Software antivirus pioneer, philanthropist and expat John McAfee has made world headlines for Belize in not exactly the way the government of the day would have liked it to be. He practically invented the software antivirus industry, made a bundle then flamed out in the world recession with a fraction of his fortune. Mr. McAfee then decided to retire in a tropical paradise and selected Belize. And what a grievous mistake this now appears to have been.
Belize is a much sought after tourism and retirement destination popular with North Americans and Europeans. A former British colony, it is the only English-speaking country in Central America. The Belize Tourism Board invests around one million dollars every month on public relations encouraging visitors, investors and retirees to come hither. The country is tiny, smaller than Massachusetts. Wedged in between Mexico and Guatemala. It borders the Caribbean Sea on the east and has spectacular diving, snorkeling and archaeological attractions, warm and friendly people – and nothing much else.
But it has crime, corruption and poverty. And of course you will not read about it in the glossy tourist brochures or the government funded websites.
Mr. McAfee earlier this week had the misfortune of receiving a visit from the local police SWAT team backed up by the army – some 30 soldiers. And they were not there to acknowledge and thank him for the couple million dollars he has donated to the security forces since coming to live in Belize. On the contrary. He claims they were there to give him some comeuppance. But the GSU says they were there to uphold the law.
The local SWAT team is called the Gang Suppression Unit. Trained by the FBI, the unit has made a name for itself in combating the criminal gangs that have overrun Belize City. But it has also been accused of terrorizing innocent civilians – locals and expats alike – as it raids and shoots up residences it believes are housing baddies. And despite their best efforts, crime and murder is on the upswing in Belize instead of going into remission.
John arrived in Belize in 2008 apparently seeking to reinvent himself. “Twenty-three years after he essentially invented the antivirus-software industry, McAfee, now 64, radiates the vitality of a rich man who thinks about more than money. As he steps forward to meet me at the edge of his yard, he’s wearing sandals, shorts, and a muscle shirt that reveals a wiry physique and a tiger-stripe tattoo on each shoulder. He grips my hand with sinewy vigor. For decades, McAfee was a hard-partying ne’er-do-well playboy entrepreneur, a self-described trickster and bullshit artist who’d spent the majority of his adult life gadding about and having fun. That’s all in the past now, or so he would have me believe.” That’s how Fast Company Magazine describes him in a piece by Jeff Wise in 2010.
Fast forward to 30 April 2012 and all hell breaks loose at John’s residence and research center in Orange Walk town – the sugar cane growing capital of Belize.
“At 6 o’clock in the morning, the GSU – I think the entire contingent – and a number of Belize Defense Force soldiers – a total of 65 in all – surrounded my compound, burst through the gates, and put all of us in handcuffs. They said that they had a warrant to search the premises. I remained in handcuffs for 14 hours, outside the whole time, without food. None of us had food. There were about 12 people who were handcuffed which included a number of women, and BDF broke down doors, confiscated property – including my American passport – and at the end of the day, they charged me with a firearm violation. The GSU was brutal and uncooperative. They broke down doors; they completely ransacked many of the houses on the compound. Items are missing. I am sorry; this is unacceptable in a country that is supposed to be civilized in a democracy. I have donated to the police department alone, over 2 million dollars’ worth of goods in the past 2 years. I have done a tremendous amount of work to clean up Carmelita (a village in Orange Walk), to provide food for school children – any number of things. And to be treated this way, after I have acted in such a fashion, makes me think twice about investing anything else here.”
The GSU however in its press release claims that it acted within the law and quite properly responding to reports of drugs and firearms on the McAfee property. A local newspaper says that: Police report via a press release today that they found several guns and an allegedly unauthorized antibiotics laboratory in a 13-hour operation conducted at the Belize Ecological Foundation Ltd., which began at 5:00 a.m. on Monday, April 30, 2012.
McAfee was released without any charges although he claims that the police have kept his American passport. According to a report in PC Magazine, McAfee in 2010 founded a Belize based company QuorumEx that seeks to develop better ways to combat pathogenic bacteria through anti-quorum sensing medicines.
In the following interview with Belize journalist Rowland Parks, McAfee talks for the first time on television about his ordeal at the hands of the Belize authorities: