The Land of the Free Takes on Organized Crime
By Dialogo March 07, 2013 Brig. Gen. Jones: Our biggest challenge is the narco-trafficking that is passing through coming from South America, going up Central America and then eventually to the United States. It is a big challenge for us because with that concern, it brings the violence and crime locally to Belize, and with the local violence, people are concerned. The public is traumatized and terrorized, and it affects our economy. It affects tourism in our country, which is one of our major income earners. And with the escalation of crime in Belize people are afraid to come to Belize, and we would like to stem that problem. So the challenge of the drugs that are actually passing through Belize is one of our biggest concerns. Brig. Gen. Jones: The interdiction team that we have is actually a combination of the Police Department, Customs, Immigration and also the Military. It’s mainly counter-narcotics. Their operation is intelligence-driven. So when they get information on any activity that is occurring within the country, or entering or leaving Belize to go across another border; their task is to do the interdiction and those counter-narcotics operations to hand them over for prosecution to get convictions from the law. It’s a new team in development and it is improving, and there are other ventures that are open to advance in Belize, such as establishing a Joint Operations Center and achieving more joint operations between agencies. Diálogo: Recently, the National Police and the National Defence were placed under the newly formed Ministry of National Security. From your perspective, how will this new structure impact the fight against drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and other challenges within your country? Brig. Gen. Jones: One of the important things that I can take home from this conference is the need for more information sharing, the need for intelligence gathering and in particular, cooperation between the represented nations that came here. It was an excellent opportunity for me to actually meet face-to-face with the other commanders of the rest of the Caribbean, because these are the same guys that I will need to work with; I can call them on the phone, I have their email address, we can discuss issues, we can discuss goals, strategies and move forward. And having JIATF-S here, who has been coordinating a lot of the counternarcotics operations and sharing information with us, it has been an excellent opportunity for us… It has been a very beneficial conference, and I’m looking forward to working with these guys and looking forward to meeting them again in future conferences like this. Diálogo: What is your vision for the Belize Defence Force, now that you were designated as its commander? Brigadier General David Jones: My vision for the Belize Defence Force is to improve the partnership and relations that we have, especially with SOUTHCOM and with the rest of the Caribbean nations, particularly geographically, where we are located, in Central America, because we [all the countries] are facing the same problems and we need to work together to solve these problems together. Apart from the drugs that are trafficked through, the weapons come along with it. Unfortunately, there’s a new trend in Belize; it is that young people are involved in crime. There are a number of gangs in Belize City, and we have evidence that some of the gangs are working with some of these narco-traffickers. These young people are killing each other and sometimes innocent people get injured, so it is a concern for us. The weapons seem to be coming from the north, from Mexico. Some of the weapons are traced all the way, coming in from the United States and a lot of weapons also come in from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. That’s an epicenter of where drugs are passing through before going into Mexico. Diálogo: What do you consider will be your biggest challenges? Diálogo: During 2012, the Belize Defence Force worked on developing the Territorial Watch Strategy. What is this strategy about? Interview with Brigadier General David Jones –Commander of the Belize Defence Force The French are regular participants in our courses, and we’ve also had students from Taiwan. We have had interest from Brazil to partner and be a part of our Jungle Warfare Instructor Course, and we would welcome them because they have good expertise as well, and we would like to work with them. Other members of the Caribbean, including Jamaica and Trinidad, they’re well aware of our Jungle Warfare Instructor Course and they are also participants who try to be in our course annually. We have restrictions on the Course because we don’t have the helicopter support that the British Army used to provide for us before. We’re seeking that assistance to get that helicopter support back, which is very necessary for casualty evacuation because, as you know, the jungle terrain can be very difficult and very challenging, and sometimes very dangerous to operate in. For example if you get bitten by snakes, you need to be evacuated quickly and without that helicopter support it could be challenging, and it could be disastrous if you don’t have that support, so that is the main restriction that we have now with our course. Brig. Gen. Jones: Well, it actually works very well because there’s more focus of effort in that the National Security Ministry includes the Police Department and the Military. It helps to have the ministry under National Security because the concerns we have with the Military and the Police in particular are worked out quite quickly, very easily because we have the same boss. So when we sit down to discuss problems and we discuss strategies, we come up with the same solution. It’s easier for us to get consensus from the same minister because he’s in charge of all of us. So because we’re under the same ministry, it is more beneficial than having these different departments separated. In this case it’s easier to get consensus and move forward. Brig. Gen. Jones: Well, we’re not actually developing a center. We actually have a Jungle Warfare Instructor Course in place that we run in Belize annually, and we get students in our course from Mexico, from other Central American countries including Guatemala, and we’ve had foreign students all the way from the Netherlands. Diálogo: Can you explain the Mobile Interdiction Team’s initiative developed in Belize? What are the clear results of this effort? Brig. Gen. Jones: Well, it is a strategy where we want to develop a good relationship with the rest of our partners in regards to the concerns that affect Belize. One of the major concerns is drug-trafficking, but also local crime in the streets. Local crime in the streets of Belize City is actually our national concern and it is where most of our resources are being used now to assist the Police Department. But part of the strategy is to involve all the stake-holders that are involved in the crime situation in Belize, so apart from the Belize Defence Force, we work a lot with the Police Department and we also work with the Customs Department, and the Immigration Department because we are all affected by the crime situation, and that also goes hand-in-hand with the concerns of narco-trafficking going across borders with Guatemala, with Mexico, and the relationship we also have with Honduras. So we are having close relations with these countries because we are actually all in the same boat. We are all affected by the crime situation and the national strategy needs to be in place for us, we’re working towards that with these partner nations. And of course the biggest supporter that we need to work with in regards to this strategy is SOUTHCOM because they provide us with the resources and technical expertise to ensure we reach the goals we would like to see come to fruition for our national strategy. During the Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Miami, Florida, on December 2012, then-Colonel David Jones from the Belize Defence Force, spoke with Diálogo about the main challenges his new position will face him with, including fighting drug trafficking, violence, and crime, all of which affect the tourism industry in his alluring country, just days before being promoted to Brigadier General, and taking over his new responsibilities as Commander of the Belize Defence Force. Diálogo: What experience are you taking back with you from the conference? Diálogo: I understand that, as one of the results of the creation of the National Security Ministry, Belize is working on establishing a Joint Operations Center. What will be the mission of this center? Is it going to be created following a certain model?