By: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen
Canada is helping Belize to determine its defence policy even as tensions between the central American nation and neighbouring Guatemala continue to simmer over the killing of a 13-year boy by Belize soldiers.
Top military officers from Belize came to Ottawa in February for meetings and to receive advice from the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces on their country’s future defence strategy.
Belize is embroiled a border dispute with Guatemala, which deployed 3,000 troops in April to a disputed area between the two countries.
Luis Soto / Associated PressTwo men stand on a portion of a bridge damaged in Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala, on the Peten border with Belize, Thursday, Aug. 4, 201
Brig.-Gen. David Jones, commander of the Belize Defence Force (BDF), says the strategic defence review will outline the way ahead for the nation’s military for at least the next five years.
“It’s going to look at the tasks the government wants the BDF to achieve, how they are going to achieve it, and then to put together those resources that they need to achieve it,” he said this year. “So with the help of the Canadian government we are finalizing that document.”
Feliz Enrique of the Belize defence ministry said this week the U.S. and Britain are also being consulted.
Canadian officials have been helping Belize with its strategic review for several years.
The February trip allowed officials from Belize to seek “additional expertise in areas such as capability based planning, investment planning, accrual accounting, budgeting, and full life-cycle costing for equipment acquisitions,” said Ashley Lemire, a spokeswoman for the Department of National Defence.
“Moving forward, Canada and Belize have agreed to continue cooperation on defence planning, recognizing that Canada is currently undertaking its own review.”
The Guatemala troop deployments occurred after the 13-year-old was shot dead.
Guatemalan officials claimed the youth and his family were attacked as they planted crops near the border.
But Belize’s government said security forces investigating illegal land clearing in a national park had detained a Guatemalan man.
Later that night, the Belizean patrol was attacked and returned fire in self defence. The boy’s body was found the next morning.
Belize is of growing importance to the Canadian government due to the increasingly precarious security situation in Central America
On May 19, Belize accused Guatemalan troops of kidnapping a Belizean farmer. It has asked the Organization of American States to investigate that and other live fire incidents on the border.
The shootings are the latest incidents in a dispute between the two countries over Guatemala’s claims to territory governed by Belize.
Canada’s role in Belize’s security has increased over the years because of concerns Mexican drug cartels were making inroads in the country.
The Canadian Forces has delivered non-lethal aid – binoculars, military clothing, helmets and boots – to Belize security forces. Canadian special forces teams have also helped train the BDF.
“Belize is of growing importance to the Canadian government due to the increasingly precarious security situation in Central America, particularly along the Belize-Mexico border,” the department said a March 2012 briefing note prepared for then-defence minister Peter MacKay.