It’s a high profile case that has the face of a US woman plastered all over the news, pressure on the Belize Police Department to capture a murderer and Belize being tagged with the image of being an unsafe country.
On January 14, the proprietor of Nabitunich Resort in Benque Viejo del Carmen, Cayo reported Ms. Anne Swaney missing to law enforcement. Police engaged in a search for Anne, soliciting the assistance of a K-9 unit. After ending the search due to darkness on the night of January 14, the search continued on Friday, January 15. Police discovered her body at approximately 8:15a.m. near the Mopan River. Physical examinations at the scene revealed visible bruises around her neck and lacerations on her head. She was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead. A post mortem autopsy was performed and revealed the cause of death to be asphyxia due to compression of the neck area, throttling and blunt force traumatic injuries to the head and neck. There were no signs of sexual assault as part of this examination.
Police apprehended and are questioning a person of interest who was found fishing near the scene of the crime. Additional information will be made available as the investigation proceeds.
Because of two recent but separate murder cases that involve a US television producer and a filmmaker from Canada, Belize is on the international spotlight receiving some very bad publicity – of being an unsafe country due to its high murder rate. Yahoo Travel even asks the question “Following Murder, Is Belize Safe for Tourists?
"Our deepest condolences are with Anne’s family and anyone touched by this horrible act," stated the Belize Tourism Board in a press release. "While this is a tragic situation that requires the full attention of the Belize Police Department, violent crime in Belize has seen a double digit reduction in the past year. Over one million people visited Belize last year, and while it is extremely rare for a tourist to fall victim to a violent crime, we will remain committed to the safety and security of all people who visit."
"Belizeans of all stripes have a reputation for welcoming visitors and tourists regularly commenting that their visits were relaxing and enjoyable. In fact, part of the reason this horrible crime has garnered such media attention is because violence against visitors to Belize is so uncommon. In the coming weeks, we plan to reach out to stakeholders and visitors, and will work closely with government representatives to ensure we are doing everything we can to provide visitors with the carefree, relaxing visits they have come to expect."
Recent statistics from the Belize Police Department indicate that there has been a decrease in murder and crime at the end of 2015. Even more so, the highest rate of murders in the county take place within the Belize District (Belize City). Major crime levels remain low in more touristic areas and attractions, including the Maya ruins and resorts along the coastline and neighboring islands.
There have always been advisories for visitors to avoid areas of the south side of Belize City where numerous gangs are known to operate and to exercise caution when traveling along remote areas of the Belizean border. Visitors are no more at risk in Belize than they would be in some neighboring countries or even some cities in USA.
Tourism is a vital part of the Belizean economy, accounting for 14% of all jobs and 23% of GDP for the country; hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to the country each year, most without incident.
This is one of the reasons that stakeholders in the tourism industry, especially in the Cayo District where these last two murders have occurred, are getting together to demand an increase in security measures for touristic areas. Pressure is being placed on the country’s authorities to capture these criminals and set examples of them.
Safety Travel Tips
There is always a risk of falling victim to crime when traveling; taking caution is always recommended to minimize your risk.
*Avoid walking around Belize City at night
*Take a taxi to your destination
* Check with your front desk clerk for information on dangerous areas in your location.
* Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach, in a vehicle, or in hotel rooms
* Consider leaving expensive items, such as jewelry or camera equipment, in the safe of your room or in care of your resort.
* If you do become the victim of a crime while in Belize, report it to the local police and the U.S. Embassy immediately. The emergency number for the police in Belize is the same as in the U.S., 911, or contact the US Embassy Here.