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Apr 28, 2003

Kidnapped? Two drug suspects sent to States

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On Saturday morning a jet belonging to the United States government took off from the Philip Goldson International Airport and headed north. Aboard were two Belizeans wanted by the D.E.A. as suspects in a major cocaine smuggling case. And while few outside the men’s immediate family are shedding tears over their departure, there is strong reason to believe that the suspects did not board the plane of their own free will, but were in fact kidnapped by the Belize police on orders from the Belize Government. If this is the case, then the implications for all Belizeans are enormous. Today I went looking for some answers.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

Tonight, the families of thirty-nine year old Liston McCord and twenty-nine year old George Herbert, both of Belize City, are anxious to hear news of their loved ones. The latest reports indicate that earlier today both McCord and Herbert were arraigned in a U.S. federal court in the state of New York on drug related charges…but over the weekend their families were clueless as to their whereabouts.

Jenny McCord, Liston McCord’s Wife

“It’s very hard to describe. I just wish I disappear too.” (Crying)

Maria Herbert, George Herbert’s Mother

“Police tell me he noh know where George Herbert deh, he seh we don’t know weh he there. He gone and ask Brown, Brown, we Rique, he seh he deh dah Belmopan. We drive, we gone to Belmopan and we noh find ah. They say he deh at Raccoon Street, he noh deh there. Then we find out they kidnap ah and they ker ah.”

According to families, both Liston McCord and George Herbert were taken from their homes at gunpoint early Friday morning by separate teams of officers from the Belize Police Department’s Central Intelligence Unit.

Jenny McCord

“They just tell my husband that he will have to accompany them and the person that tell him that name Mr. Gentle. And they check the house wah lee bit, barely anything. My husband tell them he want to use the bathroom and the female police and a male police follow him with a big gun and wait at the bathroom door for him. After that they just gone down the step and take him with them.”

Janelle Chanona

“Did they at any point say why they were taking him?”

Jenny McCord

“No. They never did why they were taking him with them.”

And today, details as to where the men are being held are still sketchy. But it is clear that there are several disturbing questions surrounding the legality of the manner in which Herbert and McCord were transported to the United States…Questions that have even the police press officer scrambling for answers.

G. Michael Reid, Police Press Officer

“I don’t know if you could use the word kidnap. I guess for lack of a better word. But certainly, this was done within the scope of the law, there has to be channels that has to be pursued when situations like these occur and certainly we believe that was done. There is not always that the court hearings are done in public view, it was the weekend and probably the press did not have an opportunity to be there to see what happened. At this point, I’m still waiting for a full briefing as to what occurred.”

Janelle Chanona

“Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Belize, Edgar Embry, declined to be interviewed on camera by News 5. But over the phone, Embry says that the U.S. government had asked Belize to make provisional arrests of Liston McCord and George Herbert. Later, Embry says they were informed by Belize that both men had waived their right to be extradited to the U.S. and volunteered to leave with the D.E.A. agents.”

The story is that the men were convinced by the D.E.A. agents that if they came peacefully, the U.S. courts would take that into consideration in their case. But that version of events is violently rejected by the Herbert and McCord families because it flies in the face of logic. If the men had volunteered to leave, why won’t they have called home first? Contacted their lawyers? Packed a bag? And why, as airport employees allege, were they handcuffed together and escorted on the tarmac by officers brandishing guns? And why, if they went voluntarily, did the U.S. government send their own jet instead of using a regular commercial flight?

Nelly McCord, Liston McCord’s Mother

“This is kidnapping and we cannot afford to have our citizens go like that.”

News 5 understands that Liston McCord and George Herbert were friends, but according a government release, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency believes that the Belizeans had worked with Mexican drug operative Jorge Torres Teyer, shipping as much as ten thousand kilograms cocaine into the United States. Subsequently, U.S. warrants for their arrest were issued in early April.

Here at home, separate incidents, landed both men in the headlines. In October 2001, Liston and his wife were arrested in a record drug bust after fifty-five bales of cocaine were found in an apartment off the Northern Highway. Those charges were later dropped.

Janelle Chanona

“I think you were involved in that incident too, up on the highway here when they had found some stuff in your van.”

Jenny McCord

“Ah ha. Yes.”

Janelle Chanona

“Do you think that’s in anyway related to what’s happening now?”

Jenny McCord

“Maybe. Maybe.”

Then in August 2002, George Herbert was kidnapped by a gang of heavily armed men in a pair of rented troopers…but after a shootout in the heart of the city, he would make a daring escape.

Janelle Chanona

“Now I know last year he me have some trouble, they try kidnap ah, do you think this is related?”

Maria Herbert

“This no, this no. This police mek ah dealment or something with the people over deh and come and kidnap these people without the parents know, the mothers dem know, the daughters dem know and their sisters noh know. That is not fair because all ah we have mothers, all ah we dah mother and child fi the people they ker. They noh have no right fu ker deh two kids.”

By all accounts, Liston McCord and George Herbert were not saints, but for their families, and indeed the public at large, the troubling issue is the violation of their constitutional rights.

Nelly McCord

“We have to go through some legal process, definitely. I don’t know how we going to do it, but we have to do it. Because we are not protecting Liston McCord anymore, he’s a dead goose, he’s gone, we have to protect other Belizean citizens. That is my feeling.”

Maria Herbert

“That is not fair weh they do and we want to talk to Mr. Musa and tell Mr. Musa please, we want them back inna the country. We noh want them outside ah this country, we want them back to Belize, because they have their kids, mother, wife and their mother is crying, their daughter, everybody want them back home.”

This is not the first instance in which it is alleged that a Belizean citizen was kidnapped by police and put on a U.S. bound plane. Four years ago Dr. William Willitts, a naturalised Belizean citizen, was abducted by police officers Eli Salazar and Simeon Alvarez and put on a commercial flight to the States where he answered to charges arising out of a U.S. domestic dispute. Then Minister of National Security Jorge Espat subsequently apologised for the “error”. In the present case, we are still waiting to hear from the current Minister of Home Affairs, the Attorney General and the Prime Minister. Until they speak, there is good reason for Belizeans to wonder tonight about the fundamental strength of our constitutional system.

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