OAS report clears Belizean security forces from the death of Guatemalan minor
Wednesday, August 31st, 2016
The Belize Defence Force (BDF) has been vindicated following an independent investigation into the Cebada incident in the Chiquibul National Park where a Guatemalan minor, Julio Rene Alvarado Ruano, was fatally shot. The incident took place on April 20, 2016 during an enforcement operation led by BDF and members of the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), the Non-Governmental Organization that co-manages the national park.
The independent and transparent investigation was conducted by Dr. James E. Hamby, a retired Special Agent of the United States of America Army Criminal Investigation Command, and Dr. Patricia Rosa Linda Trujillo Mariel, Head of Criminalistics of Mexico’s Federal Police. The investigation was done at the request of the Organization of American States (OAS) who has been monitoring the territorial issue between Belize and Guatemala for quite some time now.
According to the results of the investigation, it appears that the bullets which injured the minor came from a .22 calibre weapon and a shotgun. This evidence contradicts the previous allegations by the Guatemalan authorities that a high powered military rifle had been used in the shooting.
Brigadier General David Jones, Commander of the BDF stated that he expects his soldiers to be exonerated by the findings. “It really validates what my stance was all along; that the officers acted in accordance to how they were trained. They behaved professionally and it was admirable how they did handle the situation, even though it was said that the BDF were murderers, that they are hunting the Guatemalan people, which was not the case in the report.” Jones mentioned that the Guatemalans clearly have expressed sentiments contrary to the report’s conclusion.
The father of the child, 48-year-old Carlos Alfredo Alvarado Ramirez told the Guatemalan media that the shooting happened about 6:15PM as they were crossing close to a maize field where they had been planting pumpkin seeds. He continued stating that the Belizean security forces jumped out from the bushes in front of them, and without warning began shooting at them. In his statement to the investigators he said that while he was running he saw his other son 12-year-old Carlos Alberto Alvarado Ruano covered with grass while Julio was lying lifeless on the ground.
However, the account from the FCD and BDF said that the incident actually happened around 7PM when it was already dark. According to them, they were in a resting position at the corner of the maize field when Ramirez and his companions began flashing lights. When they were told to stop they opened fire which led to the BDF and FCD rangers to fire back towards the area. One ranger of the FCD said he fired four shots with his shotgun while the other ranger fired two shots with his .22 calibre pistol. The shots fired by the BDF did not injure anyone.
The BDF also stated in their report that before the incident, the joint patrol had arrested a Guatemalan farmer, 33-year-old Jose Maria Antonio Reyes, for conducting illegal activities in the area. A few minutes before the confrontation, their patrol was on high alert in order to prevent the villagers from the Guatemalan side to try to rescue Reyes.
Executive Director of the FCD Rafael Manzanero, told the local media that his rangers are always at risk, and their rangers must be armed. He suggests that one way to de-escalate any future incidents in the area is to continue cross-border collaboration in order to address the issue. “It is a very unfortunate situation, admittedly, to all of us who are involved on the ground. It is something that we never would really want to occur,” said Manzanero.
On Thursday, August 25th, Magdalena Talamas, special Representative of the OAS Secretary-General for Belize-Guatemalan Affairs officially presented the Government of Belize with a copy of the results of the investigation. The report revealed that Guatemalans visited the scene of the shooting and removed evidence. This was done well in advance of the requisite verification and investigation process set out in the confidence building measures between both countries, signed under the auspices of the OAS.
Another major detail involved images shown in the Guatemalan press revealing a contingent of Guatemalans, including military personnel, crossing into Belize on the day of the incident. When they visited the area where the shooting took place, the reports indicate that Guatemalans removed cartridges that allegedly came from the BDF weapon. However, as the investigating team went deeper into their findings, they found there were bullet holes in two branches, shot from shots fired from the spot where the father of the minor was standing, towards the joint Belizean patrol.
At the time of the incident, the Guatemalan government deployed thousands of its elite special forces, Kaibil, to the western and southern borders of Belize. Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales sent out a message accusing the Belizean soldiers of murdering the minor. His allegations went viral in the international press, condemning the incident as a cowardly act of aggression, and labelling Belize as an aggressor and human rights violator. But at the end of the investigation, it was confirmed that the shooting happened when the Belize patrol came under fire under the cover of night and, as expected, they fired back in self-defence. This had been Belize’s stance since the incident, and even though Guatemala was quick to judge, their actions were considered disproportionate and unfounded.
Following the investigation, the Guatemalan government rejected the results and through its recalled Ambassador to Belize, Estuardo Roldan, shared their thoughts with the Guatemalan newspaper ‘Prensa Libre.’ Roldan stated that the OAS report is not conclusive to him in regards to Julio Ruano’s death. Roldan referred to the incident as a stone in a shoe, but he did not expect the bilateral agreements between Belize and Guatemala to be affected.
The Guatemalan foreign minister Carlos Moralez also sent out a message in which he chastised Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the OAS representative. He stated that Talamas is dead wrong in her presentation and that Belizeans are shameless. “The truth is that the words of the Prime Minister are irresponsible. He knows that, according to the report, the bullets that killed the boy did not come from the BDF, but from rangers of Friends for Conservation and Development Organization. I don’t know why he celebrated the fact that the bullets were not from the BDF,” said Morales. “Those statements by Barrow deteriorated the relationship between the two countries once again.” Morales also said that the OAS report is not conclusive and has requested an expansion into the investigation, which to him, only includes the statements of the Belizean soldiers and members of the FCD.
Now that the report has cleared any doubts on Belize as the aggressor, will there be an official apology from Guatemala? According to Belize’s Minister of Foreign affairs, Wilfred Elrington, he is not seeking an apology from the Guatemalan government for its fallacious statements about Belize and its security authorities. However, he said that the only way he will seek such act, is if the request comes directly from Prime Minister Dean Barrow. But in his personal view, Elrington does not see the need for an apology.
The deadly incident in April underscores the need for further efforts to address the problem of incursions by Guatemalans into the Chiquibul protected areas. These areas are where they engage in illegal activities such as farming, log-cutting, gold mining and even extraction of archaeological relics.
After the conclusion of this investigation, Belize has asked the OAS to investigate the murder of Daniel Connorquie, who in September 2014 was presumably shot by Guatemalan poachers while on duty at the Caracol Archaeological site. Belizean authorities have also called for the investigation of the shooting of Staff Sergeant Richard Lambey, which occurred in March of 2016, when he and his patrol were allegedly ambushed by Guatemalans. After being treated at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City, Lambey was taken to the military hospital at BDF headquarters in Ladyville where he survived the shooting.
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