BELIZE CITY–Senior personnel from the Ministry of National Security along with Prime Minister Dean Barrow today at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel made the announcement that the Belize Defence Force (BDF) is to get two helicopters to detect and curb illegal incursions into Belize and curtail marijuana cultivation near Belize’s western border, specifically, the beleaguered Chiquibul National Park, which has fallen victim to years of pillaging and desecration by Guatemalans, who ravage the heavily forested area for gold, xate, logwood, exotic animals, etc.
National Security Minister John Saldivar explained that the resolution is the culmination of efforts, research and discussions over the past six years, which have now reached the point of becoming a reality.
Saldivar said, “Since BATSUB was downsized in 1994 and their helicopter support subsequently pulled, the BDF has been faced with serious challenges in carrying out its functions in the remote border regions. This has left the BDF to make repeated submissions for the acquisition of this most needed asset over the years.
“We were in discussions with the British, the US, the Canadians, and the Taiwanese; however, none of those bore fruit. Recently, the opportunity presented itself where we can now acquire these helicopters. We are in communication and dialogue with a company that is selling some Bell 206 helicopters, and our local experts along with friendly foreign support, we will do some due diligence to ensure the soundness of the helicopters, and that we are receiving value for money. Once this is ascertained, we will see our military, in a very short time, be proud owners of their first fleet of rotary wings.”
Brigadier General David Jones described the initiative as “welcome news” for the BDF, since the transport will come in very handy when it comes to performing jungle and border operations.
He said, “It has been a vision for us for a few years now, and the decision by Cabinet to make this a reality is going to be most welcomed to the men and women of the BDF. For some years now, we have been talking to our colleagues from Canada, the United States, and from the British Army as well. Nothing has been forthcoming from our partners so far, as was mentioned before; however, this seems to be a closer grasp to us because of the cost.”
Jones mentioned that previous costs for helicopters ranged from $8 to $12 million; however, the two refurbished helicopters that will be purchased will cost GOB approximately $4.1 million, and will assist greatly in the troops’ deployment to the different conservation posts in 2 hours as opposed to 3 or 4 days, and will reduce the wear-and-tear on soldiers who would normally trek through the rugged terrain of the jungles on a weekly basis to reach their destinations.
Before the aircraft are procured, officials from the BDF, including a pilot and mechanic, will inspect the helicopters along with other technical experts from Jamaica to verify if it is worth the investment.
If that deal does not go as planned, then PM Barrow declared that there are plans to spend $5.68 million on a single, brand new helicopter.
“Either way, we are going to have rotary capacity – the question is whether we have 2 refurbished, or one brand new”, he mentioned.
Barrow added that his administration took the opportunity to get the helicopters because “Government’s coffers have naturally been bulged by, among other things, the PetroCaribe funds”, and that all the necessary analysis in terms of servicing, operational viability and maintenance have been substantiated with the seller of the two smaller helicopters, who is an authorized dealer for Bell products.