Roger Plett, a Mennonite farmer who was putting out a forest fire on his lands in the Green Hills area of Spanish Lookout, near the border with Guatemala, was abducted for about 4 hours on Friday by men believed to be Guatemalan soldiers, and mistreated before being released.
Plett told Belize police that he was working on his land in the Green Hills area near the border, fighting a forest fire that had been burning in the area, using a tractor with a water sprayer. He had also hired a bulldozer operator to make a fire pass, but at approximately 2 o’clock that afternoon, about 10 men in military uniform surrounded him and began hitting the windshield of the tractor he was driving, with machetes.
Plett reported that he stopped because he feared he would have been shot.
The farmer told the media during an interview in Spanish Lookout today that his hands were then tied behind his back and he was made to walk to the Guatemala border — reportedly a 3/4-mile trek.
However, he managed to talk to his worker before his cellphone was taken away by the soldiers. According to Plett, along with the Guatemalan military were men in civilian clothing, one of whom told the Guatemalan soldiers to “rough him up.’
Plett was questioned, and when he realized that he was in serious trouble and perhaps would be taken further into Guatemala, he told them that he was a Canadian national, and at that point (subsequent to marching for some time to a clearing near the location of the fire), he was told that he was being taken to a vehicle. He said that he had been told repeatedly prior to that, that “someone” had to be responsible for the forest fire that was still burning.
His tractor was also returned to him, but it had been deliberately damaged. Plett, because he was familiar with his tractor, managed to drive it, even in its damaged state, back onto Belizean territory.
Plett’s bulldozer was also taken into Guatemalan territory to do work for the Guatemalan soldiers. However, both pieces of equipment were later returned to Plett.
Plett called a press conference this afternoon in Spanish Lookout, and told reporters that when he attempted to report the matter to Belize police in Spanish Lookout, the police there, after initially taking his story, stopped taking his report, apparently consulted with someone “higher up,” and received instructions that they should not allow Plett to say that Guatemalan soldiers had abducted him.
According to Plett, they changed his report to read that men in “military fatigues” had taken him into Guatemala, and when he refused to follow their instructions not to mention “Guatemalan soldiers,” he was eventually taken to the San Ignacio Police Station, and there, he and his workman were detained for “committing a mischievous act” for hours before eventually being released.
According to Plett, the police showed him messages on his cellphone, which they said proved that he and his workman, Anwar Ayala, who had remained on the Belize side of the border, were fabricating the story.
Plett, very annoyed, said he told Belize police, “you guys are cowards, you are scared of the Guatemalans; you want to sweep this under the rug, as if though it never happened!”
Eventually, Ayala, detained for 48 hours, was released from Belize police detention on Sunday. He later said that he felt like a criminal, the way police had treated him. He said that other villagers, when they saw him in detention, must believe that he had done something wrong, and that he believed that his reputation had gone downhill.
An environmental conservation group of Peten, Guatemala, claimed that the forest fire that was destroying biodiversity in the forest along the border was caused by careless Belizeans, and that they are concerned, and have begun an investigation into the cause of the fire.
The group said that it is committed to protecting the flora and wildlife of Peten, and that there are more than fifty tropical species and wildlife in the area known as Yaloch Lagoon, which is why they conduct regular patrols in the area. Questions remain as to how the fire really started.
Officialdom Responds To Plett: The OAS has been Called in To Verify
For the past two nights you've been hearing every detail of Mennonite Farmer Roger Plett's story of abduction in Belize and detention in Guatemala. And while he unspooled his narrative in granular detail, officialdom said nothing: neither the police nor the ministries of National Security or Foreign Affairs would confirm or deny his account.
Well, today, the Ministries ended their inexplicable silence with a Belmopan press conference held by the CEO's in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and National Security. The first announcement was that the OAS has been called upon to verify the incident:..
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "The government of Belize yesterday 17th of May requested of the Office of the Organization of American States in the adjacency zone a formal verification into the incident reported by the Pletts which allegedly occurred in the Green Hill area of the Cayo District. We are aware the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is aware of an ongoing police investigation into the matter."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "I can tell you that as we speak my police officers and this is what I have done subsequent to establish any that Mr. Ayala was in fact safe in Belize. They did a detailed investigation, an investigation that is still ongoing and I had asked that they go on the ground along with Roger and Mr. Ayala and try to walk over the ground and confirm what happened and where it occurred. I was told that was done on the 13th the day after the incident."
