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Dec 10, 2018

8 Belizeans Arrested for ‘Illegal Entry,’ but Later Released

Things got chaotic on Sunday evening in Santa Cruz Village in the Orange Walk District. Santa Cruz is an illegal port of entry which leads to the popular Mexican village of ‘Botes’. In 2017, the Ministry of Immigration warned that it would prohibit and prosecute persons who use these types of illegal border crossings to exit and enter the country. Recently, the ministry began enforcement, prompting a group of Belizeans to challenge the law. On their return to the Belize side of the Rio Hondo, a group of armed soldiers and police officers was waiting for them. The prominent persons from Orange Walk were detained on the charge of ‘illegal entry,’ but were released following ministerial intervention. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Every year, thousands of Belizeans make the trip to Santa Cruz Village, Orange Walk, to access an illegal port of entry, into the popular Mexican village of San Francisco Botes, via the Hondo River.  Basic food necessities are bought at a cheaper price.  But on Sunday, eight Belizeans, returning to their homeland, were detained on the charge of ‘illegal entry’. Orange Walk Businessman, Rene Cuello, and others noticed a heavy presence of armed officers waiting on the bank of the river. Orange Walk’s Commanding Officer, Superintendent Juanito Cocom was the first to approach the group. Also present was Regional Commander, Senior Superintendent Luis Castellanos. Tensions escalated when officers were arresting one of the men, forcing him into the military boat.

 

Rene Cuello

Rene Cuello, Businessman

“When we reached the banks of the river there were heavily armed police officers for eight Belizeans who are coming unarmed right.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“…including Orange Walk’s Commanding Officer and the region’s commander.”

 

Rene Cuello

“Yes. It’s a joke for me. You are going to arrest me for coming into my country.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“You didn’t take it seriously that…”

 

Rene Cuello

“I cannot take that seriously. How are you going to charge me for coming into my own country?”

 

In August 2017, the Director of Immigration and Nationality Service issued a warning advising that pursuant to the Immigration Act, “no person shall enter Belize elsewhere than at an approved port or place of entry’ and that ‘no person shall leave Belize elsewhere than through an approved port or place of departure.” The group’s trip to ‘Botes’ was planned based on observations and reports received over the past couple of weeks. They say that Belizeans right to free movement was infringed. The group decided to test the law.

 

Giovanni De La Fuente

Giovanni De La Fuente, Businessman

“We were arrested according to the policeman and we were given an immigration offense which was ‘entering illegally into Belize through an undesignated point. Actually, what happened for about three weeks we are getting reports that immigration and customs stop people from going to this particular village so yesterday we decided to check it out and that is what we did.”

 

Rene Cuello

“The situation at ‘Botes’ got worse. They started stopping people from the hills they say. So people were going through the back, through mud, to get to ‘Botes’. So I was listening to this things and it irritates me so that is why I decided to make a trip there.”

 

The group was taken to the Orange Walk police station for processing. But after about four hours in detention, they were told that they were free to leave.

 

Rene Cuello

“After a couple of hours the can back with the charges. They were going to charge us for ‘illegal entry’. So they came back and said that they won’t charge us again because some minister called. I told them look I don’t need a Minister’s permission or immigration permission to come into my country. I stand on that. So, I told him, charge me. I want you to charge me. He said no because the minister and I told him I don’t want to hear about the minister. This is my right. This is my constitutional right.”

 

‘Botes’ is a popular contraband area, despite the immigration laws and Sunday’s events, Cuello, De La Fuente, and others say they will return to test the law once more.

 

Rene Cuello

“Illegal entry points are for foreign nationals not for citizens of a country. There is no way you can come in illegal into your country.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“But you can exit the country illegally.”

 

Rene Cuello

“Neither. Your country is your country.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Sir are you aware that that illegal border crossing is used for contraband?”

 

Rene Cuello

“Yes, but we don’t have anything against the customs. The problem is immigration that doesn’t want you to cross. They are interfering in your constitutional right to freedom of movement.”

 

Giovanni De La Fuente

“It is a simple matter. The matter needs to be ventilated in the court and so that is what we want to do. We want to get it into the court but we did not get that opportunity yesterday, we were released. And so I think the group if they so wish, they need to return and test it.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

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1 Response for “8 Belizeans Arrested for ‘Illegal Entry,’ but Later Released”

  1. owk observer says:

    Does the Belize Constitution guarantee Belizeans freedom of movement? What happened on Sunday is an abuse of power and waste of resources; BDF secondary role is aiding the elected government in power enforcing laws in times of emergency but the situation cannot ever be called an emergency. The primary responsibility is defense of the country, but are they doing it?? No the border down south and west are not secure yet the army is being used to harass Belizeans and even for escorting women to Police station!! Looks like a joke, but it is not laughable when your time is wasted in dealing with petty matters that shoudn’t have occurred in the first place.

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