In 2011, violence wracked Belize. The tiny country boasted the sixth-highest murder rate in the world, at 39 per 100,000 people, mostly due to gang violence. In September 2011, the Belize government brokered a gang truce among 13 of the most violent gangs in Belize City, resulting in a dramatic drop in gang violence murders for 2011. The idea was that the truce would stem the growth of similar gang violence that has enveloped Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
In January 2012 as the homicide rate started to climb, the Belize government requested U.S. government assistance to shore up the fragile truce. U.S. Embassy Belmopan responded by asking CSO to provide conflict resolution and mediation expertise. At the time, Belize had only two mediators.
CSO and the Prime Minister’s office rapidly developed and delivered a capacity-building program that targeted the interpersonal disputes that were endangering the truce. In early May 2012, four CSO mediation and gang experts arrived in Belize City to work with RESTORE Belize (an agency of the Prime Minister’s office dedicated to upholding the truce) and its community partners. Over the next two months, the CSO team shared the skills and methodologies of non-violent dispute resolution creating a sustainable, community owned approach to reducing violence—not only between gangs but across vulnerable communities.
The CSO team trained 36 Belizeans as mediators, 11 of whom will focus on gang mediations. In just over a two month period, the Belizean mediators went on to mediate 72 potentially violent disputes in prisons, schools, gang facilities, and juvenile services organizations. RESTORE Belize intends to leverage this new network of mediators to help push back the tide of violence afflicting Belize City.