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Jun 1, 2023

The Illegal Drug Trade: Intervention to Curb this Transnational Crime

Narco traffickers continue to use Central America, including Belize, as a drug transhipment point. It’s a thirty-two billion-dollar industry that is affecting communities globally.  According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the global drug trafficking market is constantly evolving, undermining economic and social development and contributing to crime, instability and insecurity.  In this region, transnational crime begins in South America and the final destination for the illicit drugs is North America.  Belize has been part of a concerted regional approach to tackling this crime and the destruction of clandestine airstrips used for narco trafficking. In tonight’s episode of Belize on Reel, a News Five team goes deep into the jungles of southern Belize where these high risk activities are taking place. Here’s that report.


Central America is the transit point of choice for illegal drug trade, as it is smack in the middle of the South and North America.  Billions of dollars in cocaine, as well as money, guns and ammunition are trafficked across both continents and Belize is a waystation for these illicit cargoes.  A Joint Intelligence Operations Center, established back in April 2014 and manned by our security forces, has the task of tracking these aircrafts.


Chester Williams

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police [April 11th, 2023]

“We did have an aircraft in our airspace last night.  As a matter of fact, we hardly got any sleep because we were monitoring that aircraft from it left South America and it vanished in our airspace in the Toledo District.”


That airplane was discovered days later by law enforcement agencies in a remote area of Toledo District.


Duane Moody

Duane Moody

“I am standing in the center of a clandestine airstrip located deep in the jungle of southern Belize, within the Maya Mountains. It was recently used by narco-traffickers to successfully carry out a drug plane landing in Belize. The charred vestiges of that aircraft are still located in the area.”



Commander, B.D.F. Fairweather Camp

“We are in the Toledo district, specifically right behind Corazon Village; this is approximately an hour and a half, two hours from Punta Gorda Town. If you look at the map, it is due northwest of Punta Gorda. If you look at the distance, it is just over two kilometres. It is usable. I can say judging at this; caravan twin engine can easily land here, dump its cargo and take off with no problem.”


This illegal airstrip is similar in length to the runway at the Philip Goldson International Airport.  A B.D.F. chopper, approximately one thousand meters above, provides a bird’s eye view of the situation below.  Thick foliage is ideal for illicit activities.  The area is remote and illicit cargo can easily be ferried through interconnected waterways.

“These are people who have been in this particular type of trade long enough to know the in and out. They are very keen on the use of terrain, the maximum use of camouflage, concealment and of course a bit of use of local help. If you notice, there is nowhere here that shows indication of heavy machinery coming in here; so it is all done manually, by hand, using hand tools. It’s not an easily accessible route for security forces either coming in. And these guys who plan these airstrips are well-aware of this and they use this to the best of their ability in maximizing their success. And it is clear to be seen that unfortunately, I don’t think they are working in isolation. There is no way no how that they would be able to pull off these stunts without the local knowledge of the villages surrounding.”


In the past, charges have been brought against law enforcement officers, but there are also allegations of civilians being involved in these activities. Village leaders in Corazon, however, claim to have no knowledge of these activities happening in their backyard.


Alvin Pop

Alvin Pop, Chairman, Corazon Village

“Apparently, we are not aware of it. As I know, I cannot speak about it because I am not aware of anything that is happening around.”


Duane Moody

“But are you concerned that it is so close to your village?”


Alvin Pop

“Well, we are concerned yes because it is something that is damaging the reputation of my village and it is not a good practice for us.”


Duane Moody

“Who could have come into to the village and clear out this piece of land fuh make wah plane could land?”


Alvin Pop

“We could not say because we are not aware of it.”


Sebastian Pop

Sebastian Pop, Alcalde, Corazon Village

“The first time it happened in the fifth of May. By the time the B.D.F. reach, the boss come inform me that they want to have an explosion about two point eight kilometres out of the village and I want make yo inform the village and know what will happen.”


Villagers say that they have never heard aircrafts hovering in the area. But drug planes often crash land, cargo is offloaded and subsequently removed from the area. In this particular case, the damaged aircraft was torched. Other times, it would be refuelled and then flown out of Belize’s airspace.



“This has been known to be used in the past; we don’t know the frequency, but the idea behind it is to deter narco trafficking which we view as a threat to the surrounding communities. And our job as security forces is to ensure that we maintain the security of our people, of our country.”


Duane Moody

“This is the only one that has been found in this area?”



“No, unfortunately not.”


A B.D.F.-led operation sees troops make their way to the area by land and air to destroy this makeshift runway.



“Our expert came in here along with his materials, placed them in strategic locations along the entire length of the airstrip. Given safety procedures, our guys were briefed off, moved to a safe location and then after that detonation took place. After a couple moments elapsed, our guys went out to ensure all clear. We have had a number of destructions in the past years. We don’t see this as the only one. We foresee other operations coming up shortly. We had a previous destruction in the general area as well. Again, this is not restricted to only Toledo district. We’ve had issues in the north and a few drops in the west.”


Arresting transnational crime requires an interagency approach, as the network established by narco-traffickers continues to expand. So, the Government of Belize, with support from its international partners, has made investments in its security forces by providing equipment to tackle drug plane landings.


Chester Williams

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police [File: April 17th, 2023]

“The collaboration between the police, the B.D.F. and the coast guard, as well as the U.S. Embassy through the DEA attaché, has been extremely strong and we’re trying to see what can be done to enhance our efforts more to prevent these planes from coming or when they do come, that we‘ll be able to intercept them.”


Elton Bennett

Elton Bennett, Commandant, Belize Coast Guard [File: December 20th, 2022]

“Currently, the coast guard is the director of the JIOC and they have been doing an exceptional job in terms of reducing air traffic. So you notice, the last aircraft that landing in Belize would have been sometime around July. So that’s exceptional work from the coast guard – not only as its traditional role as a maritime force, but as a broader national security organization.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

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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