Editorial - Extradited of abducted?

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 17            May 8, 2003

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Last week, (after press time) The San Pedro Sun received a fax from the Government Press Office with the following headline - "Circumstances of extradition of McCord and Herbert". The release stated that Liston Leslie McCord and George Enrique Herbert were wanted in the United States on drug trafficking offenses and that a US court had issued warrants for their arrest earlier this month. It further states that "It is understood that both McCord and Herbert were persuaded by federal agents to return to the United States voluntarily as that would count toward mitigation of any penalty that might be imposed upon them. In the circumstances, with their decision, there was no need to go through the normal extradition proceedings."

    According to the release, McCord was charged in Belize for assisting Mexican Juarez Cartel Operative, Jorge Manuel Torres Teyer in the transportation of over 10,000 kilograms of Columbian cocaine through Belize and Mexico, en-route to the United States. The charge stems from a drug bust in October of 2001 when Belize police confiscated US$40 million worth of cocaine, some of which was found in McCord's van. McCord and Torres Teyer were both charged but McCord was later acquitted for insufficient evidence needed to prosecute his case.

    It is also alleged that Herbert assisted McCord and Torres Teyer in the transportation of over ten tons of cocaine from Belize to Calderetas, Mexico for ultimate transportation to the United States. The press release ends by stating, "The United States Government has assured the Government of Belize that both McCord and Herbert will be dealt with according to the law and that all their rights will be respected."

    If this is how the events unfolded, the Belize Police Department should be recognized and commended for helping get two drug kingpins off our streets. The Government of Belize should also be applauded for working with a foreign government to help combat the transportation of illegal drugs through our country. However, the families of the two men are giving a different version of these events. If what the families of these men are saying is true, the men's constitutional rights were not honored and those that ordered their "kidnapping" must be held responsible and criminally charged.

    According to reports from Jenny McCord, wife of Liston McCord; at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday, police arrived at their home demanding to be let in. The police proceeded to search their residence and demanded Liston accompany them to the station. Liston was also required to bring both he and his wife's passport. When family members contacted the police about McCord's status they were told he would be released. Later that day the family received a call from McCord in which he told them that he had been taken against his will, in handcuffs and at gunpoint, from the airport (Philip Goldson) to the Federal Building in New York City.

    According to Herbert's wife, at approximately 6:00 a.m. Saturday, about six armed Belize police officers entered their home and searched it for almost ten minutes. She said the officers told her they were taking Herbert to the station for questioning and would return him in an hour's time. Later that day she received a call from her husband who said he was in the Federal Building in New York City. Herbert's mother, Maria, claims the Government of Belize helped the United States kidnap her son, and that he was forced onto the plane.

     There is only one question that needs to be answered - Were these men's constitutional rights violated or did these men voluntarily waive their rights? If they waived their rights - end of story and a job well done to all involved. But, what if, as the families claim, they were denied their constitutional rights to an extradition hearing. What if these men were illegally abducted from their homes and delivered by the Belize police to US authorities who were waiting in a private jet at Philip Goldson Airport? These are serious accusations that cannot go unanswered. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land; it defines us as a people and a nation.  Under no circumstances should we, the people, allow the rights and freedoms guaranteed by it to be violated or abused by ANYONE, for any reason! It does not matter if you are rich or poor, convict or public servant, minister or prime minister; it applies equally to everyone.

    This is not about defending drug dealers or criminals. This is about upholding the supreme law of the land. Extraditions involving other nationals have occurred under "suspicious circumstances," but this time, it is Belizean citizens living in Belize. We cannot allow our constitutional right to be circumvented or denied under any conditions. The Constitution is not something you can pick and choose when and what to enforce. Looking the other way might be considered an option for certain irregularities that people may run across, but these accusations cannot be swept under the rug. If even one person's constitutional rights are allowed to be denied, then the Constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on. Allowing this would put Belize on the path to a dictatorship. Today them. Tomorrow, it may be you.

    On election night, the Prime Minister stated in his victory speech that his government promised zero corruption. Now is a good time to show that he is serious. An investigation into this matter needs to begin immediately to let the public know what really happened, one way or the other. It could be as simple as producing the legal document these men signed upon waiving their right to extradition. If there is any one issue that the people must be united on, it is the sanctity of the Constitution of Belize.

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