Reporter "Mr. Plett is saying that when he went into the police to give his explanation of what happened the police began to put Guatemalan military on the report. However after officials came in including officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs they refused and to put on the report Guatemalan military and changed it to men in camouflage. Explain to us the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in affecting the report of a person who was detained in Guatemala in determining the wording that would go on such a report."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs have no role in that and that's my shortest and only explanation I would like to give to that question that you asked. In terms of our people who were involved in this very unfortunate incident given of course to Plus TV in such detail I would like to publicly ask them to give those report to the police. The other thing is and I'm going to say this publicly that the police should take statement from individual, the police should not tell the individual what should be in the statement and should not put in the statement anything the individual had not say."
Reporter "The reason why the media was there was because the Pletts say the police refused to go to the location."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "And this is allegations, I will have to go and confirm if what you're saying is in fact factual and if it is then we will have to be honourable enough to say that we will direct a new investigation for us to go and do it right the next time around but I don't think it is that way but I will still have to go and confirm that what you're saying is not so."
Reporter "Now the Pletts are saying that they met the police but the police head by I don't know what is his rank Mr. Gamboa; they stopped at a gate and they said they were not going any further because it's a highly sensitive and volatile time and they did not want to create any incident between those countries hence they never went all the way bordering or to the border area where Roger Plett was detained. We have established that no police team has gone as far as the scene."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "No we haven't established that, I am hearing that from you here. I haven't established that as yet, how can I? I have a report here right in front of me which is suggesting certain things that are not consistent with what you are saying to me. I am saying that having heard what you are saying and having seen this report I am updated to go back there and look them in the eye and say to them this is what was sent to me at this press brief, this is what you are saying, please confirm or deny these things so that I can get to the bottom of it."
Plett Says Police Haven’t Been To Site, Cops Say Otherwise
So the police are saying in their report that they did go to the site, while Roger Plett said up to yesterday that he hadn't taken them. Now, it's a situation where there is distrust on all sides, but it starts with the police who don't seem to trust his account – even while, by all appearances, not doing their work as thoroughly as they suggest:
Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News "I spoke to the San Ignacio police and he told me that they had handed it off to Belmopan. They confirmed that they had not gone to the scene and would not be able to go to the scene because of the sensitivity of that area and that they could not move into that area along the border without the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I spoke to CEO Sylvester minutes after and CEO Sylvester is telling me what, we can't move until we get the report from the police. So the police is saying we can't go on the scene until we get we get Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs is saying we can't move until the police report. So what I'm asking what is the police say; forget any queries or questions, what did the police say, what is the outcome of their report?"
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "The police somewhat was not fully support the kind of position that Roger and his team is given and that is clear in the report. I cannot unless I'm proven otherwise doubt what Roger is saying because he is given a first-hand account of what transpired and so there is a need for further investigation. When you talk about San Ignacio police not going there I can tell you that I spoke with the acting Commissioner of Police, Mr. Russell Brackett and he assures me that the police went on the ground."
Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News "They have said that they have not taken anybody to the site."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "I hear that, I understand because this is information that is now being brought to my attention by you all, I need to go there now and confirm."
Guats Say No Military Was In Area
And there is a lot of confirming to be done. First, the Government of Belize is trying to confirm who grabbed Roger Plett and tied him up. Plett is saying that they were Guatemalan military. And indeed, pictures posted by Guatemalan Luis Gongora on Facebook on Wednesday, the day before Plett was detained show persons dressed in what appear to be military uniforms involved in fighting the forest fire.
But, Guatemalan officials told the government of Belize that no one was detained by their military – because no military was in the area:…
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "We are given every assurance that there's no Belizean detained and that the Guatemalan armed forces were not on any patrol near the areas or adjacent to the Mennonite property on that day."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "The thing is we are in fact trying to confirm precisely who it is because Roger is still insisting that it's Guatemala and we can't take that away from him, he was the one on the ground and he saw these people. The OAS who I believed may have spoken to the Guatemalans are saying listen the Guatemalans are saying we have not had a military patrol in that area for quite a long time, it cannot be our patrol."
