Brigadier General Azariel Loria, commander of the Belize Defence Force (BDF), is committed to bringing the BDF to the highest military standards of professionalism. He is leading the national fight against criminal organizations and working with the cooperation of international partners to confront transnational threats.
Brig. Gen. Loria spoke with Diálogo about his first year in command and the goals he has for the future of the BDF.
Diálogo: When you assumed command on December 2021, you committed to contribute to the stability, security, and prosperity of Belize. What have you been able to accomplish so far?
Brigadier General Azariel Loria, commander of the Belize Defence Force: I assumed command on December 21, 2021, and one month later we had the official change of command ceremony. We did accomplish many things last year. A week after the change of command ceremony, we co-hosted the Central American Security Conference with U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). In March 2022, we were pleased to receive the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Catherine Middleton, and in May, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador; for both visits we assisted with military protocol activities and cooperated with security matters. In May, we hosted Tradewinds with 22 countries attending it. In November, Hurricane Lisa made landfall in central Belize where our forces deployed as first responders to support with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. In addition to all of the main highlights, we continued with our regular exercises and operations along the borders to ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize.
Brig. Gen. Loria: It’s the first ever coca plantation eradication operation in Belize. It’s no secret that in the northern part of Guatemala, coca plantations were already being illegally cultivated prior to its discovery in Belizean territory; our intelligence sources warned that it could eventually be imported into Belizean territory, and it did! Unfortunately, we believe that persons from Belize and Guatemala in that area conspired and planted 130,000 coca plants that the BDF found and destroyed by fire.
Diálogo: BDF plays a critical role in securing Belize’s borders to curb illicit activities. What is new in terms of security cooperation with Mexico and Guatemala to prevent them?
Brig. Gen. Loria: In 2020, we halted border operations with the Mexican Armed Forces due to COVID-19. We, however restarted border operations and exercises with them as well as monthly meetings for information sharing purposes, which are focused to stem transnational threats such as narcotrafficking, contraband, illegal immigration, etc.
We also continue to engage with the Guatemalan Armed Forces where every three months our planners get together to plan patrols that are executed over a three months period.
Diálogo: The BDF expanded its fleet of vehicles in October 2022 with five new heavy duty trucks donated by the U.S. government to strengthen Belize’s capabilities for disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and border security. What were other recent achievements as part of the U.S.-Belize security cooperation?
Brig. Gen. Loria: The five donated trucks assisted us tremendously during our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations for hurricane Lisa and we’re very grateful for such a timely grant. We will be receiving a Cessna Caravan aircraft into our fleet retrofitted with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to assist with detecting and tracking drug planes and other illicit aircraft in Belizean airspace. We anticipate delivery in February or March 2023. Also, the U.S. military is about to complete construction of a much needed training center for our volunteer element to continue honing their training readiness.
Diálogo: How does BDF work with Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South)?
Brig. Gen. Loria: I’m pleased to state that the BDF has a liaison officer currently attached to JIATF South. We have the Joint Intelligence and Operations Center in Belize, which receives information regarding transnational threats that we readily share with JIATF South through our liaison and vice versa.
Diálogo: What is new between BDF and the Louisiana National Guard (LANG) as part of the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program?
Brig. Gen. Loria: We have been partnering with the LANG for more than 27 years. Last year, BDF personnel had a spike in health wellness concerns where suicidal tendencies were on the rise, therefore, we requested LANG assistance and they quickly responded by sending counselors and psychologists to render immediate attention to those that needed it. In May and June of this year, we will be deploying 150 soldiers from our forces to attend one month training at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana to fine-tune their skills. The goal with BDF and LANG is to continue nurturing our already robust partnership.
Diálogo: Noncommissioned officer (NCOs) or enlisted leader development has long been recognized as critical to maintaining a competitive advantage, and in recent years, many nations have embraced it. How is BDF working on the professional development of their NCOs?
Brig. Gen. Loria: The enlisted soldiers are the majority of our personnel. Enlisted personnel are the backbone of any armed force. We had a bilateral meeting with U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, commander of SOUTHCOM, where we requested training assistance, infrastructure development, and updating of training doctrine as we are trying to uplift the standards and proficiency of our NCOs.
Diálogo: How have the renovations of the buildings at Price Barracks, with support from SOUTHCOM, improved soldiers’ lives?
Brig. Gen. Loria: As we were going to host Tradewinds 2022, we requested assistance once again from SOUTHCOM to renovate two buildings that were earmarked to accommodate some of the international troops. Thereafter, the buildings were allotted to the light engineer company to be used as living quarters, which is making their lives better because at the end of the day, decent accommodations boost morale, and motivate them to deploy on operational commitments without reservations.
Diálogo: BDF Major Roberta Usher is attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Why is this selection important for the BDF personnel?
Brig. Gen. Loria: Maj. Usher got selected ― among of few international students ― to attend the school because of her military skills and experience. We’re very proud of her, and the course she would be undertaking is “operational heavy.” I know it will greatly assist the BDF when she returns to amend our operational doctrines where required. She will also be fully qualified to command a battalion.