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Jul 27, 2000

Guatemalan warship visits Belize

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When an anxious viewer called this morning to report that a Guatemalan warship had just docked at the Fort George, I must admit that we were a bit skeptical. But after arriving at the scene there could be no doubt. The question was, what on earth was it doing here? News Five’s Jose Sanchez found out.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

By the standards of global warfare the Guatemalan patrol boat Utatlan that docked at the Radisson this morning is hardly a battleship. But at eighty-five feet in length, manned by a crew of twenty and armed with a twenty-millimetre gun, she’s a lot more potent than anything in the BDF. But not to worry, the ship’s captain, Jorge Echeverria, explained that the vessel is here as part of training mission that took it as far a field as Cuba.

Captain Jorge Echeverria, Utatlan

“This is a ship that belongs to the Naval School of Guatemala. Right now we are coming from Isla Mujeres. It’s a trip for the naval cadets.”

“It’s a good will visit to show the people of Belize the great friendship we have towards Belize. We will be here only today and tomorrow as part of a training mission to teach the cadets.”

The captain explained that the patrol boat’s usual duties in Guatemala would centre around anti-drug operations, a problem with which we are only too aware. But in the meantime, the trainees on board got a chance to play tourist with a trip to Altun Ha…hosted by the BDF.

Lt. Nelson Castillo, Belize Defence Force

“The ship was scheduled to arrive here in Belize at about 09:00 hours. My job is to be the escort officer for these Guatemalan sailors.”

Jose Sanchez

“Do you think this will do better to enhance the relations between Belize and Guatemala?”

Lt. Nelson Castillo

“Surely. This is a step in the relationship, in improving the relationship between us, the Belize Defence Force, and the Guatemalan Forces.”

Those forces also took time out to present gifts to the Guatemalan Embassy, and paid a visit to BDF Maritime Wing Headquarters in Ladyville. While politics was not on the agenda, it would seem that friendly exchanges on the coast are much more productive than kidnappings in the jungle. Reporting for News Five, I am Jose Sanchez.

It is not known if any BDF boats will be paying reciprocal courtesy calls on Livingston or Puerto Barrios. But in the wake of the recent negotiations in Washington such measures appear to constitute what is known in the diplomatic trade as “confidence building measures.”

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