Reporter "It was military and civilians together."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "I'm just saying what they are saying so to answer the question as to who was holding them we need to go in there and establish that and the only way we can establish that is having that verification that the OAS will go in there with the Guatemalans and say okay who were the people that had encountered them. We can probably if I don't know get pictures or whatever the case may be and have Roger confirm if these were the people who had them. It's not a matter that we wish to happen to any of our citizens and it's not a matter that we would hope and I hope it would never occur again where we have to go through this kind of sort of explanation."
CEO Sylvestre: Plett and Ayala “appear elusive”
And back now to how Belizean officials are handling the entire report. From what Roger Plett and his co-worker Manuel Ayala told the media, there has been a constant level of official skepticism. Today the press got into an extended back and forth with CEO's Sylvestre and Lovell about just what the police had done – including what they had allegedly done to try and censor the statement Roger Plett Gave police. CEO Sylvester said they appeared elusive when he requested a de-briefing:
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "To make things doubly sure I directed Ambassador Guerra who serves in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and assists on some of the counsellor and the matters, the cooperation with Guatemala to seek out and find the individuals in Spanish Lookout and arrange for a prompt debriefing. I found that the individuals were rather elusive in making themselves available for this debriefing and it wasn't until after close on normal business on Friday that some type of debriefing or statement that they made themselves available to give a statement at the San Ignacio police station."
Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News "I find the use of the word elusive interesting because; have you met with any of these persons Mr. Ayala or Mr. Plett?"
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "We dispatched no less in seniority an officer and Ambassador Guerra to get in touch with them and to have a proper debriefing. I can't carry the whole government on my back, I can't be everywhere all at once; I am coordinating things happening in multiple hemispheres."
Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News "When you use a word like that it seems to case blame on these persons as if these persons are for some reason eluding or trying to evade going to the police."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "Sir I won't get into that."
Daniel Ortiz "Can you say why Mr. Manuel Ayala was held for 48 hours on the suspicion of a mischievous act for his report that he and his associates were held by Guatemalans?"
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "I don't know if he was held for 48 hours, I don't know if that was true, that's the first thing; I can't comment that Mr. Ayala was held. I would want to then ask the commissioner of police to say precisely if he was held how long he was held and why. I would like to have them to answer that question, I cannot at this stage."
Daniel Ortiz "Well then sir given all that you've heard and given that Mr. Ayala says."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "I do know they were looking into some mischievous act indeed."
Daniel Ortiz "Do you accept or concede that it gives the perception that the state is not treating their story with the weight it deserves?"
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "No I will not accept, I will not concede."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "The state of Belize has always in matters which involve our bi-lateral relationship with Guatemala or any other instance to act responsibly based on the veracity of our report."
And so now you've heard – extensively – both sides of the story, and if, like us, you're still kind of scratching your head, then just wait for the third side, which will be the findings of the OAS investigation into the incident. But don't hold you breath, because they are famous for the glacial pace of their investigations.
So, we know which side the opposition leader is on, but who do you think is right and who's wrong? For the past three nights we've featured this story extensively - and both sides have gotten ample airtime to put their story out.
Tonight, in a sort of extended mega-mix we have the claims, counter-claims and clarifications from both sides - so you can be the judge. Here goes:...
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "There was 10 military persons and about 5 people in civilian clothing, they came running out of the forest and the military surrounded the tractor."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "We were given every assurance that there was no Belizean detained and that the Guatemalan armed forces were not on any patrol near the area adjacent to the Mennonite property on that day."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "So the lighter skin guy in charge, he told the military to tie my hands behind my back. The guy took his black rope off his shoulder and tied my arms behind my back."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "I was given word that the military had no patrol in that area."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "I am certain that our colleague, Sergio Benites, the director of the OAS office must have been quite exasperated with the amount of times that I kept calling to ask him and to ask my colleagues on the other side to verify the information."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "We are trying to establish precisely who were the people who apparently or allegedly held Roger and his other associate against their will over in Guatemala."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "I ask the guy, why do you have me tied up? Why are you taking me? And the guy told me, someone has to take the fault for this, someone has to be the blame for the fire."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "We did learn of how frustrated the agency which has civilian agency which has a concession to manage the protected area on the Guatemalan side of the border was at the forest fires spreading to their side allegedly started on the Belize side of the border."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "He said, don't worry we will release you once the bull dozer comes on this side and does the work that we want it to do. When I reach back I found out that they still had the bulldozer driver working for them on their side."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "Even when one was reportedly over there on his own accord still assisted. We insisted that foreign affairs check to see that that person was not held there against his will and that he was in fact release."
