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Jun 28, 2018

A Forward Operating Base is Inaugurated at Hunting Caye

A forward operating base was launched on Wednesday at Hunting Caye in southern Belize. The base was long in coming; work started in 2014, but was abruptly halted after it was revealed that a Guatemalan company had been contracted to carry out the building of the strategic base which has national security importance.  At Wednesday’s opening the top brass of the National Security Ministry, the Police Department, the Coastguard as well as the U.S. Southern Command were on hand to signal the level of priority attached to the base. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The construction of a forward operating base at Hunting Caye, one of fourteen sand and mangrove islands that form the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, has been long in the making.  Located within an area that covers roughly one hundred and twenty-five square kilometers, Hunting Caye is part of a cluster of islands along the southernmost tip of the Belize Barrier Reef.  Its eastern seaboard is a high, coral sand beach which takes the shape of a half-moon crescent.

 

John Saldivar

John Saldivar, Minister of National Security

“Hunting Caye has been legislated as a base in the Maritime Areas Act and therefore has international significance as it relates to the jurisdiction.  It is from here that Belize differentiates internal waters from territorial seas.  The implications for national security therefore requires a permanent and consistent presence to ensure that the operational reach and jurisdiction is extended to this forward operating base and beyond in order to combat the evolving threats to national security.”

 

The building of a naval installation on Hunting Caye was not without controversy.  In October 2014, we first reported on an issue raised following a house meeting during which Minister of National Security John Saldivar spoke about the construction of a field headquarters.  The contract to build the forward operating base was overseen by the United States Southern Command and given to BINARQ, a Guatemalan outfit.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: October 2nd, 2014]

“I don’t know that it was any failure on the part of anyone in terms of not telling me about that.  As it is now that I know, I imagine that there are is nothing that I can do.  The contract must be well in the stage of execution and I don’t think we want to overreact and say to the Americans stop it.  But certainly, going forward, I will make clear that this mustn’t happen on another occasion.”

 

After much public uproar, the project was stalled indefinitely until it was resumed in January 2016 through the Government of Belize.

 

John Borland

Rear Admiral John Borland, Commander, Belize Coast Guard [File: January 20th, 2016]

“Our Ministry of Works engineers have since then put together a bill of quantities and an estimate for the completion of that project and we expect that that contract should be put to tender or advertised and awarded perhaps by the end of this financial year and work should commence within the beginning or the first quarter of the 2016 financial year.”

 

Now that the undertaking has been completed, the geographic location of the FOB is ideal for the placement of law enforcement since Hunting Caye straddles the border between Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

 

John Saldivar

“Hunting Caye is located at the northern apex of the Belize/Honduras/Guatemala maritime border and it provides that forward deployment from where we can project sea power in encountering transnational organized crime.  Increasingly, in recent years drug trafficking, weapons and human smuggling routes transit Belize from south to north.  The ramping up of transnational crime therefore makes this point a critical location for the deterrence of illicit activities for us and our regional partners.”

 

Among those regional partners is the United States Southern Command.  Lieutenant Colonel Eldridge Singleton is a senior defense official and senior defense attaché with the U.S. Embassy.

 

Eldridge Singleton

Lt. Col. Eldridge Singleton, Senior Defense Attache, U.S. Embassy

“It promotes three critical things that help any government.  One of them is economic prosperity, the other one is a display of good governance and finally, it actually shows that there is great citizen security that is being provided out to the overall populace here in Belize and its territorial waters.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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