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Jan 13, 2016

B.D.F. Reports on Anti-Narcotics Campaign

As much as seventy-six million dollars worth of marijuana went up in smoke last year as a result of anti-drug operations conducted by the Belize Defense Force working along with the U.S. Army. At a review of its scope of duties undertaken in 2015, the B.D.F. also acknowledged success in other areas as it pushed back illegal activities in the Chiquibul. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The Belize Defense Force, in the war on drugs, has been actively involved in seeking out and destroying hundreds of acres of marijuana fields.  In a country where the sale and consumption of cannabis is widespread, any attempt at addressing the problem at its root ultimately affects the bottom line on the streets.  Since teaming up with Joint Task Force Bravo under the United States Southern Command, the B.D.F. has been able to put a dent in the illicit industry.

 

David Jones

Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander, B.D.F.

“This year we destroyed a total of a hundred and fifty-one thousand marijuana plants.  Several patrols have been deployed [and] one of the major operations we did was with Joint Task Force Bravo, with the U.S. Army where they bring in their helicopters and we dispatch up to about ninety soldiers or so and we get support also from the police department to do these operations.  On the occasions that they’ve been supporting us for the last two years or so, we’ve destroyed in excess of twelve million dollars or so on each operation which only lasts about two days.  Comparatively [speaking], 2014 we had more success in that we destroyed over a hundred and eighty seven thousand marijuana plants.  A total of three hundred compressed marijuana we destroyed.  So the street value of what we destroyed in 2015 is in excess of seventy-six million Belize dollars worth of marijuana we destroyed in Belize.”

 

Notwithstanding assistance from the U.S. government which has, in some states, legalized the possession of certain quantities of marijuana, Belize’s guiding principle remains very much the same, it is illegal to plant, sell or be found in possession of the drug.

 

John Saldivar

John Saldivar, Minister of National Security

“Our push to continue to detect and eradicate is still in line with government’s policy, not to mention the problems that it poses with respect to our community and our society as whole; the residual that stays in Belize and causes a lot of the crime problems in our country.”

 

According to Brigadier General David Jones, a majority of the hemp destroyed in 2015 were plants that were cultivated in western Belize.

 

Brig. Gen. David Jones

“The Cayo District is the district that most of the marijuana was destroyed, followed by the Toledo District.  So in the Cayo District it’s about ninety-six thousand plants depicted there and forty-four thousand.  So we had destruction being done in the Corozal District, the Orange Walk District, Cayo and Toledo but for the most part Cayo had the most marijuana plantation being done.”

 

Of course, tackling the perennial issue of marijuana is only one of several responsibilities that the B.D.F. is tasked with.  Each year, Belize’s armed forces set out to achieve a list of objectives which include cracking down on other unlawful activities such as gold panning and illegal logging.

 

Brig. Gen. David Jones

“Gold panning 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 and arrested and charged for gold panning within Belize.  So four Guatemalans were arrested and charged for illegal gold mining inside Belize in 2015. Fifty-two logs that consist of mahogany, cedar and sapodilla were confiscated, to the value of seven thousand, eight hundred Belize dollars.  Three hundred board feet of mahogany valued at two thousand, four hundred Belize dollars.  A hundred and sixty-six planks of board equivalent to two thousand, two hundred and thirteen board feet valued at eleven thousand, sixty-five Belize dollars to a grand total of twenty-one thousand, two hundred and sixty-five Belize dollars worth of lumber that we confiscated.”

 

In 2015, there were a total of two hundred and ten joint patrols coordinated between B.D.F. and the Guatemalan military.  Most of those efforts turned out well, something Commander Jones says will be adopted within the area of the Sarstoon River.

 

Brig. Gen. David Jones

“The patrols that were unsuccessful with the Guatemalans, primarily most of them was because the Guatemalans didn’t turn up in the area and that is primarily because of logistical reasons.  Like in the area of Aguas Turbias, it’s very difficult for them and it’s mainly accessible for them by helicopter and if their rotary helicopter is not working more than likely they would inform us that they won’t be able to make it.  But for the most part, out of all those two hundred and ten patrols, only nine [were unsuccessful].  So, two hundred and one times we met along the border from Aguas Turbias all the way down to Cadenas and that is something we hope to emulate later on along the Sarstoon where we plan to have joint patrols with them.”

 

All of this has been accomplished without direct contact between the ministers responsible for national security in both countries.

 

John Saldivar

“Certainly given the special circumstances of our relationship with Guatemala we have traditionally handled interactions either through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or, as the general has indicated, directly general to general at the army level.  And so we are very comfortable with that and if it gets to the point where I need to interact directly with my Guatemalan counterparts then we will do so.  But at this point, as the general has said, we believe that the relationship between the two heads of the armies is good at this time.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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