Manuel Ayala - Detained by Belizean Police "The following day we were by the garage working when my boss called me and said 'Manuel, they have Rogelio,' which is co-worker, the military has him. I call Rogelio and I said to him what happened. He replied and says that the military has him hold up. I ask him how many of them and he said 14. Shortly after that I received a call from Rogelio which say that they wanted to talk to me. I wonder who was this and so I answer the phone and the guy said be generous and bring your equipment here to help us out the fire. After that I received a call from Cpl. Young. He said this is Cpl. Young, are you Manuel and I said yes. He said that we are going to your location to see the area."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "The police who went out there on Friday were responding to a distress call."
Manuel Ayala - Detained by Belizean Police "Mr. Gamboa said 'we were close by the border line' and he said like this 'guys, this is a serious situation, Belize is at high level of dispute at the moment, we don't want any confrontation that will be sorry for what could happen.' Everyone gathered there and then we decided to draw back."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "They were not investigating the allege detention of Plett, because no report had come to the police by that time."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "When we went in to the police station to give the report, I started telling him my story and after a while the guy was taking my story - he went out of the room. I waited a good while there and when he came back in, it's like he didn't wanted to hear my story anymore and he had first had put on my statement "Guatemalan military men", but he changed all of that and he changed it to men in camouflage uniform."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "The police should not tell the individual what should be in the statement and should not put in any statement anything that the individual had not say."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "I directed Ambassador Guerra, who serves in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and assist on some of the consular and the matters, the cooperation with Guatemala to seek out and find the individuals in Spanish Lookout and arrange for a prompt debriefing."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "Later when they took me into the room where they had a meeting with Ambassador Guerra and a couple people from the OAS, Mr. Rosado they had in there too. They had me tell the story to them again and they were checking to see if I would say the same story that I had given them in the statement."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "I found that the individuals were rather elusive in making themselves available for this debriefing."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "So from there I told them that you guys are cowards, you guys are scared of the Guatemalans, that is why you want to sweep this under the rug as it never happens."
H.E Lawrence Sylvester - CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs "The unusual delay from the Mennonite in making themselves available or in reporting it to the police, there are police in Spanish Lookout, George Ville, San Ignacio."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "On Friday we were told that the police, the CIB would be there Saturday from 8am-12midnight. So Saturday morning when we reached there after 9am, they said to us that nobody was there from the CIB and Mr. Rosado was not there either to take our statements, so we would either have to come back later that day or come back on Monday."
Manuel Ayala - Detained by Belizean Police "After we made the statement and everything was okay, I was waiting to come out and they say you are not going. I ask why. They say "mischievous act." I said what."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "The police somewhat does not fully support the kind of position that Roger and his team is giving."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "I would expect them to go to the area and they will clearly see the bulldozer tracks. There are still pieces of my tractor on the Guatemalan side. So if they would go there, they would find those pieces there."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "I have the report right in front of me, which is suggesting certain things that are not consistent with what you have said to me. I am saying that having heard what you are saying and having seen this report - I am go back there and look them in the eye and say to them that this is what was said to me at this press brief. This is what you are saying, please confirm or deny these things so that I can get to the bottom of this."
Roger Plett, Farmer Detained by Guatemalans "I will not come within half a mile of the borderline, because I do not know what those people would do if they catch me a second time."
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "It's not a matter that we wish to happen to any of our citizens and it is not a matter that we would hope and I hope that it would never occur again."
CEO Lovell today told us that the police maintain that they went on the ground and produced photographs to prove it. He says that's neither here nor there since police cannot go across the border and make an arrest, so it remains a matter, principally, for foreign affairs. And, also, he says the cops are sticking by their report - that there is some mischief being made between Manuel Ayala and the bulldozer operator Rogelio Barrientos.
