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Dec 30, 2010

Belizean is welcomed home after a month in Guatemalan prison

A Belizean who was wrongfully imprisoned returned home today to a warm welcome and just in the nick of time for the New Year. Dennis Gonguez was on an excursion across the border in Melchor when he was detained by Guatemalan police and held for over a month. Gonguez says he was simply at the wrong place where the police found a bag of weed.  Earlier today he traveled by road back to Belize and was reunited with his family. News Five’s Isani Cayetano got a one on one with Gonguez.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The reunion of twenty-two year old Dennis Gonguez, who bears the chief meteorologist’s namesake, with his twelve-month old daughter Adajah is a happy ending to a harrowing experience of being locked up abroad.  His story over the past month has played out like an episode of the Nat Geo series where tourists are held in state detention on drug trafficking offences.  For the Port Loyola resident what should have been a routine excursion across the Guatemalan border to neighboring Melchor de Mencos turned out to be a nightmare when he was nabbed by authorities there for allegedly possessing marijuana.

Dennis Gonguez, Freed of Drug Trafficking Charges

dennis gonguez

“I wouldn’t advise nobody to be locked up out of your country cause they won’t treat you the same like how all Belizeans are treated.  They treat you different worst like how you’re black it’s harder.  They charge you more for the cell, for staying in the cell.  Like they charge you seven hundred Belize dollars just fih get a mattress to sleep on for not cleaning.  I did not have money to pay so I have to do the cleaning twenty-four hours.”

While Gonguez returned to the comfort of his own abode today the ordeal of being away from family and friends since early December has been life changing.  He had been subjected to domestic work while incarcerated.

Dennis Gonguez

“From five o’clock in the morning ‘til five in the evening it’s working.  It’s rough mein.”

Isani Cayetano

“What has freedom been like in terms of being away for Christmas, away from your family and your friends and being able to come back to your daughter and your girlfriend and the rest of your family?”

Dennis Gonguez

“The feeling of freedom, it feels good to come back.  [I] missed Christmas but now the New Years, I’m back for the New Years.   It feels good.”

joseph budna

But freedom for Gonguez wasn’t easily attained.  A Belizean in Peten who read a transcript of the story online stepped in to advocate his release.

Joseph Budna

“When I found out about the case I investigated.  First I investigated to find out whether Mr. Gonguez was a known criminal in Belize, whether he had been involved in some criminal activity in Melchor and I found out that his record is clean.  Hence the reason I jumped on the case and dig deeper down and I said to myself [that] I could get Mr. Gonguez out of prison as quick as possible.  I started to ask questions.  I called friends who are attorneys in Guatemala as well and they answered my question and the answer suited me.”

Lobbying for Gonguez’s release began with authorities being able to prove that a small bag containing the drug belonged to him.  They however, were not able to do so and Budna began building a case around that fact.  Gonguez recounted that fateful afternoon.

Dennis Gonguez

“I was in a bar in Melchor.  [I was] standing around the bar but went to buy a cigarette and four other guys were around a table and this time they see the police coming.  I didn’t see no police and the police told me freeze so I put my hands up because I know I don’t have nothing so I just turned around.  Police searched me [and] did not find nothing and by this time the guys done left out of the bar.  So I gave them my social, he write down my name and they took me where the bag was.  So he asked me if the bag was for me [and] I told him no but he said yes and I can’t do nothing else€ [but] just go with him.  He handcuffed me and took me with the bag.  I didn’t know what was in the bag until we reached one block away when he took me then they opened up the bag and showed me it was weed and I can‘t do nothing so they locked me up.”

Despite efforts to have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Belizean embassy in Guatemala look into the matter Budna says he was still given the runaround when he queried about Gonguez.

Joseph Budna

“If I had not gotten into this show because absolutely the embassy hadn’t done anything to help Mr. Gonguez except that they would tell me that they are dealing with it and they are looking at Gonguez’s wellbeing, welfare.  Man how you wahn look ova wah man welfare and you deh dah Guatemala City dih sihdown eena wah office and this man ya cyant tell you weh dih happen eena ih cell?”

And that’s when Budna took matters into his own hands by rallying the support of friends and connections he had in Guatemala.  After weeks of due process Gonguez was finally released from prison on Wednesday and along with Budna they made the journey back to Belize today where he reunited with his family. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Gonguez was detained in Petén since December second. He was initially offered bail in the sum of six hundred dollars, which his mother, Bernadine Gonguez, who was with him at the time, could not meet.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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19 Responses for “Belizean is welcomed home after a month in Guatemalan prison”

  1. el alcalde says:

    Yes, go back and carry a bigger bag of weed, dumbbell.

