The Belize Defence Force (BDF) and members of the media met today for a tell-all session, where they discussed various topics, including the investigation into the allegation of sexual assault made by intake #65. They divulged the members of the independent investigative team that was responsible to look into all the allegations made. The matter of its independence came into question, however, after it was revealed that the Ministry of National Security was involved, specifically due to the involved of the Belize Police Department. CEO in the Ministry, George Lovell, explained why they believed the team that was put together was effective.
Retired Colonel George Lovell, CEO, Ministry of National Security: “The ministry initiated the investigation but as you know the people who were put there had no direct involvement with the Belize Defence Force other than the attorney who was basically there to be able to set the records straight in terms of the legality of how the Belize Defence Force acts- “
Reporter: However they are part of the national security apparatus.
Retired Colonel George Lovell, CEO, Ministry of National Security: “Their part is ex Commissioner of Police Gerald Westby a part ? How would a retired Commissioner of Police be a part of it ? The point I’m trying to get is – I think that we need to work with these things and not try to nitpick and try to condemn certain things because at the end of the day we need to move forward and had we not had, the Ministry of National Security, take this bold step forward maybe we would still be talking about how the BDF operating and not get beyond where we are. If you are suggesting that there should have been maybe services commission team that was put together that had people that had nothing to do with national security then maybe you have a point but that is something that maybe we might want to consider the next time around but I am quite confident from the report and from the team that was put together that I believe that they had no ax to grind, no interest in this and that report that they had put out there is one that we can, as a ministry and as a people, trust and work with in order to make life better.”
The allegations coming out of intake #65 were perhaps the most that the BDF has seen in one intake. According to Brigadier Steven Ortega, they want to encourage more recruits to come forward if they feel that they have been assaulted physically or sexually.
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, BDF Commander: “In my point of view there is no place for abuse of any form so the week zero is a sign so that the initial recruits coming in as soldiers will actually have a chance to understand the culture of the reporting process so if they believe they’ve been abused, aggrieved in whatever manner they understand the process all the way to my level and beyond and so they know that they have a way out in terms of lodging a complaint and that is the main culture of week zero. That’s why I’m saying as well we’re also revamping and retraining in terms of the vetting of the instructors who go to training company to ensure they have that aptitude to convert civilians to soldiers so we’re improving on that vetting as well because it’s a difficult process to convert a civilian to a soldier because a soldier is not considered a normal human so we do have a different life to life and that is one life that moving from a civilian to a soldier that we have to convert and we have to do it in a manner that that civilian will now become a soldier.”
Retired Colonel Lovell also spoke about the matter of women in high positions in the BDF. He stated that while the force is male-dominated, more and more women are making their way up the ladder.
Retired Colonel George Lovell, CEO, Ministry of National Security: “You will know that the leaders are not just placed there because of qualification or anything else there is a process within the Belize Defence Force that has someone go from the time they enter as a young officer to when they get to the most highest position as Commandant General. We have a few women who are slowly getting there. What is the most senior rank ? So there is a major now -”
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, BDF Commander: “Major. We have a Major.”
Retired Colonel George Lovell, CEO, Ministry of National Security: “Yes one and there were Majors before, Jean Lucas was a Major in my time who was much senior than myself unfortunately we haven’t had people stay around long enough to reach the rank beyond Major and I’m hoping that that will change because we have also looked at the whole retirement age structure which is one of the things that had caused that bottleneck and the difficulty for people to progress from the lower ranks to the higher ranks. I can see a lot of opportunities now and yes there are room for us to ensure that there are equal opportunities for the women officers within and senior NCOs within the Belize Defence Force to be able to venture into the areas where it’s predominantly dominated by male and I think that they are working towards that but it takes time. It’s not something that because you want to have female at the highest leadership you just put somebody there, there are processes that they need to go through to eventually get to that rank.”
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, BDF Commander: “Like I mentioned we have one Major and we have one whose promotion to Major is up at the Security Services Commission right now. We also have two Warrant Officer Class 1 female ,first time ever in the course we’re going to have two at the same time, their promotion is also up at the Security Services Commission presently so the Warrant Officer Class 1 is the highest rank for an enlisted soldier so they are now at the highest rank for an enlisted soldier as females. So there are progression as the CEO said but it does take time in rank.”
Brigadier Ortega also stated how important it is that they encourage more women to join the BDF.
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, BDF Commander: “In terms of male dominated as you know we’re trying to recruit more females because we understand that they actually bring a lot to the fight, they actually play a vital role in terms of a different perspective and it is a perspective that has been lacking not only here in Belize but throughout the world that the natural culture for women wasn’t the military and so we’re advertising out there to invite more of them to join because it is a needed perspective for us to improve the organization that we have and the job that we do. As we mentioned earlier that times are changing and so we have to change with the time and as Major Olivera mentioned that’s why we’re implementing change as we progress so the new sexual harassment policy actually addresses quite a few of those concerns for women and not only women but male as well. Those are some of the things we continuously evolved into for us to make the BDF a more welcome organization for all.”