LADYVILLE, Thurs. Oct. 29, 2015–Exactly one week before Belizeans go to the polls to elect a new government, the British, who had scaled down their operations in Belize in 2011, are back. This time, the British Army Training and Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) are planning a multinational presence with Canadian and United States forces in Belize.
The timing of this, however, raises a question, because no reason was given as to why the British could not have waited a mere 7 days until a new government was installed.
The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) Leader Francis Fonseca told Amandala this evening, however, that he is not suspicious about the timing of the announcement, because the British High Commissioner had kept him informed about this for a while now.
“We have to see how it will fully materialize, since the British are interested to remain engaged in this part of the world,” Fonseca offered.
The Belize Progressive Party’s (BPP) political leader, Patrick Rogers, however, told Amandala tonight, “We never needed a security guarantee from England.”
“We need England to get back to the negotiating table and have this claim become the Anglo-Guatemalan/Belize dispute [so that all three countries are involved], otherwise, we will be faced with a dispute we will never be able to settle. The British general is saying that this BATSUB arrangement is to satisfy the Prime Minister’s defense need. It sounds like they brokered a deal to get Barrow to win the elections so he could go to the ICJ. We at the BPP want to know if England is interfering in our politics.”
Rogers added, “This is a fake British guarantee. The BPP questions the British motive. If the British get back to the negotiating table, then they can compensate Guatemala, because twice in the history of the dispute, Guatemala was willing to accept a financial settlement.”
The announcement was made yesterday, Wednesday, at ceremonies at Price Barracks, where the Commander of the Belize Defence Force (BDF) Brigadier General David Jones hosted the highest ranking British army officer to visit Belize, Lieutenant General James Everard, the Commander of British Land Forces.
General Everard, who inspected a BDF guard of honor upon his arrival at Price Barracks, is on a working, familiarization tour of Belize before the redeployment of approximately 2,000 British soldiers who are expected to arrive in Belize sometime next year.
Approximately 900 BATSUB soldiers remain in Belize on rotation for jungle training.
What is significant about this new BATSUB arrangement, which reportedly has been in the pipeline for about two years, is that it is coming at a time of stepped-up belligerence from Guatemala and in the face of feeble diplomatic response from the Dean Barrow-led government, which recently dissolved parliament and is seeking a new mandate to return to power.
BDF General Jones, who only this past August begged the members of the Belize Territorial Volunteers not to return to Sarstoon Island because doing so would put his soldiers at risk, said today that it is pivotal that Lieutenant General James Everard is here.
His visit, General Jones said, “… signifies that there is going to be greater cooperation from what occurred in 2011 when they [the British] had downsized in the size of their unit here, and he [Lieutenant General Everard] is the person that actually will make the decision. Whatever decision he makes, will happen. So he’s here to personally see what’s happening in Belize, what’s available for the British army to do, and what level of cooperation can be given to the Belize Defence Force.”
Initially, the BATSUB unit stationed in Belize was viewed primarily as being here for the jungle warfare training that Belize’s terrain offers. This new deployment, however, appears to be more than just jungle training.
General Jones explained: “After meetings that I will have with him today and discussions that he will have with the Prime Minister, we will hear from him before he leaves in regards to at what level of support the British Army will be supporting Belize and the Belize Defence Force in particular.”
General Everard told the media, “One of the areas that we already came to explore is reestablishing our training presence in Belize. As you know, we’ve had about nine hundred soldiers here this year. I think we’ll be just over two thousand next year and I think that will establish a pattern of activity that we hope to maintain over a prolonged period. It’s not just training benefit for ourselves, but this time, doing much more in concert with your own defence force to help develop our lessons to mutual advantage.”
General Everard was asked if their presence would be merely rotational for training purposes or if they are seeking to have a permanent presence in Belize.
He replied, “…We are going to put a larger permanent presence here, but it will still be small in comparison to what we had in the past. But the important thing for me is that regular drumbeat of training. So, you know, the Southern Company exercise is a battalion exercise next year and each one of those exercises is bringing with it a training team that will work alongside your own defence force, hopefully, to our mutual benefit.”
Presently, the BDF has 1,156 enlisted men, and therefore, the BATSUB presence, when it reaches the 2,000-man mark, would be more than the number of BDF soldiers, and it remains unclear how many Canadian and American forces would join in this so-called permanent presence of the multinational forces that would be stationed in Belize.
General Everard was asked if the British Army would provide the BDF with aerial support, and he replied, “That for me is almost a more important aspect of us coming back here. You know, we look at this part of the world – the only Commonwealth nation in Central America, of course, is Belize. We’ve been old friends for a long time. I think your Prime Minister’s vision for defence, which I’ve read, is very clear, and we are working with other multinational partners, and you’ll know, there’s been a very good multinational cooperation meeting shortly with the U.S., the Canadians, ourselves and your own defence force, working together to carry that forward to really deliver what you need.”
Following the ceremonies at Price Barracks, both General Jones and General Everard headed into Belize City for a meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Dean Barrow at his Coney Drive office.
Barrow made a brief remark to reporters following the high level meeting, which was also attended by the British High Commissioner, Major General Smyth Osborne, and the Commander of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards and the CEO of the Ministry of National Security, Colonel George Lovell, (Ret’d).
According to Barrow, “There are so many ramifications to this development. First of all and perhaps more directly, what the BDF is trying to do here is to establish a sort of regional training center for excellence; a sort of jungle warfare type training center. What this does is to give further impetus to an idea that in fact our BDF have been trying to implement for some time now.
“What General Everard said to me, it will be lovely for them to collaborate with the other national armies that are passing through; the Dutch, the Norwegians, and of course, you know for a while now we’ve been having visits and exchanges with the Americans and with the Canadians. What this will do as well is to allow our own Belize Defence Force to benefit from the cooperation that will take place, not just through the joint training exercises, but as a consequence of the general broadening of the relationship between the two militaries.”
“Already we’ve talked about new places for BDF personnel in training facilities in the UK, military schools in the UK. There’s also the economic aspect of things. The fact that there will be some increasing additional local employment, employment of local staff; we want to put on record our gratitude to the British military, to the UK Ministry of Defence and to her Majesty’s government in general. The benefit that we as a country and BDF in particular will derive from the new arrangement is absolutely to be welcomed, absolutely to be appreciated,” Barrow said.