejudiced bigoted comments from a small number of police officers, and then they locked me up! I politely pointed out that I'm the innocent victim of a violent crime and that it did not make sense to lock me up in the police cells. But no, they insisted.
Besides the injustice of being an innocent person in jail, there was also the frighteningly real problem that as I'm a diabetic coeliac and had not got any medication with me, I could end up as another statistic of a death in police custody. I've even heard of cases of death of diabetics in police custody in the UK, but here in Belize, in a jail cell 8ft 6in by 9ft, with nothing except a bucket as a toilet, and one bottle of water, I could see that I might die.
The jailhouse clock struck twelve noon and I was lying flat out on the stone floor. I realised I had to do something, as I could guess the next thing would be I'd start to get those nasty diabetic symptoms which happen with no insulin, and even if I survived until the next day, breakfast would be something approximating to bread and water, which as a coeliac, would be the end of me. I could hardly speak, but one of my fellow inmates, in a cell a few along, must have heard me utter some pained comment about "help... I'm a diabetic" and managed to make enough fuss to get the police to do something. I don't know what time it was when they eventually let me out, because by then I was getting a bit mixed-up.
When I got back to the house, I quickly got my medication sorted out and my food balance restored, and it was then that I noticed things in the house were not where I'd left them when I left the house that morning to go to San Ignacio police station. It dawned on me that, strange as it may seem, someone had had a poke over the house while I had been locked up! The key (which remember was for a new lock) had not been out of my sight, as I'd been very careful, and there was no forced entry, so what had happened? Then suddenly it made sense! Of course! The police had visited the house and had poked over it to see if they could find some evidence which might help to solve the crime! This also solved the awful mystery of why the police had locked up an innocent victim of a violent crime. They'd locked me up in the jail so they could search the house! Yes!
(a neighbour confirmed that it was true that while I'd been away, a police pickup truck had arrived on the property and two police officers had been in the house. Neighbours were by now even more keen to spot things going on in the area!)
And then the horror story. Some items were missing. Items which had still been there after the robbery had now GONE! The Aiptek DV3500 movie camera, mysteriously vanished, and a 256Mb CF memory card, and all the one dollar coins which had been lying around. The robbers weren't interested in a few coins, but someone else was. Also, I noticed my private diary had been tampered with and had been gone through. This I find especially a problem as I believe it is a violation of some kind of rights, going through a person's private diary. The diary is in effect part of my mind, and going through it is like using some kind of mind reading device, definitely a breach of rights, and not something which should be done by the police, even if they want to search the house without the occupant present. The reading of my private diary is a violation and it's something that's a problem.
I started leafing through the pages of near-illegible text and odd things I'd gummed into the old book. It's a strange habit I have, writing all kinds of little jots and gluing things in, such as receipts, labels, and if I'm visiting countries where the currency is sufficiently small in value, the odd banknote. My diary still had in it the Dominican Republic pesos, and a slightly tatty banknote which had been in circulation in Costa Rica, and the Guatemalan quetzales were still there, and a couple of very small notes from Sri Lanka. But the two dollar Belize banknote had been ripped out. I looked at the blank space in astonishment. A TWO DOLLAR note had been torn out of my personal diary. I mean, come on, what kind of a country is this?!
But wait, let's be cautious about this, because if it is true that the police locked up an innocent person, went through their house, and actually stole items, even the basic movie camera and a few coins and a two dollar note, then it is a more serious matter than the country having crime. It would mean there was police corruption, and that is something which would make it impractical to migrate to the country.
Yes, well it might be endemic police corruption, but it might just be one bent cop. No police force is 100%, so let's see if it is (hopefully) just an isolated incident, or whether corruption and abuse of power is endemic in Belize. Caution is advised, because if it was widespread corruption, it would be better to just leave the country, rather than end up being victim to additional problems.
So, I left town and set up in a secure new home in Belize City. The next thing is to put in a proper enquiry to get the matter looked into and solved. I believe that most of the police are honest, and that there will be a proper explanation for what happened, and my complaint will be dealt with correctly as it should be. We will see what happens.
At the time of concluding this page (2007/06/19) there was still no proper solution, so we still don't know whether the situation will be resolved properly or not. Hopefully, good sense will be seen and this will all be resolved PROPERLY! However, whatever happens, the update will be on this next page: Updates on crime in Belize
A brief summary includes the following points:
* A police search of a property should be with a warrant, and should be for the purpose of helping to solve a crime, not to be a means to cause more crime.
* Police are supposed to obey the law.
* Items of personal property should not go missing during a police search.
* It is unacceptable to lock a person up in order to search their home without their knowledge.
* The obvious point: Locking up the innocent victim of a crime? There is no justification, and I am not strong enough to have strangled myself!
These general points, and more specific details of the case, have been put to a police inquiry which will hopefully resolve the matter and restore my confidence in Belize!
The page of conclusions is also reserved: Updates on crime in Belize
Other subsequent points of note:
Upon talking to people, other people have reported similar incidents, where some police officers in Belize have committed abuses of police powers, or crimes, or in other ways been less than righteous in the exercise of their duty. Stories such as "police stole my wallet when they stopped me in traffic" and "they locked me up for 19 months until I could prove I was innocent of the murder" were found, and many people said in resigned sort of way "you can't trust the police". I'm not saying this is true, but I am saying this is what people have told me in all sincerity. My own opinion is that MOST of the police officers in Belize are honest, and the dishonesty is a problem among a few in small minorities in various places, a problem which if it goes unchecked, will seriously undermine the honest reputation which a police force needs to have to be an effective deterrent against actual crime!
One of the scariest stories I've seen is this:
and there is a backup copy at...
And here's another shocking story of abuse of police powers in Belize:
And how about this?:
www.belize1.com/BzLibrary/trust95.html - "police worse than criminals"?
Contrary to a popularly held belief by some people in Belize, and also apparently by Eurostar, people who have been wronged do not just go away and are forgotten about. These days, with the Internet, problems have to be addressed and solved, or they become known for the world to see!
We live in hope that the problems expressed here will be solved. Here is a page reserved for the opportunity for solution: Updates on crime in Belize