Belize, located on the northeastern coast of Central America, wants to partner with its regional neighbors to defeat a common enemy: transnational organized crime. Just 290 km long and 110 km wide, Belize confronts some of the same security threats as Mexico and Guatemala, with whom it shares borders on the west and north.
Major Jermaine Nolan Burns, the commanding officer of the Belize Defence Force Air Wing and Special Boat Unit, believes that partnering with the United States and the Central American countries is fundamental in their fight against transnational organized crime.
Maj. Burns enlisted as an officer candidate of the Belize Defence Force in June 2000. Since then, he’s risen in ranks with the goal of finding new ways to counter criminals.
As he told Diálogo at the Central American Air Chiefs Conference, which took place on December 12th-13th 2016, in Tucson, Arizona, sharing information and intelligence are fundamental techniques that countries can leverage to counter the threats to their security.
Diálogo: What is the importance of your presence at the Central American Air Chiefs conference?
Major Jermaine Nolan Burns: The importance of being here with all the other Central American air chiefs is for us to share information on how we can develop new tactics to combat transnational organized crime from an aviation perspective. It’s very important for us to share information because if we don’t collaborate, and instead try to fight this situation on an individual basis, it will definitely mean failure. The way criminal networks are working these days is that they depend on their partners from the different countries they are operating in for them to succeed; so that is the same approach that the military has to take in order for us to combat these crimes. Being with the other Central American air chiefs helps us to look at where the voids are and decide how we can go about to fill them, discussing where the problem is and how each is combating them in their individual country. We try to model our tactics from what each other does essentially through evaluating our successes.
Diálogo: What is your country looking to achieve with its participation at this annual event?
Major Burns: The country of Belize and more so the Belize Defence Force is looking to the hosting nation, which is the United States, for further development, cooperation, and military funding. We are also looking at the way the other air elements of the Central American countries conduct their business because we are very elementary in the aviation field. Most of those countries are much more mature than we are. Our country is so young, and our participation here helps us to look at ways of how our neighboring countries look at their issues in order for them to succeed. If it is a good model for them, maybe it can be a good model for our defense forces or aviation assets, so we can succeed as well.
Diálogo: What are your country’s most important security concerns?
Major Burns: In terms of security, we have some internal and external aggression. Our internal aggression, like that of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, is mostly the gang issues from the youth. At this conference, I have been able to engage with the Louisiana National Air Guard and the Joint Interagency Task Force-South to talk about different topics about our partnership for the reform school program. With this partnership, we take youths from the streets that are in trouble to place them into an education program. The final goal is to send them back into society hoping that they won’t go into gangs and other illicit activities. In terms of external aggression, we have the same transnational organized crime that is plaguing all Central American countries. Belize is being used as a drug transit point. Airplanes are landing in clandestine places in the country. Human trafficking is a problem, and a lot of drugs are passing through the country trying to make their way up to the corridor into the Mexican area and up to the United States. Belize, like Guatemala, which is our neighbor over to the west, is just used as a transshipment point. This is a security concern because it affects our civil population that is involved with these kinds of crimes.
Diálogo: Why are the collaboration, partnerships, and exchanges among partner nations, including the United States, so important in achieving a common criterion to fight transnational organized crime?
Major Burns: The level of partnership that we have with the United States is through our Joint Intelligence and Operation Center. The center is the main intelligence and operations focus for law enforcement agencies including the Belize Defence Force, the Coast Guard, the Police Department, and the Belize Customs and Immigration units. It is all the law enforcement in one building and we have a cooperating nation’s information exchange system, where our radar service is shared to track illegal aircraft flying in our region. We also have a chat system where we are able to talk and collaborate with all the Latin American countries and their signatories to this program. We are able to exchange intelligence in order for us to combat the organized crime that is passing through our countries. For example, Colombia could instantly reach us through our operations center to inform us that there is an aircraft that left the country, which they suspect is an illegal airplane, so we can coordinate further action. These partnerships are very important, and it is so fundamental we maintain these programs with information sharing.
Diálogo: As an observer of the System of Cooperation among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA), what are the most important benefits for Belize?
Major Burns: It ties back to the information sharing. Although we are only in the observer seat, it helps us to, first of all, see what other Latin American countries are doing. We rate their successes and see if it is applicable to a country like Belize. It is also important for looking at where Belize can capitalize on information sharing with these countries and forge the relationship between the different security agencies in the region.