By Captain Elton Bennett Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard: On the 27th November 2019 I took Command of a Belize Coast Guard that is in line with its vision – an Apex institution highly trained motivated and resource capable of enforcing maritime laws to the limits of our sea spaces.
The men and women of the Coast Guard is a true representation of the Nation of Belize from every district, a broad representation of ethnicity, bridging the gender gap; and we share one thing in common—the love for country and the desire to serve.
Coast Guard men and women are deployed around the clock patrolling our internal waters and territorial seas. On the northern frontier our joint operating base at Consejo protects our local economy from the negative impacts of illegal contraband and acts as the northern cut off for drug trafficking. On our southern boundary we stand guard at the Sarstoon ensuring sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize. We stand ready for anything (Utrinque Paratus ).
Our brave men and women remain committed to the cause and we embrace the opportunity to serve. Our readiness is a demonstration of that commitment to the Belizean people. Like Petty Officer 2nd Class Trevor Vasquez and his crew on that emotional 20th day of December when they pulled 5 people from the sea after searching for seven hours from 3am that day. This is one side of the Coast Guard that we want the nation to see: our humanitarian efforts and our dedication to the Belizean people and foreigners traversing our sea spaces.
The next side of the Coast Guard is a very hard iron fist that is prepared to do organized violence on behalf of the Belizean people. Our foothold on the northern front (Ambergris Caye) pronounces that quite clear, and the organized criminal group that once thrive in that geographic area lost its foothold in June of this year when we established the Bacalar Chico Patrol Base. A similar operation on Northern Two Caye at Lighthouse Reef allows us to achieve our desired effect of deterrence of drug shipment though our jurisdictional waters.
This year we made a conscious effort to commence the integration of technology into our operations. The Joint Information Security System (JISS) is a step in the right direction to improve our decision-making cycle. The ability to capture, store, filter, analyse, and forward up and down the chain of command will significantly improve our decision-making cycle. The acquisition of tactical drones for surveillance, search, and target acquisition for strike operations is making our operations more effective. We are already in the deployment phase of employing drones for operations, and in early 2020 we will expand our drone capability.
Along our littorals we operate bases from eight marine parks and we directly support four Non Governmental Organizations to provide marine resource protection of our pristine maritime spaces. Our support to these entities to which we share common interest is essential to the national effort. The inter-agency approach is the key to our success.
Our international partners also play a crucial role in supporting the Belize Coast Guard. Our professional military education and training is a result of the international relationship that remains strong through 2019. The United States of America, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada and Taiwan, at the Multi National Security Conference in September of this year have all committed to continue to support the Belize Coast Guard. In that regard, one hundred and six (or 20%) Coast Guard personnel has been overseas for training and exercises in 2019. The exposure gained and expertise developed over the past year is one of the main reason for our high level professionalism that the nation has come to respect This international relationship saw the successful completion of the 4 year long commitment from the US Marine to support the development of the Coast Guard Marines. That program matured in September of this year, and we are now prepared to continue developing Coast Guard Marines.
As the Coast Guard broadens its scope it is evident that the there is a need to increase its strength. In November of this year we graduated the largest class since existence. Eighty five recruits joined our ranks. This is a demonstration of government’s commitment to the Belize Coast Guard. In addition to personnel administration, one hundred and six persons were promoted across the ranks. This is a steady progression and capacity building in the right direction.
As we look back into the wake of a very challenging 2019 we see the ICJ Referendum behind us, but we are mindful of the course that we have charted and the implications on national security and the roll of the Belize Coast Guard. As we look back, we also see the treacherous maritime environment in which we work where ten people lost their lives, and five are still missing. As the year closes, we are mindful of our responsibility to provide for the defence and security of this nation: we embrace that responsibility and we remain Utrinque Paratus.