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Oct 27, 2014

Caracol Reopens to Visitors Following Danny Conorquie Murder

The largest archaeological site in Belize was reopened this morning. Caracol was closed down by National Institute of Culture and History on September twenty-fifth after Special Constable Danny Conorquie was ambushed and executed by Guatemalans who then fled across the border. His brazen execution at the main site, and the real danger to tourists who were in close proximity, caused a panic at NICH, the B.T.B. and the Ministry of National Security. It was a wake-up call – some say long overdue – which has resulted in a flurry of new security protocols, and infrastructure, being put in place. Today News Five travelled to Caracol to see what the measures that took a little over a month to organize and implement look like. Here’s the story.

 

Mike Rudon

“It is here that Tourism Police Unit Special Constable Danny Conorquie was gunned down. His attackers came from those bushes, and shot him in the back as he sat there securing the perimeter of the site, on a day much like today. Even standing here now, it is uncomfortable to have my back to those bushes, but his death we are told has been a wake-up call for tourism, archaeological and security entities in Belize.”

 

John Morris

Dr. John Morris, Director of Archaeology, NICH

“We had to ensure that before we opened the site to visitors that the Caracol Site would be safe for them, and to do so we had to get a commitment from the Belize Defence Force and the Tourism Police that their numbers would be increased. We would also increase the number of our rangers and all those measures were put in place and until we were satisfied then we decided to open the site to the public.”

 

The first new security measure we observed was at this camp just behind the Douglas D’Silva Forest Station, about twenty-two miles from Caracol. It’s not exactly a new measure…more like stronger enforcement of old protocol. B.D.F. personnel will now be stationed at the camp which serves as a training site. They will escort tourists and other visitors to Caracol at nine every morning, returning at two. Arriving at the site, we didn’t see a significant B.D.F. presence, just these three soldiers on the perimeter. But we were assured that they were present, in force. We also didn’t see any new infrastructure. Again, we were assured that it’s in the pipeline.

 

Dr. John Morris

“When you increase the number of people at the site to help with the security measures needed, you have to house them and so we are in the process of building accommodations for the B.D.F.  The B.D.F. will have a permanent contingent at Caracol and those B.D.F. personnel will be here primarily to secure the boundaries of what is the site core. When tourists are here, they may not see B.D.F., but they will be in the bushes right around the site to ensure that no one comes into the site that is not here as a visitor. And so we have to house the B.D.F. and that is going to cost us, but we are in the process of building their quarters for them to be out here. Also the increase in tourism officers will necessitate further housing and then the increase in our rangers will also necessitate further housing and plus the fact that you have to remember that we are not close to any source of water, we have to truck in lots of water to deal with those issues.”

 

NICH has come under fire from tour guides who say the site should never have been closed. Today there were at least five separate groups of tourists from resorts like Blancaneaux Lodge, Hidden Valley and Maya Walk. These resorts and many others lost many thousands in the past month from pre-booked tours which had to be cancelled. So there’s that frustration, and also a little anger because these guides say stronger security measures should have been in place a long time ago.

 

Gilbert Lucero, Tour Guide

“I guess that shoulda mi happen from before though. That’s what I believe that more security on the site. When we come here, we used to take a risk but we know we had other people present in the area. So I happy they have security today.”

 

Jorge De Leon

Jorge De Leon, Tour Guide

“I think we took a little bit too long to open the site and I understand there is still a lot of work to be done. They are still polishing a few little things that need to happen and I hope it doesn’t take too long before we are a hundred percent at what we need to have Caracol where we want it to be, in terms of safety. Other than that, the place looks good. They have started on clearing the underbrush that we asked for; that’s going to take a while because it is not just clear it and forget about it. It is clear it and keep it from Mother Nature coming back because that’s the problem. And with the rainy season on, things grow very fast.”

 

Today there was consensus – the increased security provided by the Belize Defence Force is a good thing. But there is also a little disappointment after a month of hype about all the things that are going to happen at the site. We didn’t see any Special Constables from the Tourism Police Unit today – not even one. We weren’t the only ones who noticed.

 

Gilbert Lucero

Jorge De Leon

“They promised twelve, but you got to keep in mind that it is twelve that were to be assigned and it was on shifts of six tourism police at a time. I don’t have an answer to that. They are not here and they should be, but other than that, I don’t know. For them not being here, probably that is why we are seeing soldiers around, which is something that maybe the tourism police should be doing. But there not here so the soldiers are covering for that. At least that’s my take.”

 

So with all that said – why did it take the death of a Belizean Special Constable to get the ball rolling? In January a memo from Tourism Police Unit Commander Diana Hall was sent to stakeholders, including the administrator of NICH, warning in the strongest of terms that the Tourism Police Officers on the site were not trained or equipped to secure the site. Hall stated that the lives of those officers were at risk. Seems pretty serious, you would think.

 

Diane Haylock

Diane Haylock, President, NICH

“I don’t really think that the urgency of the situation may have been really recognised for us to be able to address it. I mean we have know all along that yes we can increase the number of people that are working out here, but I suppose that it has never been presented as something that is so critical that we have to do this. I am really torn up about the fact that the death of someone did occur for us to be able to say let’s work together in partnership to see how we can address this.”

 

According to Haylock, the Government of Belize is fully engaged in addressing the concerns at the site, and will remain engaged until they get it to where it needs to be. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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1 Response for “Caracol Reopens to Visitors Following Danny Conorquie Murder”

  1. Hatari says:

    GOB, BTB, NICHE, Police, BDF, they all knew about the inadequate security situation and they have know about it for years but they choose not to properly address it. With all this current hype, what has actually changed? They say that they have increased the number of security personnel and will train them properly this time . . . and only time will tell if they actually carry through with their promises. I highly doubt it. Check back in a few months and you will be able to judge their sincerity. The BDF escort has never worked properly. The object is to secure the road, not scare the visitors with an unprofessional and ill equipped military presence. For some reason they just don’t understand that.

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