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.”
That location is the future site of a forward operating base. This morning, a brief groundbreaking ceremony was held to inaugurate the construction of the F.O.B.
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.”
Bacalar Chico is roughly a mile and a half from the Mexican border. The F.O.B. will be built by contractor Victor Aldana during a four-month period. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
Groundbreaking Ceremony Held for Coast Guard Station in Bacalar Chico
Today, August 24th, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a Coast Guard Forward Operating Base in Bacalar Chico, north of Ambergris Caye. After operating in the area for over three years under foot patrol, Coast Guard Officers will soon have a base for day- to- day operations.
Approximately a mile and a half from the Mexican border, the Bacalar Chico Coast Guard Station is an ideal location for the prevention of cross-border criminal activities such as drug trafficking, weapon trafficking, and illegal fishing. Operationally, the Coast Guard seeks to minimize the impact of criminal activities. The strategic importance of their presence in Bacalar Chico as law enforcement is to provide stability for economic prosperity.
A contract has been signed with Mr. Victor Aldana to construct the base within four months. The design of the facility is to house 16 officers, it will include a 30ft lookout tower, and a vessel will be assigned to the location. Present for the groundbreaking was Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar; Commandant of Belize Coast Guard, Admiral John Borland; Contractor, Mr.Victor Aldana; and Mayor of San Pedro Town, Mr. Daniel Guerrero, among other officials.
Ground was broken - but work is not scheduled to start until the end of September. After that it will take 5 to 6 months for completion.
Coast Guard To Establish Fixed Presence On Northern Ambergris Caye
So many times on the news, we've told you about the drug gangs of San Pedro, and all the murders fueled by their rivalries. A lot of those rivalries stem from wet drops which the cartels throw in the waters north of the island for their Mexican counterparts to pick up. But, the sea has no borders and those wet drops do often float into Belizean waters - causing murderous violence to erupt in the battle for those drugs.
And the border area of Northern Ambergris Caye is remote, as much as 20 miles north of San Pedro - and because of that it is also largely un-policed.
But now, the Coast Guard will erect a Patrol Base in Bacalar Chico. I went there today to find out more about it:..
Courtney Weatherburne reporting
The emerald blue waters off Northern Ambergris Caye are pristine and inviting. The rippling waves create for a calming effect.
But the coast guard see beyond the beauty, they see the dangers of the deep blue sea.
In July 2012, a BDF/Coast Guard patrol got a dose of how serious the threats are, when 4 heavily armed men who were camped out in Bacalar Chico, opened fire on them. That encounter is considered one of most dramatic law enforcement shootouts in history. The patrol killed 3 of the 4 men and they recovered a number of military grade weapons along with an assortment of tactical gear from the camps.
Gregory Soberanis, Belize Coast Guard "The camps that existed in this area at the time were all connected to the main hub of the criminal element in San Pedro. So they their own little mini forward operating bases in this area that they supported through their logistics line by sea and by land. So teams would be out here operating for the hub of the criminal element and logistically sustained out here, conducted their narco-trafficking activities and then move back into San Pedro Town."
And the Coast Guard has been trying to disrupt the flow of the narcotics trade in the area, but it is no easy task. The crafty drug traffickers still find a way to keep the lucrative trade going.
Well today, the Ministry of National Security and the Coast Guard broke ground for a long awaited permanent patrol base in the same infamous Bacalar Chico area
John Borland "The last 10 miles of Northern Ambergris has always been a troubled spot due to transnational organized criminal activity and the relationship with the local kingpins being a part of that organization. It's been hostile. There's been drug trafficking. There's been arms. There's been robberies. There's been murders and therefore the Coast Guard, a law enforcement unit is executing its law enforcement mandate saw the need to be out here permanently to regain control of this area. Just north of us in that direction is a place called "Banka Chinchurro" it's a huge flats that is often used for wet drops. The prevailing winds, tides and currents drift everything down to this same area here and this is what was driving a lot of the illegal activity in this area over the years where people are fighting over beach, fighting over turf - trying to gain control of what is drifting into the shores on Northern Ambergris."
But beyond securing the open sea, this patrol base will also assist the authorities on San Pedro, which is a pressure point for drug trafficking. The island has seen countless violent killings fueled by this drug trade.
Daniel Guerrero, San Pedro Mayor "I think it is a huge achievement for the government of Belize. It's good for San Pedro and I think for the entire country, because really and truly what happens here is the drug drift on the shores and we have the playadores and all that. So I think it's a big step to alleviate crime and it will be proactive also. The Coast Guard has been doing an excellent job after those crime happened and they have really taken over the coastline and I am more than sure that with having a base, it will even get better for us and for them."
The facility will house 16 officers including a 30 foot lookout tower, and a vessel.