Belize has reportedly registered 124 homicides between January and November, putting the sparsely populated Central America nation on track for its most violent year on record.
The country's largest newspaper, the Belize Times, counted 124 murders up to November 1, on par with the total homicide rate of 2011: 125 deaths.
Because of the country's small population - with just 312,698 inhabitants according to the 2010 census - the 2011 numbers are enough to give Belize a significantly high per capita homicide rate, at 39 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. The country's most violent year on record is 2010, with 132 murders. This is compared to 36 per 100,000 in Guatemala and about 20 per 100,000 in Mexico.
InSight Crime Analysis
There are several explanations for why violence in Belize has increased by at least five percent since 2000, according to the US State Department. The country has at least 13 street gangs battling for control of local turf. The government tried to broker a truce between them earlier this year, but failed.
Belize has also become a significant stopover point for the international shipment of cocaine and precursor chemicals for the production of methamphetamine. US officials have estimated that some 10 tons of cocaine pass through Belize every year. Last year the White House added Belize to its list of countries that have serious problems with the drug trade, adding that Mexican group the Zetas are believed to be present in the country's border regions and sea ports.
The Sinaloa Cartel also has connections here. In August, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) blacklisted a trio of traffickers accused of acting as intermediaries between the Mexican group and Colombian suppliers of cocaine.
While the struggle with street gang violence and the country's increased role in the transnational drug trade are the best explanations for Belize's steadily rising homicide rates, it is still the more colorful criminal cases that attract the most attention. Anti-virus software millionaire John McAfee, who lives in Belize, has recently come under suspicion after a neighbor was shot dead near his mansion.