Saturday, April 20, 2024

Jesse Smith released: Peaceful protest held in downtown San Pedro


On Friday, August 25th, San Pedro tour guide Jesse Smith was released from the Kolbe Foundation- Belize Central Prison after being charged with Causing Death by Careless Conduct in a February boating accident that killed a teenage American visitor.  One hour before the news of his release was shared, tour guides, tour operators, fishermen, family members, and friends came out in numbers to denounce the charges and demanded that the respective authorities like the Belize Port Authority (BPA) and Belize Tourism Board (BTB) do their job. Protesters spoke about the absence of proper signage, no distinctions of No Wake zones, no swimming areas, or navigational lights to guide vessels or swimmers.

Jesse Smith

The protest began at 4PM with the head of the San Pedro Tour Operators Association, Roberto Canul, welcoming all the supporters at Central Park. He pressed on the fact that it was an unfortunate accident in February of this year when 17 -17-year-old American tourist Logan Ceylon Pratt lost her life. Logan and her mother, Tamra Pratt, were reportedly swimming in an area off the northern Ambergris Caye coast considered an active boat lane. Smith’s boat collided with the Pratts, fatally injuring Logan. Smith was held liable. Canul added that others should be held accountable, such as an alleged unlicensed tour guide who took the Pratts to that location and reportedly told them it was safe to swim beyond docks. It can be dangerous to swim in these areas without proper identification (flags, buoys, or kayaks).
As the protest started, they demanded the BPA take responsibility and begin doing their job by enforcing the regulations of proper signage. They noted that the BPA is responsible for erecting signs advising swimmers where to swim, replacing buoys, and enforcing these regulations. They also called on the BTB to open an office on the island and monitor those ‘tour guides’ offering services without a valid license. They once again touched on the fact that San Pedro significantly contributes to the national economy, and more resources should be designated for the island.

About an hour into the demonstration, news was shared that Smith had reportedly been released on a Supreme Court bail. The chanting changed from ‘Free Jesse Smith’ to ‘We love you, Jesse Smith.’ Others in the protesters started demanding for the charge to be dropped. Smith will now have to fight the charge through the courts.
The peaceful gathering came to an end around 6PM. Organizers emphasized the importance of enforcement, taking care of tour guides and operators, and encouraging visitors to book tours only with licensed tour guides and operators. They hope the government agencies responsible for enforcing these regulations take this matter seriously to safeguard the island’s tourism industry.

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