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November 30
10:13 2018

By: Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d), –

The Belize Defence Force (BDF) was formed in 1978 after much agitation by the Hon. Philip Goldson who felt that Belize could not possibly go to independence without its own army. Thirty-seven years after our independence and forty years after its formation, the BDF still cannot defend Belize against Guatemala; not even for three days!

In the mid-seventies, there were a great many naysayers who felt that we could not afford to stand up our own army. And there were those who felt that there is no way we could raise an army that could fight off an armed invasion by Guatemala. Incredibly, in 2018, there are still those who keep echoing the same lame excuses as those given to the Hon. Philip Goldson in the 1970s. The self-doubt that gripped the political class then, grips them even tighter now.

Let’s be clear; the primary duty of every government must be the preservation of the State. And every government since September 1981 has been derelict in that sacred duty. We have failed to invest in our own defence and in the alternative, we have failed to build any military alliance or broker any defence guarantees.

Belize went to independence in 1981 with an unfounded claim bequeathed to us by the British. The selfsame British who had refused to give us a defence guarantee instead, quite strategically offered to “consult” in the event that Guatemala invaded a nascent Belize.

With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that the refusal to give us a defence guarantee was a part of Britain’s long term strategy to transfer the ICJ monkey onto the backs of the Belizean people. Belizeans had to feel vulnerable to an armed invasion in order for us to swallow the ICJ pill and the British knew just how to create such vulnerability: the lack of a credible defence!

When I joined the BDF in 1989 it was still being commanded by a British officer but by 1990 command was handed over to a Belizean and things went rapidly downhill from there.

Under the leadership of the British Commandants the BDF held annual “battle camps” during which the entire Force deployed in an effort to hone its war fighting capabilities. The British Commandants understood fully well that an army that does not train together will not be able to fight together. So they trained the BDF accordingly.

In 1967 when the Israelis defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria the Israelis were, on paper, far inferior to the Arabian alliance. The Arabs had superior numbers and superior equipment but they had not trained sufficiently on the use of their equipment or on military tactics. The Israelis on the other hand were better trained and better led and so in six days they humiliated their enemies. Israel’s successes on the battle field during the “six day war” are still heralded to this day.

After General Allan Usher assumed command of the BDF in 1990, it did not take too long for the political class to begin to interfere in the affairs of the military. It was less than three years after General Allan Usher assumed command that he informed his officers that the Government could no longer afford for the BDF to deploy for “battle camp” as it has been doing for years. Instead the Ministry of Defence could only afford to deploy the Force in battalion size units.

As the years went on the government of Belize decreased the budget for training to the point where the annual “battle camps” were reduced to battalion exercises and then to company exercises and then to where we are today: no training at combat-size unit level at all. In other words, beloved, the BDF cannot fight a war because it has not been trained to do so.

A question we must ask ourselves as Belizeans is this. How is it that in the face of an unfounded claim by our neighbour we have not invested in our own defence? We have had thirty-seven years to build a credible defence and we have done nothing to preserve our 8,867; such that we now foolishly believe that the ICJ is the solution, never mind the obvious perils.

A pivotal moment in the history of the BDF was in 1995 when the Minister of National Security, Dean Barrow, deployed the BDF to the streets of Belize City. As a young officer I complained bitterly that such a move would weaken Belize’s defenses even further. But then, as now, officers have been cultured to think of one thing and one thing only: becoming the “General.” And to become the “General” one must have an appetite for the posterior of politicians. So none of the senior officers cared anything about the consequences that I warned about and which were sure to come.

Soldiers are not policemen and any sustained deployment of soldiers in such a role, “police duties,” dullens his combat edge. During my last patrol along the western border I had a hard time getting some of the soldiers to think and act as such. I saw the effects of “police duties” first hand and it troubled me. I left the BDF in 2004 and it would take the BDF another decade to get off the streets of Belize City. While the BDF was deployed against its own people in Belize City the Guatemalans had free range in the Chiquibul.

Editor’s Note: Look out for Part II in next week’s issue of the Reporter.

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