THE CHETUMAL CONTINGENT TO BELIZE AFTER HURRICANE HATTIE by Albert Paul Avila
How many remember the story of the Mexican Relief Plane that crashed in the Chan Pine Ridge in 1961 and was never found ...until some 40 years later? There is a monument in Chetumal cemetery with the names of those who perished.
Soon after hurricane Hattie struck Belize, a seven person contingent comprised of a priest (The priest was José Fuentes Castellanos, brother of Mrs. Libia Fuentes, wife of Mr. Jorge Marzuca Ferreiro, he was of Campeche origin), two doctors, two lieutenants, a professor, and a first sergeant aviation mechanic were dispatch from Chetumal to provide relief to the people of Belize. The flight never arrived and for eight years no one knew what happened to the flight. It was assumed it had crashed. The wreckage was discovered by a farmer on April 3, 1969, with the bodies still inside the plane. The location of a crash is by the area near the village of Maskall. At the time of the crash the area was high jungle. I was told that the crash was about half mile from the main road there, the old Belize Corozal road.
These Mexicans and their families gave the ultimate sacrifice for us Belizeans when we were in need. It made me remember how I got a little emotional looking at a YouTube remembrance service in the Netherlands on behalf of Belizean WWII Aviator Cassian Waight who lost his life when his RAF D-267 bombing flight was shot down over a small town In that country. Cassian Waight’s body was found in a meadow and buried nearby and thus the remembrance service on his behalf (every year for 80 years). The purpose of this story is to show how great full the Dutch people who found his body were of Cassian. They realized he and his family had made the ultimate sacrifice in a war that he had nothing to do with and his death had contributed to the liberty they are enjoying today. They also realized that they should never forget that sacrifice and they haven’t.
We as Belizeans should learn a little from the Dutch and honour our foreign born patriots who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us. I understand that a plaque was placed in Corozal (It is a pity that in the 1990's the plaque was destroyed), but we should have something permanently enshrined in Belize City where the devastation was the greatest and their ultimate destination.
The Belize National Historical Society and our members recommend that we posthumously conduct a rememberance service for these patriots with their family in attendance and a plaque/ shrine be placed somewhere near the Mexican Institute on the promenade by the sea. Let us not forget! It is never too late!
These were the heroes who did their best to help a troubled Belize 1- Lieutenant of the Frigate JUAN JOSÉ MARTINEZ 2- Sub Lieutenant GILBERTO HERNANDEZ VEGA 3- Master Sergeant Mechanical Aviation JOSÉ MAGAÑA SANCHEZ 4- Chaplain JOSÉ FUENTES CASTELLANOS 5- Doctor RAMÓN MENDOZA VEGA 6- Doctor ENRIQUE PAREDES AGUILA 7- Professor JOSE SEVILLA SERDÁN
The Cassian Waight Memorial Service as an example below.
In 1965 during the inauguration of the Corozal Town Central Park, Felipe Santiago Ricalde laid a plaque/stone in the water fountain with the names of the medical brigade members who perished in that crash. Ricalde was very much involved with Hurricane Hattie relief efforts in collaboration with the Mexican Government and was to be on the ill fated flight itself. The plaque laid there for many years. The fountain, a gift from Mexico, was originally destined for Belize City in 1961 but never made it because of Hurricane Hattie. You can see it in the photo.
From the information I have this contingent came from Mexico City. My grandfather Santiago was to take the flight with the but due to a family emergency he was unable to go to Chetumal.
If you take a look behind my grandfather is the fountain and the plaque.
This photo was when the former Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos visited Corozal after the inauguration of the Amity Bridge. Elisa Ysaguirre Ricalde
Internally, when a natural disaster devastates a region of a country, disaster relief comes from other parts of that country. This is often accompanied by an international relief effort . Most often, this effort is dominated by one or two countries, based on factors such as the historical relationship between two countries and the role certain countries play in a region (sphere of influence). The effort often increases foreign influences in the devastated country. The nature of the relief effort might also lead to social change, especially when people from the outside who come to help interact with locals in the devastated area. Based on such interactions, the kind of technology that they bring as part of the rescue and recovery and rebuilding effort might also contribute to change. Lastly, change can occur based on the kind of assistance given by a foreign country, whether that assistance is in the form of economic and/or technical assistance or certain policies.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Hattie, British Honduras received significant news coverage from around the world. Many countries helped in the relief effort and organizations such as Care and the Red Cross were part of the relief effort. “Aid Pours In,” is the title of one section of Friesen’s book on the hurricane. Taken from local news clippings, this section of the book noted that in crucial weeks after the hurricane relief aid came in the form of personnel, medical supplies, food, and funds from over the world. He further documented the kinds of assistance and aid the country received. In addition to Britain and commonwealth countries Mexico, Guatemala and other neighboring Central American countries assisted in the relief effort. (Other countries also assisted to the relief effort.) With Guatemala pressing its territorial claim to Belize, and even threatening military action, there was concern expressed in certain sectors of British Honduran society about aid and assistance offered by that country that included relief supplies and even helicopters. In turn, there were questions about whether British Honduras should have accepted Guatemalan help.
However, other than Britain, the bulk of international aid and assistance came from the United States. This reflected that country’s super power status and Latin America and the Caribbean being in its sphere of influence. With vast resources the U.S. launched a major relief effort that came by sea and air. When I interviewed Belizeans for my dissertation on Belizean in Los Angeles, several remembered this American assistance. One remembered the arrival of the Americans as part of the relief effort, and one of the things he remembered most about their arrival was helicopters flying over the city. This was the first time he had seen such a thing he recalled. Helicopters from the U.S. Navy also landed in Sittee River, and this was the first time helicopters had landed in the village. Ships from the U.S. Navy were also dispatched to British Honduras with assistance and relief supplies, and one resident of San Pedro remembered the British Army and an American supply ship providing Ambergris Caye with more supplies. The U.S. government was also generous in cash aid.
Hurricane Hattie didn’t have much of an impact on internal migration, but it did have a significant impact on international migration. As part of its significant relief effort, the U.S. government granted some Belizeans from the impacted areas visitors visas. The interviewee who had seen the American helicopters over Belize City remembered that after the hurricane an announcement was made over the radio that Belizeans who had relatives in the United States could go to that country temporarily as “refugees” to recover from the hurricane. Many Belizeans took advantage and saw it as an opportunity to emigrate to the United States.
Santiago Ricalde, the PUP representative for Corozal, requested assistance from the Mexican government in the neighboring Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Regrettably, the first Mexican plane with relief supplies and medical personnel crashed in northern Belize.