SAN IGNACIO–Danny Conorquie, 20, a special constable attached to the Tourism Police Unit, was shot dead in a brazen daylight shooting in the presence of tourists and tour operators who were visiting one of Belize’s most popular tourist attractions, the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, at around midday today, allegedly by illegal loggers who have had frequent encounters with security forces there.
Conorquie was rushed to the San Ignacio Town Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.
At press time tonight, Cayo police were still trying to unravel the circumstances that led to the murder near the main temple at Caracol, including the possibility that it may have been a retaliatory shooting by Guatemalans.
In an interview with 7 News tonight, Belize Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington said that it has not been established that Conoquie was killed by a Guatemalan. He said that this was a matter for the police rather than a Foreign Affairs matter.
Ret. Col. George Lovell, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, who is also acting as CEO in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Amandala that a diplomatic note will be sent to Guatemala tomorrow, informing them in writing of the incident and requesting their support in the investigation, especially if it yields information that points to Guatemalan involvement in the murder of Conorquie.
Tourism police officers at the site carry both shotguns and pistols, and according to Lovell, an eyewitness reported that the Hispanic man who shot Conorquie stood over him while he lay wounded and fired a second shot in the officer’s face with a 9mm pistol before stealing the officer’s 12-gauge shotgun and fleeing into the bushes.
We have also been informed that a representative of the Organization of American States (OAS) visited the site earlier today.
Lovell said that he also had the information passed on to the OAS director at the border office, Sergio Benitez, and the Embassy of Guatemala in Belize as well as Belize’s Embassy in Guatemala have both been informed.
The CEO confirmed that this is the furthest location from the border where a Belizean has been shot by a person he strongly believes to be Guatemalan, based on the details of the incident, including the fact that the person in question fled into the bushes.
“While we may believe that it is a Guatemalan, we have not made any arrest and we don’t know precisely who they were, although we know they were Hispanic, of Spanish persuasion. We know they fled in the bushes, and more than likely, people who would act in that matter more than likely would not necessarily be Belizean or people that live in Belize,” Col. Lovell said.
Most of those shooting incidents in which the BDF encountered Guatemalans who may have shot back or who have approached them in a hostile manner have occurred very much at that same location, but not at the ruin itself, he said.
Raphael Martinez, Police Press Officer, told Amandala that they have not verified whether the shooters were Belizeans or Guatemalans, and they are still investigating what the motive may have been for the shooting.
A high ranking official of the Belize Defence Force has indicated, though, that there has been crossfire in the past between illegal Guatemalan loggers and Belize tourism police stationed permanently at the location.
Lt. Col. Raymond Shepherd, Chief of Staff for the Belize Defence Force, explained to Amandala that there are “frequent encounters,” and today’s incident was by no means unique—except for the fact that it ended in the death of the Belizean officer.
He told us that at about 11:45 this morning, the two tourism police officers who are stationed around-the-clock at the premises radioed the BDF for assistance. A BDF patrol which had gone to the area for a link-up exercise with members of the Guatemala Armed Forces, an exercise which came out of the OAS-led efforts to quell cross-border tensions, was on its way back to camp at Central Farm, Cayo, and ran back by foot to render aid to the tourism police, who were coming under fire from two Hispanic men.
Earlier that morning, the tourism police captured five horses in a routine sweep of the Caracol area, which signaled the presence of illegal loggers, who use the horses to haul woods such as cedar and mahogany from the Chiquibul Forest. Those horses were found within a distance equivalent to a 2-to-3 minute-walk from where tourists were sightseeing, Shepherd said.
He said that the incident happened roughly six miles from the Belize-Guatemala border. The nearest BDF post is 18 kilometers (or about 11 miles) away at Tapir, but the detachment which was in the area doing the link-up exercise was able to respond more quickly.
Shepherd said that after Conorquie was gunned down, the shooter took away his weapon and ran off in a westerly direction towards the Guatemala border. The five horses remain confiscated at the site.
According to Shepherd, there have been at least three exchanges of gunfire in the area in the recent past, with at least one such exchange having been reported in the past year.
“This is where the tourism police would fight ‘xáteros’ and they would shoot when the tourism police return fire. They just escape in the bushes,” he said.
After the murder at Caracol today, the BDF dispatched 10 officers to the area, along with a captain, and they are currently doing a sweep of the area.
Shepherd said that tomorrow, 100 men from the army will be sent to carry out a concentrated search and patrol effort in the area. This, he said, is an exercise they conduct once every two and a half to three months, on average.
Lovell said that the operation, dubbed “Incisive Gallop,” is a large-scale reconnaissance effort, and it has usually been during such previous operations that there has been crossfire with Guatemalans.
“Hopefully, the exercise in the area will find some people,” he said.
According to Shepherd, the BDF patrol from Tapir goes to Caracol at least once a week to provide support.
The BDF would normally escort tourists to Caracol, but Shepherd said that they were unable to do so this morning because they had mechanical problems with the Mahindra used to get to the site.
An official release from the Ministry of National Security, via the Government Press Office, said that, “Initial reports reveal that SC Conorquie approached two men of Hispanic descent who were on horseback. The two men opened fire, mortally wounding SC Conorquie, and then fled the scene, retreating into the dense cover of the jungle.”
BTB’s Director of Marketing & Industry Relations, Alyssa Carnegie, told Amandala that in her recollection, the incident at Caracol is unprecedented.
She said that there were 18 tourists at the reserve when the shooting happened, and they were all returned safely from the site.
The BTB provides funds for the Police Department to hire tourism police and to oversee the Tourism Police Unit.
Today’s murder at Caracol has prompted the Government to deploy additional security officers to the site, “to ensure the safety of the hundreds of visitors who frequent the site.”
The Government also expressed its deepest condolences to Conorquie’s loved ones.