SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Belize and Mexico are discussing a security accord in response to an influx of international criminal organizations increasingly targeting the Central American country as a transshipment point for illicit drug shipments.
Top diplomats from the neighboring countries met in late August to discuss an agreement that would beef up security along the 251-kilometer border, which largely snakes along the Hondo River.
Mexican Foreign Secretary José Antonio Meade and his Belizean counterpart Wilfred Erlington visited the border and concluded a bi-national agreement on confronting narco-trafficking is a priority.
“We both recognized that Belize is the portal, one of the first lines of defense in terms of the southern border, and … that is one of the topics we went into in some depth, and the commitment is there for us to work together to ensure that our borders are kept safe and secure,” Meade said during the meeting.
Elrington added: “We are going to work on security; we are going to get our border committees to set up an agenda on that specific issue and we will follow it through periodically.”
The ministers did not set a timetable for the agreement.
With a 386-kilometer Caribbean coastline and inland borders with Mexico and Guatemala, Belize has become an increasingly important transshipment point in Central America for drug traffickers.
Mexico’s violent Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels are reportedly operating in the country, moving as much as 10 tons of cocaine through the Caribbean coast of Belize annually.
The drug trade has sparked violence, as Belize hit an all-time record of 145 murders in 2012, one the highest murder rates in Central America.
The international watchdog group Freedom House said “violent crime, money laundering, gang violence and drug trafficking continued to be serious concerns in [Belize] in 2012.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s administration has said confronting drug trafficking is of prime concern.
In its National Security Strategy, the Belize government called drug trafficking “the greatest threat from serious and organized criminal networks because drugs offer sufficient profit at each stage of the trade.”
The Mexican border represents both a threat and an opportunity as leaders agreed that the countries could facilitate more trade between each other and foster a better working relationship.
Mexico is Belize’s second largest trading partner and trade between the two countries increased nearly 100% from 2002-2012, reaching US$125.9 million last year, according to the Mexican Foreign Relations Office.
“There is much that businessmen are doing together but if we get the correct legal framework together … it will create good opportunities,” Meade said. “We will take the relationship between Belize and Mexico to the level that we both want.”