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The Next Level Of Security

September 21
15:14 2019

By: Neri O. Briceño

Firstly, I want to commend Commissioner of Police Chester Williams and all the brave personnel who took part in the recent drug operation. Putting one’s life at risk for country is probably one of the greatest sacrifices that one can make. This operation has demonstrated to Belizeans, the entire international community and the Americans who are our largest supplier of ‘intel,’ equipment, resources and financing in the fight against illicit narcotics, that yes, we can. After countless narco-planes have landed literally all over the country, success at last. This operation is a clear demonstration that despite corruption at the highest levels of government, within the private and public sector and even in the security forces themselves, Belizeans are capable, willing and ready to defend the sovereignty of our nation from what has become a foreign invasion fleet.

It appears to be early in the investigation, but if what the Commissioner said to the media holds true, then we have actually been invaded by a foreign force in the form of the narco-cartels from the north. This is now at a higher level and Belize will now need to prepare itself to rack up the security level because we are dealing with organizations that have at their disposal resources and manpower several times the GDP of Belize and men in the thousands. There is no doubt that after discovering the ‘soft underbelly’ route to the lucrative illicit narco-trade in the north, the cartel will continue to probe at it for further success and that this one setback, will not be the last try.

Belize, on the other hand, needs to take its investigative capacity to another level within the nation, where finances can be probed because this is the backbone of what makes this trade successful. I am fully convinced that this was not an entirely foreign clandestine operation, unless the Mexican, Honduran and Ecuadoran who were apprehended were living in the country for months. There had to have been local support either in manpower, logistics, resources and knowledge. I am always perplexed when the Police Department finds it difficult to track the source of aviation fuel, known in the industry as Avgas or Avjet because these products have specific identifiers as to where they originated.

The product used in Belize via the Puma terminal originates from the US Gulf Coast and the only other close source would be from PEMEX in Mexico. The two products while similar are distinctly different for the simple fact that they originate from different wells and from two different types of crude. A simple test would quickly identify the source of any aviation product found. If the product is determined to be from within Belize or in other words legitimately purchased from Puma through a third party, then there is documentation as to who the purchaser can be since Puma does not sell aviation products to just anyone who pulls up at their gates. One has to have a valid permit from the government to purchase and store aviation products before Puma can even start to think about selling.

The company also keeps careful documentation of who is purchasing, how often and in what quantities. There are but a handful of people who use these products – namely the local airlines, the agriculture industry for airplanes that spray crops, which is mainly the Mennonites, the banana industry and to some degree the sugar industry. The customer/purchaser on the other hand, under the terms of their licenses must keep accurate documentation of usage including gallons used per flight. Any discrepancy would be easy to detect if one were to check since plane flight hours and gallonage are logged. For example, an aircraft cannot fly 10 hours and use 200 one month and then the following month fly the same number of hours and then use 300. This would be an immediate red flag and something that needs further investigating.

Then there is the question of the clandestine airstrips which are so easy to construct. To me the mere fact that an airstrip was in place tell us that locals are involved. I would dare to say that in the entire country of Belize, there are maybe 200 pieces of equipment that have the capability of building a makeshift airstrip. This type of operation would involve at the least a bulldozer and grader. Again, if you look at the construction road building industry there are only a few people countrywide who have this equipment. Logic dictates that if someone wants a plane to land in the south and therefore needs a makeshift airstrip there, they will not be getting equipment all the way from Cayo, Corozal or Orange Walk, since that would attract too much attention, therefore they would rather procure it locally. This again narrows down the number of prospects considerably.

The level of investigative process we should be looking at now is to be able to look into potential suspect accounts and probe the source of funds as compared to the projects they are undertaking. This is the level we must now be at to deter and combat the type of players that Belize as a nation is dealing with. This is not rocket science, but it requires a different kind of skillset because we cannot be using 1960s techniques in 2019.

What the nation requires at this point is a national investigative service with elements from all the security forces, the military, the tax department, GOB, IT unit and the Financial Intelligent Unit that will be tasked with dealing with crime both at the national and international level. The point has been reached where the interest, economy, the people and the state as a whole need to be protected from threats both foreign and domestic, because our survival depends on it.

It’s all about the people.

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