Five Belizean’s, including PG Town Councilor Ashton McKenzie, have been charged for battery, in Guatemala after they were detained in Santa Cruz They had entered illegally through a route in Jalacte and arrived in Santa Cruz sometime around 3:30 pm. The group decided to go and eat at a nearby restaurant and that is when they say they were approached by Guatemalan armed forces. They were questioned and told they had to leave. Plus News spoke to Ashton McKenzie who recounted the incident. McKenzie said they complied with the authorities who took them deeper into Guatemala and had them running for about four miles, guns pointed at them, according to McKenzie, until they stopped for a short water break. That is when things got a little sinister.
“After drinking the water that they offered us, we all stood up. The same officer who was off duty and intoxicated, he then instructed all the other officers to; present their arms, his second instruction was to crank their arms, and the third instruction was to aim at us. We were standing facing a pasture that was there. We were not looking at them any at all. At that time I said, this is it, we are going to die. They were very serious about what they were doing.
But the Guatemalan officials did not shoot at them. Instead they trekked for about a mile more until they met a military personnel on a mobile. McKenzie said they were searched and questioned, guns still pointed at them. From there they were escorted on the police mobile to San Louis to be processed at the Police Station. The group was then carted off to the court house where they took the statements from the arresting officer.
“When we arrived at the court house, the officer that was off duty went and put on his entire uniform and everything. That night, the judge only heard statements from him. So only his side of the events that took place. they did not take any statement from us. All they did was listen to the officer and took his statement. Good thing my college is a fluent Spanish speaker and he was able to recognize that the officer told a blatant lie about us. he said that he heard bottles being broken and when he arrived, we were all behaving rowdy and said that we were giving trouble – giving battery. “
They were escorted back to the police station where they were locked inside a police holding cell with other Guatemalan criminals. But after many pleas, the group was allowed to stay in an open space still under police guard. Meanwhile, Belizean authorities, who had already gotten wind of the situation were making some calls to try and resolve the matter. The following morning, on Sunday, the group was taken back to court where they were asked for a plea. Though they assert the charges were fabricated, they plead guilty for fear of further victimization.
“We thought that the best thing to do, even though we are not guilty, is to accept the charge so we can get out of the country as quick as possible.
Emanuel Pech– Plus TV Reporter
“What was the charge exactly?”
They charged us for battery and going against the good customs of the community, which is totally bogus. If anything, they did not charge us for illegal entry. They did not charge us for that. They charged us for giving battery and for going against the customs of the community which is totally falls. We were all sober. We were not giving any sort of trouble, we were not behaving disorderly or being misconduct.”
If you can recall earlier this year, Plus news ventured to the border of Jalacte. There we found the residents of the two adjoining villages: Jalacte, in Belize, and Santa Cruz, in Guatemala to exist in what appeared to be a very amicable situation as the two villages engage in constant trade. And according to the compromise between Belize and Guatemala any person found illegally in the adjacency zone should be escorted back to the border. McKenzie says that he was surprised by the arrest
“Sir, I have been to Jalacte, I know how the area operates. I know the people form Jalacte and people from Santa Cruz to be very amicable with each other. They engage in regular trade and goes to and forth. So, what incited this?”
Exactly, this is an area that is frequented by Belizeans and Guatemalans, especially Santa Cruz. A lot of Belizeans go over there on a daily basis and a lot of Guatemalans likewise traffic and come over and with no sort of problem. I was extremely terrified when we were in that situation there.”
A formal query has been lodged by Belize’s diplomatic officials and we understand that the OAS will be conducting an investigation into the matter to determine what really happened. This is the third encounter this year that Belizeans have had with the Guatemalan military, where signs of aggression have been perceived.