Armed contrabandistas shot their way across the Western Border crossing with Guatemala one evening about two weeks ago causing a serious International Incident. Reports from the border have shown the Contraband business coming from the Benque Viejo Free Zone at the Western Border has escalated into a violent confrontation with Guatemalan SAT officers manning the crossing between Benque and Melchor de Mencos. The peaceful nature of this usually quiet and unarmed border crossing was shattered as two trucks loaded with suspected contraband successfully entered Guatemala territory by use of force at the heavily traveled legal border crossing at Melchor de Mencos, Peten.

The two trucks were reported to have come directly from the Benque Viejo Free Zone and refused to be inspected by Guatemalan authorities and opened fire on the border check point forcing the Guatemalan SAT officers to flee for their lives while the two trucks, suspected to be loaded with contraband, forced their way through the moveable barricade that is used to control traffic between Belize and Guatemala. This is a serious international incident and Guatemala has reported it to the OAS even though, ominously, there has been no mention of the incident in the press.

In response the Guatemalans have armed the border. Their previously unarmed SAT are now armed with side arms as well as additional security with the traditional pump shotguns and additional unseen security measures. The moveable barrier has been reinforced and doubled in size and there is a noticeable tension in the air.

The only response from the Belize side involves the opening of a smuggling trail that by passes the legal crossing. Benque Viejo Free Zone workers have opened a trail that starts at the guardhouse at the zone entry and proceeds south outside the Free Zone fence to the Mopan River, still in Belize territory. The contraband is crossed by canoe and then enters Guatemala by land on the southern outskirts of Melchor. This trail is used in daylight hours and is apparently guarded against intruders both by the Zone security as well as men loitering at the trail entrance. Trucks are unloaded by hand and the boxes are hustled along the trail, all in full view of the OAS office and Free Zone security staff. Border Management Agents have reported they have been told to look away and have been threatened with their jobs if they report the situation. This comes on the heels of the international crack down of contraband flowing from the Free Zones of Belize into both Mexico and Guatemala.

Late last week Guatemala authorities intercepted a truck carrying 2 million Chinese cigarettes attempting to leave Guatemala for Honduras. The driver jumped out and ran, abandoning the vehicle, and was not apprehended. Authorities say that the cigarettes came from a Free Zone in Belize. Additionally Mexican authorities busted 14 million Chinese cigarettes in Mexico City last week that are also reported to come from a Belize Free Zone. It would seem the contraband business is well established and operating from both Free Zones with complete impunity from the Belize Police and Customs, both Free Zone managements and the Government Minister responsible for those areas who is believed to be the Belize mastermind of the multi-national contraband ring.

Mr. David Ackerman is the C.E.O. of the Corozal Free Zone and Mr. Al Sattler is the C.E.O. of the Benque Viejo Free Zone. Mr. Sattler is also the close personal advisor of Minister of Trade Erwin Contreras. The Free Zones are directly under Minister Contreras’ control by virtue of the Commercial Free Zones Act. The Security Company (T&T) in the Benque Viejo Free Zone located in Minister Contreras’ home district is owned by a partnership composed of Political Aspirant/Ex Senior Police Mr. Aragon and Minister Erwin Contreras himself. Hiring and firing of the Security Staff and all Zone Staff is done by Mr. Al Sattler who personally supervises all activities in the Benque Viejo Free Zone.

This situation has been compounded, according to International authorities, as Minister Contreras’ daughter Danini Contreras has been appointed to the head position in The Belize Drug Inspectorate over the strenuous objections of the Pharmacists Association who deem her to be singularly unqualified for the position. They believe that her lack of any work experience and recent graduation from University should disqualify her from a position that requires both superior expertise and extensive practical experience. Part of Ms Contreras responsibilities is the approval of drug shipments of all kinds into Belize. Coupled with the volatile contraband situation originating the Free Zones of Belize of which her Father, Minister of Trade has complete legal and physical control, eyebrows have been raised considering the volume of Chinese cigarettes that originate from the Free Zones and that China is the world’s largest producer of precursor drugs.

The transshipment of precursor drugs from China to the drug factories in Guatemala and Mexico is of grave concern to the International Law Enforcement community. The Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas are the biggest drug purchasers in the region and actively try to source these chemicals. There are numerous instances of Belize being used as a transshipment venue for precursor drugs destined for the drug factories operating in Guatemala and Mexico. The position of Director of Drug Inspectorate is a position of great responsibility. When a professionally unqualified person is appointed the possibility of mistakes in approval of drug shipments becomes much more likely and would seem to leave the system vulnerable to further abuse by contrabandistas.

It is not considered as coincidental that Belize has a history of illicit sales of passports to Asians and Chinese in particular and a proclivity to smuggle Chinese cigarettes and precursor drugs. Recent revelations of Erwin Contreras’ and various other Ministers of Government that are also alleged to be involved in Chinese passport sales’ having ongoing relationships with Taiwanese Ralph Huang and Lord Neil B. Gibson has given rise to some very interesting theories as to the origin and purposes of the passport sales and their relation to the rampant Chinese contraband situation that appears to be government sanctioned. Belize’s lack of a Professional Investigative Department independent of the police, its system of “Ministerial Discretion” and political control of the Police makes Belize a prime target for the International Trafficking Cartels that buy local politicians and use them like pawns.