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Mar 7, 2001

One year ago: Kidnapped soldiers return home

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One year ago tonight the nation of Belize held its collective breath as word spread that a small plane was winging its way east with a precious cargo. Four Belizean law enforcement officers who had been kidnapped and imprisoned by the Guatemalan army a week and a half earlier, were on their way home. Those were exciting times here at News 5 and as the drama unfolded we mobilised to cover the story across the border. On the first anniversary of their return, we take a brief look back at the ordeal of Romaldo Herrera, Luciano Tzub, Lucio Arana and Macedonio Sanchez.

P.C. Macedonio Sanchez

“We were on routine patrol…we visited Jalacte and we were going to San Vicente. While we were at Mr. Chinte’s house, we had recently arrived at this man’s house, just about two minutes and we were sitting, speaking to him, when the lieutenant, Second Lieutenant Herrera saw some Guatemalan soldiers coming up the hill, ’cause we were on a hill. And, well we didn’t think about anything. I held my position, we all held our positions and they came and they spoke to us in a friendly manner, and they began measuring the exact location that we were, and they told us from there, that we were in Guatemala and on our map we were about let’s say 150 meters or more in Belize, because that’s the usual route that we patrol. I’ve been patrolling that area for some time now, because most of the time police patrol along with BDF in that area.”

“Well after the dispute, they told us that they would have to detain us, and take us back to their base and well it was about twenty-five of them to four of us, so we could not really have physical contact with them.”

Janelle Chanona

“Did they point their guns at you?”

P.C. Macedonio Sanchez

“They did not point the guns, but as far as I could have seen, they had their guns made ready already.”

“They just told us prior to the contact with their commander, they told us that they were going to bring in some surveyors and Justices of the Peace and we would go to the point of contact, check the location on the map and see whether we were in Belize. That did not happen. They handed us over to the police and we were taken to San Luis.”

2nd Lt. Romaldo Herrera

“Reference training, most of the time, when they talk to you about this it’s usually in a war time scenario, not in peacetime scenarios. Actually you don’t expect to be captured during peacetime. Apart from that, just have to mark time, be patient. The patrol itself, the four of us, we’re just waiting out, hopes high as usual. Confident because we’re pretty sure we were in Belize, we did nothing wrong. So we are pretty confident we’ll get out of this.”

And get out they did. using a combination of legal and diplomatic skills, Ambassadors Eamon Courtenay, Sal Figueroa and Guatemalan associates were able to spring the captives from jail and get them to the airport at Flores. What happened next is part of history.

(The plane lands… the guys walk in…hugging their families)

Janelle Chanona

“What is the first thing you’re going to do now that you can do whatever you want to?”

Lance Cpl. Lucio Arana

“It’s been a long time in the cell. I would just want to have a nice cold Belizean beer.”

Private Luciano Tzub

“From me, I just want to get a little break so I can gain back my courage because this is the first time in my life I’ve been in a jail like that and at least I experience something.”

P.C. Macedonio Sanchez

“From a police point view, I would just like to get together with my family. I miss them a lot and the job must go on.”

2nd Lt. Romaldo Herrera

“Thank you very much to every single individual, especially every single person that’s been wearing the yellow ribbon. I know that it’s the job of the BDF and the Minister to get us out there, that’s their job, their responsibility, but still we, the four of us, appreciate it greatly, the efforts put into getting us back home. Mr. Courtenay, Mr. Figueroa, the commandant, the Prime Minister, we would like to thank them personally and the general public for support.”

And where are they now? Private Luciano Tzub has been promoted to Lance Corporal and is posted in Toledo. Lance Corporal Lucio Arana, now a full Corporal, is also on duty in the south. 2nd Lieutenant Romaldo Herrera has been promoted to Lieutenant and is currently on a course at the School of Infantry at Warminster, England. As for Police Constable Macedonio Sanchez, in addition to being promoted to Corporal, he also got married and became a father. He remains on duty in Punta Gorda.

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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