  2. rootsman says:

    Maybe we should start a prisoner exchange with Guatemala like the student exchange program some of their prisoners for some of our prisoners maybe that would curtail the crime level in Belize.

  3. BZNinCALI says:

    Mr. Budna, thanks for caring. Welcome home Mr. Gonguez & if what you have told us is accurate, we have a solution as a community & a country, stop spending money in Melchor. An economic boycott will get their attention, force their merchants to speak up & their Government to look at their polices.

  4. mr. ok says:

    Well he prefer go da jail da Belize da Hattivlle weh he wa eat three times a day and relax all day on the tax payers money huh dum bell . Now Belize should mek dem prisoners work and stop mek dem live good da prison bet dem no wa do crime again. Bznin cali looks like uphold dem crimals too punishment in Belize da send murders and rapist etc to sit down relax work dem mek dem give back to the community.

  5. islander says:

    Yea the weed wasn’t his and the weed he smoked infront of Channel 7′s Camera was not weed either….or perhaps it wasn’t him smoking it…hmm I wonder what it is. lol

    This douche got what he deserved

  6. Stephen says:

    That what we need to do in Belize prison, work them for their stay so that they will think twice not to go back. Now look at it, bicycles are cheaper in Belize that Melchior so what was he really doing there. Weed is cheaper in Melchior only $100.00 per pound so he want it from there. I bet if you give him a drug test he will test positive for THC the drug in Cannabis. We all need to stop be sorry for idiots, I know that amount the police found was the sample he ask for and got set up as he probable paid an advance and the seller do not want to deliver the product.

  7. cg says:

    as usual some people only could judge without knowing the facts….

  8. sassy says:

    I think Mr. Gonguez should go and teach Mr. Woods how to run a prison.

  9. Nayo Leonardo Forgarite says:

    How dare you people disrespect my homeland & place of birth Guatemala. Guatemala is the best.

  10. BZNinCALI says:

    Mr ok, I didn’t get your point but I agree with Sassy, our jail could learn from what they are doing in Guatemala. There was a time when inmates came out to cut the grass in the cemetery & clean the streets. I share Earl Grey’s views about the Prison Farm.

    To address your implication, I do not support coddling criminals. I have never smoked weed or used illegal drugs in my life. I squeak by most people’s standards. Years ago, I was stopped by two Customs Agents of color, when I asked what in my demeanor, appearance or profile suggested mule or user, I got attitude & was threatened with arrest for daring to question them. When the white people in our party demanded an answer, they backed off. Being young & black does not make one a criminal.

  11. mr p. says:

    I hope that Mr. Gonguez learnt a lesson and stop smoking weed behind Jane Usher Boulevard. He now has the correct nickname “DUMB BELL” Reflect son. Reflect. I don’t think that your punishment is enough though. You should have been imprisoned for being a “dumb bell” You do a little manual labor and think that you were violated? That’s what we need in Belize. Stop wasting tax payers dollars on you worthless, useless, vagabonds. I think it’s time to pass a law so that all Belizeans who reaches the age of 18yrs. serves his country. Go serve your country for two years and come back as a well disciplined motivated and trained disciple.

  12. Sasha says:

    Right on mr. p, hope what you are saying Gongquez is true about the weed setup. Nayo if you don’t like them criticizing Guat then go back to your beloved country, even with all the crime Belize is stilL PARADISE.

  13. B groovy says:

    If u can’t do d time don’t do d crime. Belize can learn something from this, (lock up abroad)dumbell and friends don’t like hard work. By d way buy locally .lol.

  14. Earl Grey says:

    POINT IS………………….OUR GOVERNMENT WAS USELESS IN THIS SITUATION.

  15. Berty says:

    If da no so….da nayly so!!!!!!

  16. belizeanpride says:

    Nayo if Guatemala is the best, then what the hell are you doing here? go back home, and leave our Belize problems for us and make we comment as we like. If you don’t like our comment beat it!! Go home.

  17. shy says:

    Belize could learn a lot from guatemala i bet if they had those at belize prison doing hard labour from 5am to 5pm they would bloody think twice bout do any kinda crime. I don’t see how crime in Belize will ever change if we have prisoners dih live like they ina dam resort when they go to jail.

  18. vigilante justice 316 says:

    I like this prison policy in Guatemala, make them work for everything! Nothing in life is for free, jail should be the same way. Why should the common man who follow the law have to be the only one to work for what he get. Teach these criminals the concept of working for what you want instead of stealing or waiting for a hand out from relatives. Let them contribute to the development of this country, pull grass at the cemetary, pickup dirt from roadside, etc.

  19. Eve says:

    Yes you see they treated bad, he is not willing to return lol but in Belize, they prefer to be back there that’s why crime has escalated. They can sleep their @$$ up for months years and still eat and be merry. SHAME!!

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