PUP Leader Says GOB Has To Deal With Plett Case
Since the beginning of the week, we've been giving you a blow by blow account of Mennonite Farmer Roger Plett's story. He has given a detailed account of how he was abducted in Belizean territory, and detained in Guatemala. Last night, we also showed you the Government's response and how the police department is handling, or mishandling, the investigation into the cross border incident.
Today Opposition Leader John Briceño told us that he hopes that the Police and the Foreign Affairs Ministry will not bury the report simply because it may be inconvenient for the Belize Government to have to accuse Guatemala:
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "Here we have these people saying they were abducted by the Guatemalans and we need to take that seriously. We can't just turn a blind eye to it. We need to investigate it and if that happened then we need to send a strong protest note to Guatemala. We can't allow the Guatemalans to come in at will in our country. We're not doing that. I don't take that lightly. We need to take that seriously and to take a good look at what really took place and not try to cover it up because it does not suit the government. We need to do what suits the Belizean people, what suits this country and not what suits the political directorate."
Roger Plett, a young Belizean farmer of the Mennonite community of Spanish Lookout, is still trying to cope with the terrifying experience he had exactly one week ago when armed Guatemalans whom he identified as a group of both civilians and military men, abducted him from his farm and took him over to Guatemala, threatening to beat him up, apparently in retaliation for a forest fire which had been raging in the area. Plett told police that the light-skinned man who was giving orders said he works for the Organization of American States (OAS).
Belize police have a very extensive report with the information gleaned from four men—two Mennonites and two Guatemalans—who encountered the Guatemalans in the Green Hills area last week and were allegedly forced to the other side of the border.
Ironically, Plett said that he had gone to the area to help put out the fire when he came under attack. After the Guatemalans released him, he found out that the very tractor he was using to quench the forest fire had been so badly vandalized, he could barely drive it.
On Friday, May 13, at about 6:00 p.m., Roger Plett visited the San Ignacio Police Station, where he reported that on Thursday, May 12, he, along with a group of workers hired by his father, George Plett — namely Rudy Friesen, a Mennonite; Manuel Ayala, a Guatemalan who is a naturalized Belizean; and Rogelio Barrientos, the Guatemalan caretaker from the farm owned by Plett — went to his farm that is located in the Green Hills area of Spanish Lookout to extinguish a bush fire, so as to prevent it from spreading or damaging other pastures in the area.
The farm covers an area that abuts the Belize-Guatemala border for about two to three miles, and the line is demarcated, with the Guatemalan side, which is under protected status, being more forested than the Belize side.
Plett told police that about 3:00 that afternoon, civilian men came from the Guatemalan side and lashed their machetes on the left side of the tractor door. By this time, he saw the military men surrounding the tractor, and one of the military men ordered him off the tractor, which Plett had been using to try to extinguish the forest fire.
Roger Plett said that they pushed him and told him to walk towards the Belize-Guatemala border. He managed to make a call back home before the Guatemalans snatched away his phone. They later tied him up and threatened to beat him—but promised to let him go after he told them that he is really a Canadian from Manitoba, where they had also experienced major problems with forest fires.
It was almost three hours before the Guatemalans gave him back his phone and allowed him to return home to Belize, said Plett.
The Pletts farm corn and beans and they also run a cattle ranch in the Green Hills area. On May 11, the day before Plett’s abduction, Luis Gongora, president of la Alianza Nacional de Organizaciones Forestales de Guatemala, uploaded 5 photos to his Facebook page with a post indicating that since 2:00 p.m. on May 10, they had been alerted to a fire raging in the concession area assigned to El Esfuerzo which was caused by farmers from the Belize side who do not take the necessary precautions to clear the fire breaks. Gongora identified men from the Guatemalan army among the persons who had gone to the area to combat the fire which he insisted had been caused by “bad-minded Belizean neighbors.”
Plett said that he was told that a Belizean had to pay for the fire damage—and he was only let off the hook because he told the Guatemalans that he is Canadian.
Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Ret’d Colonel George Lovell, told Amandala today that, “So far the police investigation revealed that the fire that Plett and his team were trying to extinguish made its way across the Guatemalan side and it is in that area that there were a group of Guatemalans already extinguishing a fire.” He said that because the Guatemalans blamed Plett and his crew—which incidentally included two Guatemalan nationals—they were forcefully taken over to Guatemala to assist them in outing the fire.
Amandala understands from a reliable source in the conservation community that there has been an insistence from Guatemalans in the area where forest concessions have been issued that measures need to be taken to control the spread of forest fires which impact their logging zones. At a press conference held yesterday at the Ministry of National Security in Belmopan, Belizean officials said that there is a mechanism for addressing problems that arise in the area due to forest fires – but that mechanism had not been triggered by the Guatemalans.
Instead, the reports from Plett, as well as information gleaned by Belize police, indicate that the Guatemalans decided to take matters into their own hands—first by marching over to Belizean territory, some of them armed with machetes, abducting Plett and then commandeering his bulldozer and tractor, which they later wrecked before abandoning it on their side of the border.
Furthermore, information to police indicates that on Friday, after Plett had been released, the Guatemalans, suggesting that they had someone else detained, demanded a tractor for ransom.
Roger Plett told Amandala that the fire that went over to the Guatemalan side was not on his father’s property, and he does not know who or what started it. He told us that although he had seen the Guatemalans in the area before, this is the first time he had a physical encounter with them.
Plett identified one of the men in Luis Gongora’s photos. He said that the military man who sat in the pan of the red pickup was among the four men who looked on as he was being tied up with a black rope that the uniformed men had across their left shoulder. Some of them were also armed with machine guns, Plett said. Barrientos, a Guatemalan working with the Plett family, who was at another location, was also ordered to go with the Guatemalans, and he complied, Plett said the worker had told him.
Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Sylvester, told the media that on Tuesday, May 17, which is 5 days after Plett’s abduction, the Government of Belize asked the office of the Organization of American States (OAS) at the Belize-Guatemala border to conduct a formal verification exercise into the incident reported by the Plett family. Sylvester also pointed to an ongoing police investigation into the matter.
At a press conference held on Monday, Roger Plett had told the media that police refused to put on the statement he was giving to them last Friday that it was the Guatemalan military, joined by some civilians, that had abducted him. Instead, he was told to put in his report that men in military fatigues had taken him over to Guatemala.
Lovell said that the police ought not to make anyone change their statement, since it should reflect the account which the person making the report wants to put on the record—a report to which the complainant signs his name.
It is alleged that it was only after officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came that police insisted on changing the language in the report.
Lovell told us that Belize Ambassador Said Badi Guerra of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had visited the police station with Louis Perez from the OAS on May 13 and they interviewed both Roger Plett and Manuel Ayala.
In speaking with Amandala, Roger Plett maintained that the men dressed in camouflage were indeed military men, and he saw the word “militares” on the uniform, as well as markings on their sleeves to denote rank.
“I cannot, unless I’m proven otherwise, doubt what Roger is saying, because he is giving a firsthand account of what transpired, and so there is a need for further investigation,” Lovell told the press Wednesday.
He has also been assured that the police have gone to Green Hills to investigate the matter: “When you talk about San Ignacio police not going there I can tell you that I spoke with the acting Commissioner of Police, Mr. Russell Blackett, and he assures me that the police went on the ground,” he said.
However Plett said that the police refused to go to the actual area where the Guatemalans abducted him.
Sylvester said that when contact was made with the Guatemalan officials last week, they were “given every assurance” that there was no Belizean detained and that the Guatemalan armed forces were not on any patrol in the Green Hills area.
“The thing is, we are in fact trying to confirm precisely who it is because Roger is still insisting that it’s Guatemalan military, and we can’t take that away from him. He was the one on the ground and he saw these people,” Lovell said.
“The OAS, who I believe may have spoken to the Guatemalans, are saying, ‘Listen, the Guatemalans are saying we have not had a military patrol in that area for quite a long time, it cannot be our patrol,’” Lovell added.
“I’m just saying what they are saying so to answer the question as to who was holding them, we need to go in there and establish that and the only way we can establish that is having that verification that the OAS will go in there with the Guatemalans and say, ‘okay, who were the people that had encountered them?’ …It’s not a matter that we wish to happen to any of our citizens and it’s not a matter that we would hope and I hope it would never occur again,” Lovell said.
