Armed Forces Overviews
Belize

Belize Defence Force

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By Wim Sonneveld

History In the opinion of its Spanish conquerors, Belize was a backwater, good only for its harvestable logwood, which was used to make dye. The country had no obvious riches to exploit and no great population to convert for "the glory of God" and the profit of the conquerors. Far from being profitable, Belize was dangerous, because the barrier reef tended to tear the keels from Spanish ships attempting to approach the shore.

The lack of effective government and the safety afforded by the barrier reef attracted English and Scottish pirates to Belizean waters during the 17th century. They operated mostly without serious hindrance, capturing Spanish galleons heavily laden with gold and other riches from Spain's American empire. In 1670, however, Spain convinced the British government to clamp down the pirates' activities. Most of the pirates, now unemployed, went into the logwood business. In the 1780s the British actively protected the former pirates' logging interests, at the same time assuring Spain that Belize was indeed a Spanish possession. This was a fiction. By this time, Belize was already British by tradition and sympathy, and it was with relief and jubilation that Belizeans received the news on September 10, 1798, that a British force had defeated the Spanish armada off St George's Caye. Belize had been delivered from Spanish rule, a fact that was ratified by treaty some 60 years later.

The country's new status did not bring prosperity, however. Belize was still essentially one large logging camp, not a balanced society of farmers, artisans, merchants and traders. When the logwoord trade collapsed, killed by the invention of synthetic dyes, the colony's economy crashed. It was revived by the trade in mahogany during the early 19th century, but this collapsed too, when African sources of the wood brought fierce price competition.

Belize's next trade boom was in arms, ammunition and other supplies sold to the Maya rebels in Yucatan who fought the War of the Castes during the mid-19th century. The war also brought a flood of refugees to Belize. First came the whites and their mestizo lieutenants, driven out by the wrath of the Maya; then came the Maya themselves when the whites regained control of Yucatan. The Maya brought farming skills that were of great value expanding the horizons and economic viability of the Belizean society. In 1862, while the USA was embroiled in the Civil War and unable to enforce the terms of the Monroe Doctrine, which closed the Western Hemipshere to colonization, Great Britain declared Belize its colony, calling it British Honduras. The declaration encouraged people from many parts of the empire to settle in Belize, which accounts for the country's present- day ethnic diversity.

The Belizean economy worsened after World War II, leading to agitation for independence in the United Kingdom. Democratic institutions and political parties were formed over the years, and self-government eventually became a reality. On September 21, 1981, the colony of British Honduras officially became the indepedent nation of Belize. As a member of the Commonwealth, Belize recognizes the British monarch as its head of state. The Crown is represented on Belizean soil by the governor-general, who is appointed by the monarch with the advice of the prime minister, the actual political head of Belize.

Source: Lonely planet

Belize Defence Force

The Belize Defence Force was established in January 1978, about three years before the country gained it's independence from the United Kingdom. Defence of the tiny country was garanteed for years by the British Forces Belize (BFB) when it was still a colony known as British Honduras. After it's independence in September 1981 training was taken more and more serious and focused on enabling the Belize Defence Force to deal with basic threats to the new Belizean sovereignty.

The threats mainly came from neighboring Guatemala, which country continues to claim large areas of Belizean soil in order to secure it's small Caribbean coastline and single port. Guatemala itself fought a bloody civil war throughout the seventies and eighties, adding to instability in the region and the risk of seeking a common enemy for the divided nation. To deal with the threat and to give a clear statement to the Guatemalan military government the Royal Air Force maintained the 1417 flight equipped with Harrier GR3s and 1563 flight with Puma HC1 helicopters, showing that the defence of Belize's sovereignty was taken up seriously by the United Kingdom.

In 1983 the Belize Defence Force Air Wing was formed and based at Belize City - Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport, next to the main base of the Belize Defence Force and British Forces Belize at Price Barracks in nearby Ladyville. The HQ of the Belize Defence Force is in Belmopan, the country's capital. The main tasks of the Air Wing are reconnaissance, SAR, casevac, aerial resupply and troop lift. Two Britten-Norman Defenders were bought in Britain and formed the backbone of the air wing for years. The two aircraft could be equipped with light armament as rocketpods, torpedoes and guns, making them the first armed aircraft in Belizean history. The British Force Belize maintained a strong position throughout the eighties and it was only in 1990, twelve years after its formation, that three Belizeans took command of the Belize Defence Force as Commandant of BDF, Guard Commander, Commander of Air & Maritime Wing.

In 1991 the Guatemalan government recognized the self determination of the Belizean people, ten years after it's independence. This statement meant a significant alternation in Guatemala's foreign policy. This step was followed in 1992 by a declaration of the Guatemalan president of the recognition of the independent state of Belize and the establishment of diplomatic relation between the two countries. Following this de facto declaration of peace the RAF Harriers were withdrawn from Belize in 1993 followed by the Puma helicopters in 1994 marking the disbandment of the British Force Belize (BFB). The BDF assumed total defence responsibility on January 1, 1994.

The United Kingdom continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School. The only British flying unit left in Belize was the Army Air Corps 25 Flight equipped with the Bell 212 and based at Price Barracks, Ladyville. However, this unit returned to the United Kingdom by the of September 2011.

In the mid-nineties the Air Wing was expanded by a Cessna 182 and a Slingsby T67M-260 basic training aircraft, the latter acquired in 1996 in Britain and marking another step towards self-reliance of the Belize Defence Force by training the Air Wing's own pilots. Tragedy however struck in October 1998, when one of the Defenders (serialled BDF-01) crashed in a swampy area southeast of Indian Church in the Orange Walk District. The wreckage of the aircraft was recovered by a US Army Chinook helicopter flown in from Panama in April 1999, but the aircraft could not be brought back to flying status. Instead, a replacement aircraft was obtained in 2003.