The Belize and international news has had a number of reports on the killings at Black Rock Lodge, on the Macal River in Cayo.
The facts as reported vary, but apparently two employees of Black Rock, including John the manager (an expat American), were killed by a group of Guatemalans. The American tourists staying there were terrorized, beaten and, by some reports, at least one was raped repeatedly.
Some in tourism in Belize are saying that this may have been as a result of a personal situation involving the lodge manager.
Whatever the facts -- and in the broader picture they really don't matter that much -- this latest incident is more bad news for tourism in mainland Belize.
Those who have visited Black Rock or the other lodges along the Macal will know that while the area feels quite safe, it is just miles from the porous Guatemala border, and there is no effective police protection or other security available in the area.
If it were an isolated event, that would be one thing. But it's not. Earlier this year a tourist van operated by Chaa Creek was stopped by a gang of masked Guatemalans and robbed at gunpoint. A little later a car driver by American tourists was fired upon by bandits and an American was slightly wounded. The safe at Chaa Creek was robbed. And there have been a number of other incidents in Cayo and in the Peten, including at Tikal. In one Peten incident, nine people were killed in an ambush attack, including two Belizeans Mennonites.
What the government and police can do is unclear. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a history of lawless activities by all kinds of groups.
It seems to me that lodges in Cayo will have to take the initiative to provide security for guests. Some lodges in remote areas around the country already do so.
I fear, though, that this latest incident may get Belize on the State Department warning list, which will further hurt tourism following the steep decline due to Hurricane Iris and the economic and travel slowdown in the U.S.
Belize books and publications by Lan Sluder:
Belize First Magazine http://www.belizefirst.com/
Fodor's Belize and Guatemala Guide
Belize First Guide to Mainland Belize
Adapter Kit: Belize
Fodor's UpClose Central America
Belize Book of Lists 2000
Coming Soon: San Pedro Cool