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May 8, 2003

Belizean kidnapped at gunpoint into Guatemala

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It is only the latest in a disturbingly long list of outrageous incidents perpetrated by Guatemalans on the Belize side of the border. But for one newly employed Belizean worker, the prospect of being abducted at gunpoint was definitely not in his job description. News 5′s Patrick Jones reports from the Cayo District.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

Six days after he was hired as a tractor operator for Yalbac Ranch and Cattle Corporation, Raymond Pitts found himself an unwilling pawn in a high stakes incident on the Belize-Guatemala border. According to Pitts, he was dutifully going about his business on Sunday morning when he was kidnapped and forced to drive the company vehicle across the border into Guatemala.

Raymond Pitts, Labourer, Yalbac Ranch

“Sunday I was working to the bush and fixing my road. And later on, when I look, a crowd of Spanish guys come around my machine with guns. And they tell me brakes, and I stop. And when I stopped they tell me vamos, vamos. And I asked them vamos where, vamos where papi? They said bruk bush. Bruk bush, they told me, bruk bush. And I throttled and we going, going, until we get out on a main road.”

That main road Pitts says was in Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala. And for the next twenty hours, he was detained across the border, at one point being handcuffed by police before he was sent home on Monday with a message for his employer.

Patrick Jones

“They sent a message with you for your boss, what did they tell you to tell your boss?”

Raymond Pitts

“They just tell me to give my boss this number and make my boss ring him, ring the guy there. That’s all they told me.”

Robert Cavness, General Manager, Yalbac Ranch

“They said that they wanted royalty for all the logs that we’ve taken since ’99 and they figure it’s close to a hundred thousand dollars, Belize.”

General Manager of Yalbac Ranch Robert Cavness, who declined an on-camera interview, says that when he called the number sent to him, the kidnappers informed him that they were holding his equipment for ransom.

Robert Cavness

“Armed Guatemalan civilians came across into our backadeer where we were logging back on the Yalbac country. They took the 963 track-loader by gunpoint, the operator. And then when they were going the skidder pulled into the same backadeer to bring another load of logs, when he got off to unhook the logs, the chain, one of the individuals jumped on the skidder and took off. They told the operator to go tell the boss that we’ve got the equipment…My boss would never pay extortion money. If we do, it opens the grounds, every week they’re going to be getting something, not only us, other companies would be having to pay if we ever pay; and we will not pay.”

And with that stance firmly established, the two tractors remain in Guatemalan custody, while the extraction of timber on the Yalbac Ranch has been seriously interrupted. And in direct defiance of the tractor-nappers, Cavness says that with a little help from the Belizean and Guatemalan authorities, he is ready to march over the border and claim his equipment.

Robert Cavness

“I don’t mind going one bit and go get my equipment. I have the serial numbers of the equipment, of both pieces of equipment. I have the port of entry from customs, we have all the information showing that we are legal owners of it.”

Patrick Jones

“Your not afraid for your personal safety?”

Robert Cavness

“I’m not afraid for my personal safety, under these circumstances. But I will not meet these people in the circumstances that they want.”

When News 5 called the telephone number sent to Cavness, the man who took my call identified himself Amado Santos from “Impulsores Sicutecos.” He explained that the money he is demanding is not for the two tractors, but what he believes Yalbac Ranch owes him for loss of royalties from logs taken from their area over the last four years.

Amado Santos, Guatemalan Businessman, Via Phone

“We’re doing this because of what they are doing on our land. We’ve been paying all our land taxes and for four years they have been coming in. And since then we have been trying to find them, until now. Under Guatemalan law, we are within our rights to keep these machines until we get our payment. All we want is for them to pay us for what they have done to us.”

Robert Cavness (showing map)

“Specifically, where this red dot is right here, is where the G.P.S. readings are that Sergeant Jones took. This is the borderline; the little bitty line outside this big dark blue line is the borderline as people say it is; nobody recognizes it I guess. And this here is a three hundred metre bumper zone into our property owned by Yalbac Ranch. So you can well see we’re way into Belize country, we’re not next to the border.”

While Cavness is hopeful that with a little help from the Guatemalan and Belizean governments he will get his equipment back, he says the present incident is reminiscent of a similar situation in 1998.

Robert Cavness

“At the time the Government of Guatemala and the Government of Belize got together and they agreed to mark a hundred yard metre on each side of the border and nobody would mess with it. A week later the Guatemalans came in there and cleaned the backadeers out that were over in Yalbac country, took all of the trees that was marked. And the same thing is going to happen right here if the Government of Belize and the Government of Guatemala can’t get together and work a deal to keep the Guatemalans from coming over into Belize and getting the mahogany trees.”

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a diplomatic note was sent to the Guatemalan government on Wednesday requesting that the heavy equipment be returned to Belize. The Belize Government says its own investigation has concluded that the vehicles were clearly in Belize and there was no legitimate reason for their seizure. As for Raymond Pitts, tonight we understand that he has filed a complaint with the Guatemalan police.

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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