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May 24, 2023

B.D.F. Faces Resistance in Toledo over Destruction of Illegal Airstrips

It is no secret that Belizeans are involved in the transnational drug trade. But there are alarming reports coming out of the deep-south tonight. Belize Defense Force soldiers and police officers are facing threats and resistance from villagers in remote communities in Toledo District, as they go about destroying illegal airstrips. But, what is motivating the hostility between villagers and the security forces working to deter illegal landings? And, how does this conflict affect the work of these joint patrols? News Five’s Paul Lopez reports.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

B.D.F. soldiers and police officers are on a mission to destroy clandestine airstrips, but they are faced with increasing pushback from residents of far-flung communities in Toledo District.  These villagers are suspected of working with narco-traffickers in neighboring Guatemala.  Brigadier General Azariel Loria tells News Five that drug plane landings have essentially shifted from northern and central Belize to the recesses of the south.


Brigadier General Azariel Loria

Brigadier General Azariel Loria, Commander, Belize Defense Force

“It is no secret that we have a problem in the south. Sometime ago we have even suggested that the media be invited to see the amount of illegal airstrips that have been constructed.”


In April, a joint operations team discovered the charred remains of a suspected drug plane in a remote area, adjacent to a makeshift runway. Prior to this discovery, there had been a considerable lull in the reporting of illegal airplane landings in the country. Evidence suggests that drug traffickers are now conducting their operations in the far reaches of the country.  Commissioner of Police Chester Williams alluded to this shift at the time of that discovery.


Chester Williams

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police (File: April 17th, 2023)

“The area was extremely remote.  It took the police and BDF days to get there and they finally got there yesterday and they found the remains of the plane. Again, we‘re seeing where these persons who are engaged in these activities are being very crafty in landing these planes in areas that we know are extremely remote and would take some time for the security forces to get there.”

The challenge of finding and destroying these crude landing strips is compounded when the security forces are met with hostility from villagers. Recently, residents of Santa Theresa threatened to harm those involved in the operations.


Brigadier General Azariel Loria

“We know that there is connection and collusion with the Guatemalans. Across the border there are some villagers that also assist them. We do not know at this point in time who they are, but we have some persons of interest that we are following.”


A few days ago, the chairman of Corazon Creek reportedly accused the B.D.F. of damaging his roof while inserting a patrol into the area with a helicopter. But an investigation into the reports found that the accusation was false. It is suspected that this was done to rally the support of villagers. Florencio Marin Jr., the Minister of National Defense and Border Security, commented on the situation.


Florencio Marin

Florencio Marin, Minister of National Defense and Border Security

“Of course whatever resistance there is, we have a job to do. Our role is to deter transnational crime and we will continue doing so. We will not stop doing that. Of course you always have to be respectful to community. We don’t harm a community or anything like that, but we will do our job to deter transnational crime. It is a huge challenge for our soldiers and officers out there, but we will not be deterred.”


Paul Lopez

“Reports from one chairman is that in deploying some B.D.F. soldiers, his roof may have been destroyed by the helicopter. Do you chunk that up to be some sort of mischief or was it the case when you did your investigation?”


Florencio Marin

“Well the feedback I have gotten, because we immediately sent down to check. From what we heard there is no damage actually done. I am not sure the source of that, but like I said we have to still protect our communities, in particular the chairman of a village.”

The resistance is taken as a sign that military operations are significantly thwarting the plans of narco-traffickers in the south.  These operations, however, come at the cost of public safety.


Brigadier General Azariel Loria

“Naturally, we believe, because we are not certain, we can’t say that it is happen. But, we believe that whenever they don’t receive their cargo. Whenever we successfully deter the planes from landing here in Belize, there is frustration among them. We assume it is the Guatemalans that pressure them to do something about the situation and hence the reason they are doing it. It is the Guatemalans we believe that are pressuring the persons in those villages that are dealing with moving the drugs to do something to perhaps threaten, warn, tell our B.D.F. and police if you guys don’t back off we are going to do something to your or yourselves, etc.”


Reporting for News Five I am Paul Lopez.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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