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Jun 25, 1999

Espat comments on Arenal shooting

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Minister of National Security and Immigration, Jorge Espat today made a formal statement at the Meeting of the House of Representatives about the shooting death of Guatemalan Mateo Ramirez by a B.D.F. soldier in the village of Arenal on Saturday June 12th. The incident has led the Guatemalan government to request a full investigation. The death is being reported in the Guatemalan press as an unprovoked attack on a civilian by a member of Belize’s military.

Jorge Espat, Minister of National Security

“First let me reiterate our position that we regret the fatal incident. The pictures that have been sent to my Ministry as well as witnesses collaborate with the reports of the Belize Defense Force and also coincide with the preliminary police investigation reports.

The information from the commandant is that when Mr. Ramirez was intercepted the first time, he refused to be searched, refused to go through the normal procedures at the outposts. He then left or escaped Belize and then two hours later, I’m told, he reentered Belize illegally. And when he was sighted by the security forces, he came out of the house wielding a machete. The security officer who avoided him, and from the reports the Ministry has received, he stepped back several times and every time he spoke in Spanish, after speaking in English, saying “alto”. And I guess after he could not move any further and after the deceased insisted on aggressing the officer, wielding the machete and I understand, one or more of the chops came inches away from that soldier’s head and I believe if he had not preserved his life, then he would have been chopped and possibly killed.

We have nothing to hide. We are not going to cover anyone. And while we continue to believe the reports we have received from the Commandants of the Belize Defense Force, the Commissioner of Police, because of the importance of maintaining a healthy professional relationship with Guatemala, our government has appointed a commission of inquiry that in fact will even offer the Guatemalans to make representation. And in fact we have invited the Guatemalans to come and observe the proceedings because we take it seriously. And as I said in my statement, we seek confrontation with no one but we do insist that everyone recognizes our sovereignty and respects our laws.

This commission is tasked to do an independent and impartial inquiry and we await its findings. And I don’t want to prejudice the findings; we’re going to honor the findings.”

Two Belizean journalists who have visited Arenal claim witnesses to the shooting told them Ramirez was fleeing from the B.D.F. soldiers, not attacking them, although one witness is quoted as saying Ramirez had a machete and was waving it at the soldiers. Ramirez’s ten year old son witnessed the shooting.

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