In 2015 millions of dollars’ worth of marijuana was destroyed through the efforts of the Belize Defense Force with the Cayo District seeing the highest rate of destruction followed by the Toledo District. This fact came out of this morning’s media brief led by the Commander of the Belize Defense Force, Brigadier General David Jones who spoke on the joint efforts with the Belize Police Department.
“Marijuana is still illegal in Belize, it’s a part of our task to destroy these illegal plantations and this year we destroyed a total of 151,000 plants. We get support also from the Police Department to do these operations. On the occasions they have been supporting us on, we’ve destroyed a total of $12 million dollars or so on each operation which only lasts about two days. The street value of what we’ve destroyed for 2015 is in excess of $76 million Belize dollars.”
When compared to 2014, there was a decrease in the amount of marijuana destroyed with 2014 seeing one hundred and eighty seven thousand plants destroyed while 2015 saw one hundred and fifty one thousand. Also during this morning’s event, Jones went on to speak on the incursions into Belize from neighbouring Guatemala.
“The planning continues unfortunately. Our patrols are aggressively patrolling the area particularly in the Chiquibul National Park to try and deter these gold panners that come into Belize and do illegal gold panning. In 2014 no one was arrested and charged but in 2015 we had four that were detained, arrested and charged for gold panning in Belize. Four Guatemalans were arrested and charged for gold panning in 2015.
This is a list of all contraband that was confiscated throughout 2015; beer 31 cases, soft drinks, 18 cases, 29 bottles of rum, 43 sacks of vegetables, 50 cartons of cigarettes, perfumes, zinc for a grand total of over $60,000 Belize dollars worth of goods that we confiscated and this is primarily in support of the Customs Department. So whenever the Customs Department requests for support we go with them on operations and these things are confiscated. For the most part these are in the Corozal/Orange Walk District but we are seeing a number of contraband cases in Cayo and the Toledo Districts. 52 logs that consist of mahogany, cedar and sapodilla were confiscated to the value of $7,800 Belize dollars. 300 feet of Mahogany valued at $2,400 Belize. 166 planks of wood equivalent valued at $11,065 Belize to a grand total of $21,265 Belize dollars worth of lumber that we confiscated.”
While contraband and incursions are areas that the military has assisted the respective local agencies with, there is also the issue of illegal entry into Belize as Jones mentioned.
“Apart from illegal entry, contraband is a big issue and then we do find Guatemalans and Hondurans coming into Belize without going through the normal channels of immigration. The patrols detain them and we bring them in for charges from the immigration particularly. Illegal weapons: we only confiscated four, in 2015 with 69 live rounds. In 2014 there were nine weapons that we had confiscated from illegal immigrants who came in through the borders. The four weapons that we got were a shotgun, a rifle, .22 pistol and a 9mm so there was a reduction in 2015 in regards to weapons we confiscated on patrols along the border. Whenever we confiscate the weapons and ammunition we hand them over to the police and then the prosecution occurs from there.”
The Air-Wing unit of the Belize Defense Force will see major progress with the acquisition of helicopters from Taiwan as well as training for its officers. Using those resources, air patrols will be increased.
“You are fully aware of the aircraft that landed in Belize, the Bell 407 helicopter that landed on the 6th of August found in the area of Blue Creek. This aircraft was flown in by our pilots from Blue Creek to the Williamson Complex. This aircraft has been acquired by the Government of Belize and has now been handed over to the BDF so it is now in our arsenal. We have control over this helicopter and we have been doing some test runs in it and we are making sure that it is maintained. We will use it for future operations. There is also the incident with the plane that landed at the municipal airstrip, that aircraft was flown by our pilots from the airstrip over to the air wing where it is at the moment. For the air wing we had a total of 100 hours and 30 minutes that the air wing flew along our border and maritime space. It’s normally more than that but there have been a couple of months where the aircraft was down, it’s up and running and we intend to step up the amount of air patrols we do in order to detect illicit activities along the border so that we can plan, analyze and conduct operations based on what has been detected from the air.”
As for border patrols, the Belize Defense Force has teamed up with their counterparts from Guatemala and Mexico in 2015 on two hundred and ten different occasions with only 9 of those patrols proving unsuccessful.
“A total of 210 patrols occurred along our border so that is from the area of Aguas Turbias to Cadenas. These are patrols that we did jointly with the Guatemalan Armed Forces. Of those 210 patrols there were nine of them that were unsuccessful as depicted on the graph there. We also conducted patrols along the Rio Hondo, 12 border patrols along the Rio Hondo that were done with the Mexican army and both patrols that we did with them in the Rio Hondo as well. So at least once every two months or so we normally do a patrols with the Mexicans be it northern seal which includes the boat patrols and the foot patrols or even vehicle patrols with the Mexican navy. The patrols that were unsuccessful with the Guatemalans primarily most of them is because the Guatemalans didn’t turn up in the area and that is primarily because of logistical reasons like the area of Aguas Turbias is very difficult for them and it’s mainly accessible for them by helicopter and if their aircraft is not working more than likely they will inform us that they won’t be able to make it but for the most part out of all those 210 patrols only nine times did we fail to meet along the border from Aguas Turbias to Cadenas and that is something we hope to emulate later on also along the Sarstoon where we plan to have joint patrols with them.”
Future patrols will entail air reconnaissance which will be improved upon by the BDF. In addition to the helicopters that the force will be receiving from Taiwan, Commander Jones says they have plans to acquire more Land Rovers as well.
“It’s an ongoing process where we try to acquire vehicles at least every three years or so. For the first time in memory I recall that we had two Land Rovers that were actually bought for us from the Government of Belize and we also acquired two more buses. We had equipment in excess of $334,000 and foreign purchase of equipments in excess of $400,000, that included boots, ponchos and the kit and equipment for the soldiers to operate out in the field. That is an ongoing process and we hope to surpass what we achieved in 2016.”
With hundreds of men and women being housed at the Price Barracks and the military camps around the country, Commander Jones says there will be refurbishment and construction of additional structures for the soldiers.
Over the course of the year several officers and soldiers were deployed for seminars and training abroad. Most of the men and women travelled to the United States followed by Jamaica. Other courses were held in Poland, Mexico, Barbados, among others with the objective of the officers and soldiers coming back to not only put into effect what they have learnt but to share with their colleagues as well. This morning’s presentation inside the Logistics Company Conference Room had the attendance of the National Security Minister John Saldivar and senior officers of the Belize Defense Force.