GREEN HILLS, Spanish Lookout, Cayo District, Mon. May 16, 2016–Roger Plett, a Mennonite farmer who was putting out a forest fire on his lands in the Green Hills area of Spanish Lookout, near the border with Guatemala, was abducted for about 4 hours on Friday by men believed to be Guatemalan soldiers, and mistreated before being released.
Plett told Belize police that he was working on his land in the Green Hills area near the border, fighting a forest fire that had been burning in the area, using a tractor with a water sprayer. He had also hired a bulldozer operator to make a fire pass, but at approximately 2 o’clock that afternoon, about 10 men in military uniform surrounded him and began hitting the windshield of the tractor he was driving, with machetes.
Plett reported that he stopped because he feared he would have been shot.
The farmer told the media during an interview in Spanish Lookout today that his hands were then tied behind his back and he was made to walk to the Guatemala border — reportedly a 3/4-mile trek.
However, he managed to talk to his worker before his cellphone was taken away by the soldiers. According to Plett, along with the Guatemalan military were men in civilian clothing, one of whom told the Guatemalan soldiers to “rough him up.’
Plett was questioned, and when he realized that he was in serious trouble and perhaps would be taken further into Guatemala, he told them that he was a Canadian national, and at that point (subsequent to marching for some time to a clearing near the location of the fire), he was told that he was being taken to a vehicle. He said that he had been told repeatedly prior to that, that “someone” had to be responsible for the forest fire that was still burning.
His tractor was also returned to him, but it had been deliberately damaged. Plett, because he was familiar with his tractor, managed to drive it, even in its damaged state, back onto Belizean territory.
Plett’s bulldozer was also taken into Guatemalan territory to do work for the Guatemalan soldiers. However, both pieces of equipment were later returned to Plett.
Plett called a press conference this afternoon in Spanish Lookout, and told reporters that when he attempted to report the matter to Belize police in Spanish Lookout, the police there, after initially taking his story, stopped taking his report, apparently consulted with someone “higher up,” and received instructions that they should not allow Plett to say that Guatemalan soldiers had abducted him.
According to Plett, they changed his report to read that men in “military fatigues” had taken him into Guatemala, and when he refused to follow their instructions not to mention “Guatemalan soldiers,” he was eventually taken to the San Ignacio Police Station, and there, he and his workman were detained for “committing a mischievous act” for hours before eventually being released.
According to Plett, the police showed him messages on his cellphone, which they said proved that he and his workman, Anwar Ayala, who had remained on the Belize side of the border, were fabricating the story.
Plett, very annoyed, said he told Belize police, “you guys are cowards, you are scared of the Guatemalans; you want to sweep this under the rug, as if though it never happened!”
Eventually, Ayala, detained for 48 hours, was released from Belize police detention on Sunday. He later said that he felt like a criminal, the way police had treated him. He said that other villagers, when they saw him in detention, must believe that he had done something wrong, and that he believed that his reputation had gone downhill.
An environmental conservation group of Peten, Guatemala, claimed that the forest fire that was destroying biodiversity in the forest along the border was caused by careless Belizeans, and that they are concerned, and have begun an investigation into the cause of the fire.
The group said that it is committed to protecting the flora and wildlife of Peten, and that there are more than fifty tropical species and wildlife in the area known as Yaloch Lagoon, which is why they conduct regular patrols in the area. Questions remain as to how the fire really started.