In the report given to police, Plett said that the light-skinned person who was giving the orders told Plett that he works for the OAS, and he gave Plett a soft drink and they started to walk with him towards Belize.
They were also returning his blue Ford tractor, which had been run low on fuel by the Guatemalans, and visibly wrecked. Plett reported that the front left tire was almost off the rim and the step that leads to the door was bent and damaged. The spray tank’s metal frame used to water the area had also been damaged and the steering wheel was locked and hanging to the left side. As he approached the tractor, one of the Guatemalans started to take pictures of him, Plett reported to police. The tractor malfunctioned along the way, and he did not have enough fuel to make it home.
Plett and his dad decided to call Rudy Friesen, who had been operating the bulldozer, to find out from him where he was. He had indicated that he was already on the Belize side, as he had told the Guatemalans that he only had fuel for one hour and needed to return to Belize to refuel.
George Plett decided to deploy his drone with a camera over the farm area, monitored with his Galaxy Edge telephone, to see if there were any military guys around, but all they saw was that the bulldozer had been left behind.
All this unfolded on Thursday. On Friday, May 13, Barrientos, the Guatemalan, made a distress call asking for assistance from Belize police and the Belize Defence Force. However, Lovell said that when the cops showed up, he informed police that he was now safe at home and so police decided to stand down off the operation.
Lovell said that in response to the distress call, they dispatched a joint BDF special patrol unit and a quick reaction force and mobile interdiction team of police officers to Green Hills. They had been told that that Belizeans had been kidnapped and some machines were being requested by the Guatemalan military in exchange for their release. They were requesting that a tractor be provided for them to release the Belizeans who were in Guatemala, Lovell said he had been told.
The CEO said that the forceful removal of a Belizean, speaking of Plett, into Guatemala is the main case that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pursuing.
“We certainly regret this very unfortunate occurrence and we, as fast as we possibly can, intend to get to the bottom of this and we appeal in the strongest way to the Guatemalans on the action of their citizens against ours,” Lovell said.
We asked Lovell, a retired Belizean general, whether he recognized the arm of the Guatemalan forces to which the military men would be attached. The closest reference we could find to what Plett identified was the reserve military in Guatemala. Lovell said that based on the photos shown to him from Gongora’s Facebook post, the men do appear to be military persons indeed, and his people also indicate that it may well be so.
Foreign Minister Downplays Roger Plett Abduction By Guats
One Cabinet Minister who was not even in country for the convention or the Cabinet contention in the aftermath is Wilfred Elrington. He was travelling for two weeks, shuttling form meeting to meeting – and when he came back home, he had a breezy disposition, more or less laughing off the entire flap over Roger Plett's abduction. You may remember Plett, he's the Mennonite who was abducted in the Green Hills Area of Spanish Lookout two weeks ago allegedly by the Guatemalan military, in service of an NGO on that side of the border. Even though Plett says he was tied up and his tractor destroyed, Elrington says it was all just a neighbourly gesture:…
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "They were fighting fire, the fire got away and the fire was moving from Belize into Guatemalan territory and the Mennonites had equipment to help to stop the fire and was invited by a Guatemalan NGO to assist to lend them the equipment to assist and they resisted and the Guatemalan NGO decide to take self-help and take it from them and decided to use it to clear off the area to make sure the fire would not go any further into Guatemala. When they had finished that they gave it back. So I think we have to start to understand that we are our brother's keeper in this kind of thing and we can't get offended by every action that is taken."
Jules Vasquez "Even if it's acquisition of private property?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "If I borrow it; you see there is a difference you know. When you take something with the intention permanently to deprive the person then that's stealing but if I just borrow it from you and give it back to prevent my house or my country from being burnt down I don't think people would..."
Jules Vasquez "That's a very benign.."
Reporter "My understanding is that Guatemala military were in fact along with that NGO and we have seen pictures where that is the case."
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "That is not the information that came to me really."
Reporter "This report or a portion of it is what you're getting from your Guatemalan counterparts?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "I got it from our people because they get it from; I don't know where they got it from but that's the information I got."