Yesterday we brought you the story of the Mennonite Farmer and his workers who say they were kidnapped by Guatemalan soldiers, taken across the border, and detained for hours before being released and allowed to return to Belize. We also told you that police apparently have some issues with the farmers’ account of the incident, in fact, accusing the farmer’s worker of plotting to kidnap his boss for whom he has been working for some 20 years. Here again is his account of his interaction with Belizean police.
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
Both Roger Plett and his worker Manuel Ayala, maintain that the story of their run in with Guatemalan military is true. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been tight lipped about the incident, not commenting publicly on it at all. In fact, according to media reports, a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that they had been able to verify with the O.A.S. that no military personnel from Guatemala were in that border area behind Spanish Lookout. At yesterday’s press briefing held by Plett, he says he doesn’t understand why authorities would try to cover up the incident. He says he was sure that the men he encountered were Guatemalan military.
Roger Plett, Detained by Guatemalans: Not all of them were armed. I would say probably….there was a good amount of them that were armed. They had…I recognized them as machine guns. The guy in charged had a machine gun and he had a next weapon in a holster by his chest area. Each soldier had a machete; each machete I recognized had a name on it. I can’t remember the names on the machetes that I saw on the machetes, but each one had a name in white written on the machete. And each one had a black rope over their shoulder and they had a rank on this side here. I recognized some; they had like an arrow pointing up on the right shoulder and the kind of hats they were wearing was the bigger ones with the loose fabrics around the outside. We have been working there for many years and this is not the first time that we have seen the Guatemalan military come into the Belizean side. This is a reoccurring thing, this is just the first time that they managed to get a hold of me and tie me up. We have had many times where they come across the border and talk to our workers there, the ranch people that take care of the ranch. So this is just the first time that they got a hold of me and tied me up.
As we told you, the Plett farm lies on the border with Guatemala, and the entire incident started as a result of a fire that Plett and his workers say they were trying to extinguish. That fire on Thursday was also captured from on high by Roger Plett’s drone and is what led to his detention by the Guatemalan military as his team tried to extinguish it.
Roger Plett, Detained by Guatemalans: That is what we were trying to do. That is why the following day one Friday we rushed out there with the drone to get some footage because I knew if we could get some footage of them then this was solid. But we could not get any photos of them in the police side. I was asked by the police station why I did not take photos of the Guatemalan military, I told them are you crazy?! I’m not stupid, the guy asked why would I say that, well if I am taking pictures of them I would be provoking them, I’m not going to do something like that, I’m smarter than that.
Our news team went hiking yesterday to the border area where evidence of a fire could still be seen, a fire that was also reported about in Guatemala’s Prensa Libre, in which it accuses the Belizean farmers of starting. Plett says they were using their tractor and bulldozer to fight against the fire, causing fire breaks. Clear tracks made by the tractor and bulldozer were still visible in the ashes when our team visited the area on Monday, branches still smoldering as wisps of smoke filled the air. The farmers lead our team down the clearing that they were taken by the Guatemalans, a clearing with an actual cement border marking in the middle. The men showed us that they were taken well beyond the marker by the Guatemalans who tied up Plett and damaged his tractor. Plett was only released because he stated that he was a Canadian national. The border marking in the ground clearly indicated that the fire that Plett and his workers were fighting were on the Belizean side of the border and shows that the Guatemalan military crossed over into Belizean territory to get to the Belizean farmers and clearly took them some ways into the Guatemalan territory. The men were eventually were eventually allowed to go but not before the tractor was damaged; a part of it still lying on the cleared pathway when our news team was there.
Roger Plett, Detained by Guatemalans: While I was walking out I noticed that they had brought the tractor across the border line into the Guatemalan side. When I reached the tractor they started taking pictures of me getting back into the tractor. But I personally believed they wanted the tractor to stay there. They thought the tractor was too damaged for me to bring it back out. I saw that the left front tire was completely off of the rim. The step was bent back against the tractor tire. My spare tank with the water at the back was broke, all bent with a couple pieces broken off. When I climbed back into the tractor I saw that the steering wheel was broken and hanging to one side, but then they told me all right, you can go now, leave. But with the tractor so damaged I didn’t know how I was going to bring it out. But since I know my equipment very good. I managed to keep a rock under the axle to keep the tire in the air and I brought the tractor out using the side brakes. The side brakes – you have one for the right tire and one for the left tire. Like that I brought the tractor out, steering the tractor with the brakes
Those tractors are back in Belizean territory now, along with their drivers. The Belizeans explain that it was both the Guatemalan military and civilians who damaged their equipment before letting them into the Belize side of the border. While the farmers are sticking to their story, we are yet to hear from officials from wither the Governemtn or police. As we told you, police in Cayo had told us they would give the media an interview but after the interview with Plett and Ayala, when we got to San Ignacio, the OC was unavailable. At this point, we are unsure of the status of the investigation as it relates to not only the police, but also to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or even the OAS because according to the farmers, the media were the first to visit the site of the incident on Monday even though the incident ocured from last week Thursday.