Afghanistan-based forces to be sent into Belize jungles
UK Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, arrived in Belize for a two-day visit with Belizean officials during which security is a top issue on their agenda.
Speaking with Amandala at a reception held at the Radisson Fort George Hotel on Thursday night, Swire said that this is his first visit to a Commonwealth country since he took office about 12 weeks ago, and this makes his trip to Belize particularly momentous.
The intent, he said, is to “show that we care about Belize.” Although there has been no ministerial visit for over 4 years, he pointed to the visit of Prince Harry to Belize, as a part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, and the visit of a top civil servant in the UK foreign office earlier this year.
However, what is holding the attention of Minister Swire and other leaders today is that there is a lot of work to be done regionally and internationally to counter the increasingly violent narcotics trade.
The minister additionally announced that the UK has just applied to become an extraterritorial observer in SICA – the Central American Integration System. The reason for wanting to become a part of the organization, Swire said, is not just because they want to help but also because a lot of the drugs that pass through the region end up in the UK, causing terrible damage to the fabric of the society there, he said.
The UK, said Swire, has an anti-narcotics agency dubbed SOCA – the Serious Organized Crime Agency, and they are working with countries in Latin America to look at best practices in establishing peace.
A press release from the British High Commission in Belize said that security is expected to play a major part of the discussions during the visit, as well as Belize-Guatemala relations.
Minister Swire told Amandala that the deaths of three Guatemalans, accused of incursions into Belize, in the last months is “very concerning to us,” “a real worry.”
The UK believes the way to resolve the dispute, said Swire, is for the referendum on taking the claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to be positive and for the matter to go to court, with both Belize and Guatemala committing to abide by the ruling of the ICJ, which, he said, will hopefully end this dispute once and for all.
He said that once the dispute is behind the countries, they can focus on working together on countering the narcotics trade.
We told the minister that there are some Belizeans who say that it is the British who left Belize with this problem and that Guatemala should settle its issues with the British—not with Belize.
Swire said that this is a historical argument, but the issue is that Guatemala never ratified the original agreement with Britain.
We live in 2012 and the only ones that can solve the problem, he said, are Guatemala and Belize – not the UK, he insisted.
British High Commissioner Pat Ashworth told Amandala that when the Belize office heard that Minister Swire was going to open a new embassy in Salvador, after their mission there was closed 9 years ago, he grabbed him to come to Belize.
He said that they wanted to talk about the Belize-Guatemala situation, the 2013 ICJ referendum, the border and Belize’s internal situation with crime and gangs.
First off, Swire met with officials of the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) as well as the Belize Defence Force. He also met Mary Vasquez, head of RESTORE Belize, and tomorrow, Friday, he is due to meet with Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who also heads the National Security Council.
We asked what further security assistance the UK would provide for Belize; however, Ashworth said that he thinks there is enough equipment available, but they (the UK) can provide expertise.
The Commissioner said that they had told the Government of Belize about a year ago that they could look at augmenting BATSUB operations, which had been scaled back. Both Swire and Ashworth spoke of the UK drawing down on Afghanistan forces and the plan to send them into Belize’s jungles, since they will need a training ground.