Like its neighbours in the northern triangle (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala), Belize has a high murder rate that is closely connected to the strong presence of gangs. But the character of gang activity in Belize is quite different from its Central American neighbours. Belize has pioneered some innovative solutions to the problem it is facing. But it will need to overcome the challenges of internal resistance and an acute lack of resources in order to address the political, economic and social issues that marginalise Belize’s large youth population.
As activists around the world participate in a Global Day of Action against criminalisation of drug use, evidence from the multi-billion dollar War on Drugs in Colombia suggests that militarized suppression of production and supply has displaced millions of people as well as the problem, not least to Mexico. The wrong lessons are being exported to Central America and beyond, but a groundswell of expert and popular opinion internationally is calling for alternative approaches to regulating the use and trade in drugs.
Writing exclusively for SustainableSsecurity.org, Elizabeth Wilke argues that a new conceptualization of insecurity and instability is needed in a world with greater and freer movement of goods, services and people – both legal and illicit – greater demands on weakening governments and the internationalization of local conflicts. The new insecurity is fundamentally derived from the responses of people and groups to greater uncertainty in an increasingly volatile world. Governments, and increasingly other actors need to recognize this in order to promote sustained stability in the long-term, locally and internationally.
In Colombia there are many regions where poverty and the absence, or weak presence, of the state has facilitated the emergence of violence by armed groups. Among these are the Afro-Colombian communities of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó in the Urabá region. Whilst the Colombian government fails to fully develop social development programs (including education, health and infrastructure) and sustainable economic development policies to assist marginalised communities, the people of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó will remain poor, uneducated, vulnerable, and at risk of lose their territories once again.
Widespread social exclusion makes El Salvador fertile ground for gang proliferation and, over time, gang members have resorted to greater levels of violence and drug activity. Yet, government approaches have proved spectacularly ineffective: the homicide rate escalated, and gangs have adapted to the climate of repression by toughening their entry requirements, adopting a more conventional look, and using heavier weaponry. Sonja Wolf argues for approaches which focus on prevention and rehabilitation and looks at why such approaches have been continually sidelined.