The top brass of the Belize Coast Guard headed today to Bacalar Chico, a national park. The occasion was the groundbreaking ceremony for a forwarding operating base at the strategic site, which is the nearest point between Belize and Mexico near the bay of Chetumal. The area has mushroomed into a hotspot for drug trafficking and transnational crimes which means that when completed, it will serve to reduce the illicit activities in this area. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The northern end of Ambergris Caye is a remote location that is famous for its pristine sandy beaches and secluded luxury resorts. Its location near the Bay of Chetumal makes Bacalar Chico, as the area is otherwise known, an ideal transshipment point for the movement of narcotics into Mexico. This part of the island, regrettably, has been plagued by illicit activity.
Admiral John Borland, Commander, Belize Coast Guard
“The coast guard’s presence at northern Ambergris, as you refer to it as Bacalar Chico, the Boca Bacalar Chico Creek is just under a mile to my north. This entire area from Rocky Point to Boca Bacalar Chico has been a trouble spot over the recent years of my involvement as a law enforcement officer. It’s been plagued, as I would say, by a lot of illicit, illegal and criminal activity, mostly related to the transnational organized crime situation. The residents and owners of properties in this area have found it difficult to continue with their investment in developing this area because of the threats they face from that kind of activity.”
With numerous threats faced by residents and law enforcement in Bacalar Chico, it was necessary for there to be a permanent coast guard presence in this part of Ambergris Caye. According to Commander John Borland, the signal was sent in 2012 when there was an armed confrontation between the coast guard and drug runners in that vicinity.
Admiral John Borland
“So the coast guard became a part of this in 2005, working with San Pedro police. And it all came to a head in 2012, when a coast guard patrol came under contact, as we would say, ambushed by some people that were involved in transnational organized crime activity. Since then we began looking into the possibility of putting a permanent footprint out here in establishing some sort of permanent presence and one of the obstacles we faced was acquiring a piece of land. Eventually it came to the point where the lands commissioner and his surveyors came out here, did an onsite inspection and came up with a piece of government-owned property which is where we are standing today.”
John Saldivar, Minister of National Security
“This area has been selected for the construction of this base because it’s a strategic area in the security of not only San Pedro and Ambergris Caye, but also the rest of the country. It is an area where we’ve had serious problems with transnational crimes, especially those who work in collaboration with our local gangs and other international gangs in the transshipment of guns, in the transshipment of ammunition, in the transshipment of drugs especially. In the past, the coast guard has had difficulty patrolling this area to try to control, so with this permanent base we will now have a permanent footprint in the area that we are able to patrol properly and we should expect to see a reduction in the activities in this area. This is going to help us with respect to the crime situation in San Pedro which is fueled a lot by what takes place in northern Ambergris. It’s also going to help us in terms of Belize City with the gang activity because those gangs are also involved along with the international groups that use the area for these activities.”
Mayor Daniel Guerrero says that the construction of the base is long overdue, since his town council has been pressuring government for the past six years to place an installation here.
Daniel Guerrero, Mayor, San Pedro Town
“It’s good for safety for the populace, I mean San Pedro since 2012, we’ve had really bad incidents, especially in this area, the Rocky Point, Robles, including Bacalar Chico where we are actually standing. We have been lobbying, the council has been lobbying through central government to put a base and actually it’s happening today. The groundbreaking, it will help. I must say that the Belize Coast Guard is doing an excellent job, before the inauguration of the groundbreaking and in talking to the tour guides, it’s very, very calm, very easy. They feel safe now. At one point it was not safe. So I am happy and I am very thankful to central government on doing the groundbreaking and putting the base.”