The BDF Boot camp in Cayo Camp Belizario has endured some body blows from the disgruntled families members of the youths enrolled or formerly enrolled at the camp. They alleged that the BDF used excessive force on the youths. But in response to that, the BDF deflected those allegations and stated that disciplinary actions had to be taken to control the youths who had launched into an all out gang war at Camp Belizario.

But while that’s what went wrong at the camp – yesterday when we visited, we also tried to find out what was going right. Courtney Weatherburne has that story:…

Courtney Weatherburne Reporting

The environment at Camp Belizario is not your usually boot camp setting. The serene, spacious setting inspires a sense of relief and relaxation. But while it is a quite inviting environment, it speaks nothing of the regimentation that governs the camp.

We took a tour of the facility to get a picture of what really happens at Camp Belizario.

Sports and Physical training are an integral part of the program.
When we visited, we saw the youths interacting freely without any sign of hostility, but getting them to this pointhas not been an easy task for the BDF.
The soldiers demand and enforce discipline: it means waking up at dawn, making up their beds to military specification and scrubbing the bathrooms.

Brigadier General David Jones, BDF Commander

"They were saying no, even their parents don't tell them what to do like that, so why should we listen to you? So that was the initial dilemma when we got here with these kids."

It didn’t go down easy for youths who have been cultured to defend their turf. Two explosive brawls erupted and to de-escalate tensions, the BDF transferred 16 youths to D’Silva Camp in Mountain Pine Ridge.

Lt. Col. A. Loria, Camp Commander

"I will say that they were not ready to integrate with the younger kids, so we had to separate them and the only we could have done that is to send them to D’Silva; We have another camp there so they can be separated. "

And while the 16 youths are back and re-integrating, they’re only here for four to 6 weeks – hardly enough for a personal transformation:

Brigadier General David Jones

"This programme, I believe should need to be a minimum of a year or even 2 years for some of these kids. Just get them away completely from that environment."

But in the little time they have, they are loading them up with lessons in clean living:

Brigadier General David Jones

"This is not the purview in the Belize Defence Force, this is not one of our tasks. We've been tasked to get it done, and as good soldiers we will do our best to get it done. We know how to enforce discipline but commensurate with that what we ensure we do is to get the people with the expertise to come in; People who are professional counsellors, people who know a bit about psychology, people from in that who know about drugs, drug related incidences to come in and speak to these kids."

But, might these boy soldiers not also make good BDF soldiers?

Brigadier General David Jones

"Well most of these kids are underaged. This is a start for them, the discipline because, before going to work on the border, before becoming a soldier you need to be trained and when you become a soldier it means you have that level of discipline and you have learnt the different skills. These kids at the moment don't have the level of discipline and they don't have the skills but with time these kids can learn, have that discipline and that anger can be channeled for a positive use of the country, but that is a way off. Can we achieve it? Yes, we definitely can."

But right now Jones just wants them to consider non violence:

Brigadier General David Jones

"6 weeks, after this 6 weeks is over they may work exactly to how we want. The problem will be when they go back into society, what will happen when they go back there? Is it enough for them to change their mentality when they go there. We want these guys to go back into society, back to Belize City with a different mentality than what they came here with. To solve problems peacefully instead of violence being the first resort."

53 youths started the camp and 30 remain. Or make that 29, because while we were there one more left. His story is interesting because he was just picked up by police and taken to the camp without the consent or knowledge of his mother. Police either got him to sign the authorization, or just sent him up – a kind of state abduction, which we have learned, has happened in more than one case.

Channel 7