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‘Colonial legacy’ of British army lives on in Belize

Soldiers are free to rehearse jungle warfare in the Central American country's rainforests, one of the world’s most biodiverse areas

THE British army is using one of the world’s most biodiverse countries as a military training ground and paying nothing for it, it was revealed yesterday.

An audit by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), unearthed by Declassified UK, shows that soldiers are free to rehearse jungle warfare across a sixth of Belize, including in protected forests.

The Central American country, roughly the size of Wales, is home to critically endangered species and ancient Mayan ruins. Shockingly, the British army does not pay a penny to the former colony for use of the land.

The MoD’s audit, published in 2017, found that its activities, which include detonating grenades and firing live ammunition, poses a risk to nature as well as archaeological sites. It showed that the army trains in the Rio Bravo conservation area, a protected forest that is home to over 400 species of birds and the highest density of jaguars in the country.

The MoD told Declassified UK that its activities contributed to the local economy through the creation of jobs. However, the investigative website pointed out that the ministry’s own audit disproves this claim: the army’s presence only contributes £2.7 million to the economy, equivalent to 0.23 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

The audit also recognises the risk to Belize’s Mayan heritage sites as a result of shooting – and vandalism – by soldiers.

Belize expert and geography professor at Ohio State University Joel Wainwright said that the similarities between the British military’s exploitation of Belize’s forests in the past and now is striking.

“The claiming and plunder of Belize’s forests was the foundation of the British colonial project, so the legacy of colonial rule is unmistakable,” he said.

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