Last week , PlusNews broke the story of a Mennonite farmer who was working on his farm in Green Hills, Spanish Lookout, when Guatemalan soldiers came over and took him into Guatemala, tied him up and only released him three hours later when he told them that he was Canadian. And while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has remained tight-lipped about the incident and Police have released no information regarding it, today we were able to get the story from Roger Plett, the farmer who was taken over to Guatemala, along with one of his workers.
Roger Plett, Abducted to Guatemalans: I was in the tractor when suddenly there was ten military persons and there was like five persons in similar clothing that came running out of the forest. They were military and surrounded the tractor and one person in civilian clothing came and started beating his machete against the side of the tractor door, yelling in Spanish and telling me to get out of the tractor. Me, for fear of my life, I didn’t try to run with the tractor; I climbed out of the tractor. When I climbed out of the tractor, the military men, the men in camouflage clothing came and surrounded me. The guy in charge then pushed me towards the forest, telling me to walk. So I started walking towards the forest, towards the Guatemalan side. When we reached the fire line that they had chopped in the forest, we walked Southward. When we reached to a patch of heavy smoke. One of the military guys he shove me on my back and said run. I didn’t comply right away because I didn’t understand why I was supposed to run. He shove me again in the back and he said I said run so I started running. So we came out of the smoke and I saw that there was another fifteen or twenty military persons and a next twenty people in civilian clothing. There was around five of them with like a sand color overcoat and a logo on the side.the guy in charge—he is a lighter-skinned man—he grabbed me on the right arm. And I knew this was going to be trouble for me so I pulled out my phone and called Manuel Ayala, my co-worker. And I managed to get the call through before the guy took the phone away. They started walking me further along the road and I asked the guy why do you have me tied up. where are you taking me? And the guy told me someone has to take the fault Someone has to be to blame for the fire. Then I told them I am not the one setting the fire, I am the one outting the fire, he said that doesn’t matter. Then I asked him where are you taking me, then he said that is not important to you, we will talk more when we reach out there. I knew that if they took me away from the site, I knew they would not release me. I was thinking of what I could say. Then I came to the idea that I will tell them that I am a Canadian. I then told them you know what I am a Canadian and that I came from Steinback, Malatoba
It was only after he told the Guatemalans that he was a Canadian that they began to treat him better; telling him not to worry and that they needed his equipment to help out the fire. Interestingly Prensa Libre has also picked up the story stating the fire was started by Belizeans. Plett explained to the media that they were fighting the fire, not starting it, and that the fires across the border were from another fire in the area.
Roger Plett, Abducted to Guatemalans: Further in the Belizean side, we had a controlled fire. We had firelines, like I said we had our tractor, our loader, our grader there, so the fire wouldn’t cross over. We had the fire contained when we noticed about 500 meters to the South there was a fire starting. We had a fireline going from East to West so the fire couldn’t cross over that way but now the fire started on that side of the fire line. So we took our equipment and we started opening our fireline closer to the borderline so the fire on that side wouldn’t cross over. We did not set fire to that piece, but since we had a fire here going we went so it wouldn’t cross into the Guatemalan side by opening another fireline. But with the high gust of winds, the fire still jumped the fireline that we had there but we did not set fire to that fire there. Our fire was contained, this was another fire that was started further down south.
Manuel Ayala has been working with the Plett family for over 20 years and is in charge of the farm. He had reported the Thursday incident to his boss and was trying to secure the driver of the Bulldozer, Riojelio, that the Guatemalans had commandeered to fight the fire on the Guatemala side.
Manuel Ayala, Manager for the farm: So as i told you before, I am the guy in charge of the area and I should know things that are happening. I called Rohelio and I said to him, ey what happened. He replied and said, the military has me hold up. I asked him, how many of them? He said 14. So at that moment Roger Plett said, Manuel, he came quickly at me and said Manuel, lets take tehe drone, and we’ll fly over there and see where the soldiers are because according to Rohelio, the soldiers were near the tractors that he had left the evening before. SO i answered the phone and said Please be generous and bring our equipment here to help us out the fire. But before that we noticed that there was no fire on the screen. so when I received this call I told Roger this is not going to happen, I’m not going to send any equipment in there because we noticed there was no fire so why were they asking us to take our equipment in there to out fire inside Guatemala. So we flew it around brought it back, the drone. After that I received a call from Corporal Young.
Corporal Young is the Belize Police officer sent to investigate what was happening in Green Hills. But that is where the story began to turn. Ayala says that the police, without properly investigating what happened, and beside refusing to take their statement to say that the men were Guatemalan military, began to accuse him of plotting the kidnapping of his boss, in the middle of a fire, and after having worked for them for over 20 years.
Manuel Ayala, Manager for the farm: So at that point they asked Roger and I, if we are willing to go make a formal report in San Ignacio, of course we will. So when they left we went behind them, we reached to the Police Station and made the statement. So after we made the statement and everything was okay, I was ready to come out and they said you’re not going I ask why. They say “mischievous act.” I said what. In this situation how could we play a role, when this is an international issue. We cannot put ourselves and others in danger in this thing as they called a “mischievous act.” That’s not a mischievous act. So I was detained for questioning, now they took my phone, and I have the messages there. So in the evening I was about to be released and they say no you are not going home. They say Rosado say you are detained. For what? So the issue from borderline change to bio-farm and I said but how? I’m not involved in anything like that, but anyway they say I will be detained – I am not resisting arrest.
The men say that for them, even after a harrowing ordeal, the Belizean officials want to cover the story, or change what happened, though they say they are telling the truth.
Manuel Ayala, Manager for the farm: What I faced there is not something easy for me. I was embarrassed, my reputation went down because other people like ‘hey you what Manuel is a criminal.’ I’m not afraid to speak out. I want to tell all Belizeans don’t be afraid to tell the truth.
The OC of the San Ignacio Police department had offered to give the media an interview but when the media arrived in San Ignacio he was unable to give an interview that would have explained why the police behaved as they did. We will have more on this story tomorrow.