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May 3, 2017

Customs, Police Gear Up to Fight Weapons of Mass Destruction

In more than a century and a half of existence, the office of Comptroller of Customs and Excise has seen it all. But often, it’s what you don’t see coming that may hurt the most. Such is the case with weapons of mass destruction, used to great effect in the Middle East and elsewhere. Some rogue nations may threaten to use them on the United States, and northern Central America, especially Belize, is considered the “soft underbelly” of a possible terrorist threat involving use of chemical and biological weapons, or even nuclear ones. As a part of the United States Government’s ongoing work with the Government of Belize to improve border security and bilateral efforts to enhance the security of Belizeans, the U.S. Embassy today handed over equipment to the Belize Customs and Excise Department and the Belize Police Department through the Export Control and Related Border Security Program.  Aaron Humes has more in the following report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Is it realistic to wonder if material for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons – “weapons of mass destruction” to use the official term – be transported through, or in worst-case circumstances, actually be used in Belize? In an unpredictable world, the answer to that drives local enforcement, according to Acting Comptroller of Customs and Excise, Colin Griffith to borrow from the Boy Scouts and always “be prepared.”

 

Colin Griffith

Colin Griffith, Acting Comptroller of Customs and Excise

“With our location – we are strategically located where and we have challenges in respect to resources, so by these bad individuals, Belize is viewed as a soft target, and we must prepare ourselves. So we appreciate the assistance from the United States in getting our officers prepared. We embrace the military concept that we must prepare for worst case scenario; so while it may appear that it has not happened, it could also be that it didn’t happen and we didn’t recognize it. So we are appreciative of this training that we are able to – if it is happening – find it and put control measures in place so as not to have Belize be a transit point for these types of goods.”

 

Gregory Bates, Regional Advisor for the Export Control and Related Border Security program says that this equipment, valued at just under ninety thousand Belize dollars, will increase Belize’s inspection capacity and allow for the identification of radioisotopes and other forms of radiation.

 

Gregory Bates

Gregory Bates, Regional Advisor, Export Control and Related Border Security Program

“The challenge with weapons of mass destruction is the proliferation globally; and our efforts by the global community to prevent the proliferation into unsavoury characters or countries that are trying to develop military-grade chemical, biological or nuclear-radiological programs. It is also an issue of terrorism: we have organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda who have publicly announced their intent to develop and create radiological dirty bombs, chemical weapons and we have seen use of that. So part of the EXPAS program is to help prevent that, number one by preventing the illicit transfer of legitimate equipment for the private sector into the hands of individuals who can use that same equipment to create chemical, biological and radiological programs; that’s the first part there. And to do that, we have to have equipment and we have to have training and we have the commitment of my Government. So we work with Government on legislative development, regulatory development, to ensure that they are able to implement Security Council Resolution 1540, as well as ensure that officers have the training to detect, recognize and interdict or intercept illicit transfers.”

 

U.S. interim Charge D’Affaires Adrianne Galanek considers the princely sum spent by her country in Belize through the Central American Regional Security Initiative well spent. Safety from border to border, she says, will translate to safer communities.

 

Adrianne Galanek

Adrianne Galanek, Charge d’Affaires ad interim, U.S. Embassy

“As you know, security is one of our Embassy’s primary areas of partnership with the Government and people of Belize. Since 2008, can anyone guess how much the U.S. Government has committed to citizen security initiatives, under the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI)? (Pause) What do you think? A million dollars since 2008; two million dollars, a couple of million? How about over forty million U.S. dollars? And border security is an important part of that partnership. Safe and secure borders must be a regional priority because crime and transnational criminal threats know no borders. Just as we are focused on protecting our borders in the United States, securing Belize’s borders from threats is equally critical to creating safer streets and more resilient communities in Belize.”

 

Part of that money goes to training, which in this case is multi-sectoral and multi-national. Two local instructors are Ronald Sanchez of the Customs Department and Police Inspector Cesar Franco of the Mobile Interdiction Unit.

 

Ronald Sanchez

Ronald Sanchez, Instructor

“The training is basically to help identify the commodities and do our part in interdicting. Our laws in Belize are not such as to stop the goods; but we can do our part to forward information to the countries that are expecting these goods. Like Mr. Griffith mentioned, we are strategically located between North and South America; so we are a transiting point for goods to move from other countries through Belize to their destination, so we have to do our part in informing the other countries as to what is moving from here onwards.”

 

Cesar Franco

Cesar Franco, Instructor

“This equipment will definitely enhance our capabilities, especially the Belize Police Department. We, like the Comptroller said – maybe the incidents haven’t occurred but we are of the opinion that it may be happening on our roads, our highways; and Mobile Interdiction Team, this is what we do. We do our VCP’s – vehicular checkpoints – and we believe that this device will not only enhance our capability but also our officers’ safety on the highways if we ever come across these radiation sources.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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