ORANGE WALK–A memorial service for popular cañero, businessman and former senator, Ramon “Don Ramon” Cervantes, Sr., 71, of Orange Walk Town, who was kidnapped and murdered in early July, 2014, was held yesterday, Wednesday, at the cane field next to where he was last seen alive.
While the atmosphere was somber as hundreds of supporters, mourners and concerned residents of Orange Walk Town gathered at the site to pay their respects, nothing could have prepared the attendees for what happened at the memorial: the Cervantes family played a phone recording in which the alleged mastermind of Cervantes’ murder put a significant twist on the murder, for which three people have already been charged in court.
The alleged mastermind, who police say is Manuel “El Pelon” Castillo, 37, who has fled the country, allegedly had a phone conversation with Ramon Cervantes’ wife, Vilma, and he pinpointed a sitting politician and “eight” police officers, including a high-ranking officer, calling them by name as being the actual instigators behind the patriarch’s murder, which, according to Castillo, had the involvement of a major Mexican criminal gang.
The memorial service was broadcasted nationwide through a media house, Love FM, and the recording of the phone call, which supposedly was made to the residence of Mrs. Vilma Cervantes on Wednesday, October 8, 2014, at 8:23 p.m., was therefore also carried nationwide.
During the astonishing 15-minute conversation, which was conducted in Spanish, the caller, who identified himself as “Manuel”, distanced himself from the gruesome kidnapping/killing, and explained to the victim’s wife that, contrary to previous reports, he is completely innocent of the crime.
The caller went on to warn the Cervantes family that they should not trust law enforcement personnel and that the orchestrators want him dead, because he was tasked with what he described as a “contract killing” that he declined to pull off due to his longstanding relationship with the Cervantes family.
According to “Manuel,” who admitted to having underworld connections, his henchmen turned on him when he refused the job when he learned that the target was Don Ramon’s son, Ramon “Monchie” Cervantes, Jr., the PUP standard-bearer for the Orange Walk North constituency. He said that the so-called hired guns had not intended to kill Cervantes, Sr.
The apparently anguished and remorseful Manuel asserted that he wanted his name cleared because he had nothing to do with the incident, since not only was he shot in the back and left for dead near a river, but also because he has been forced to stay away from his family.
Manuel “El Pelon” Castillo, who is being sought by Interpol, reportedly had absconded with his common-law wife, Avicela Duran, 25, and their young child, but “Manuel” claimed that he has no idea where his girlfriend and baby are.
After sharing his version of the events, the caller reiterated the danger in which the circumstances surrounding the murder of Cervantes, Sr., have put both his life and the lives of the immediate Cervantes family members, and concluded by pledging to send recorded evidence of conversations that took place between himself and the alleged perpetrators prior to the slaying.
Ramon Cervantes, Jr., who sat at the head table during the memorial, was questioned about the veracity of the recording. He inferred that there was no reason to make up such a story.
He said, “Firstly, it was Manuel Castillo that called. So we had no control over that; he is the one that said what he said. He was the one that mentioned those names; he was the one who mentioned I was the target. Frankly, I don’t see anything political about that. My father is dead; that’s the reality. They killed him; it was a hit. It wasn’t just a kidnapping for money.
“Frankly, I wish this was just a dream and a nightmare and I would wake up tomorrow and find out this is just a bad dream. It’s a reality and I always maintained – if you checked your archives, I told the media as time goes by, we will keep the public informed.”
Cervantes explained that “Manuel”, who was obviously shirking culpability, will have to be the one to establish his innocence if he is caught, since he promised to call back to provide the additional evidence a week later.
Mrs. Vilma Cervantes told the gathering that the man had indeed called back the following week; however, she was busy and alone in her store and was not able to take the call at the time. She had asked him to call back in a few hours, and he had promised to do so but never did.
As for “Monchie”, he mentioned that while the situation says a lot about the present state of Belize’s political discourse, or the shifting thereof, he will not let them scare him.
“It’s not only sad for me; it is sad for the country. To the point where we have gotten as a nation, it is very worrying as a nation. My life, I am only one person. I think the whole country is in danger – our whole tradition of supposedly peace and cooperation with one another. I think our whole social fabric is in danger.
“As for my life, as a God-fearing man, I fear the face of no man or his kin. I only fear God. I know that my life is in danger and possibly even the lives of my family and friends and those close to me, because clearly, I am marked for death by very rich and powerful people. But we have to go on ‘cause God will decide my death soon, not man”, he told us.
The news of the sensational allegations in the recording spread like wildfire, and late yesterday, Wednesday, the office of the Deputy Prime Minister issued a release that read as follows: “Hon Gaspar Vega, Deputy Prime Minister, learned of a Ramon Cervantes family press conference broadcast today by a certain media house. At that press conference a voice recording was played containing the most outrageously false and defamatory allegation against the DPM.
“Hon. Vega condemns those that caused the recording and allegations to be played, and those that carried the broadcast. The DPM warns that no other media house should carry or in any way further circulate the reprehensible libel against him.
“He has already consulted his lawyer who will take action against anyone that ignores this warning,” said the release.
The Cervantes family had said that they plan to hand the recording over to the police tomorrow morning at 10:00, but this evening shortly after 4:00, the Police Department sent out a release which said, “With regards to the murders of 71-year-old Ramon Cervantes, Sr., and 46-year-old Sonia Maribel Abac Menchu, 46, that occurred in Orange Walk sometime around the 1st July 2014 and the 23rd April, 2014 respectively, police investigation has proven so far that no other party apart from wanted person, Manuel Castillo, and his accomplices are responsible for both murders.
“Additionally, P.C. 743 Javier Alvarez, who apparently sold a police service handcuff to wanted fugitive Manuel Castillo, has been placed on disciplinary charges – (2) counts for Prejudice to Good Order and Discipline, and has been interdicted from duty since 26th September, 2014.
“No other evidence has surfaced to determine otherwise.”
Nevertheless, tonight, Hon. Gaspar Vega sent a videotaped response to select city television stations, vehemently denying being involved in Cervantes’ murder.
“I was not, and could not, have been involved in any way with Mr. Cervantes’ death. All who know me know that I would be utterly incapable of such a horrible act. It hurts and angers me that such a recording from the person the police have stated to be the principal murderer, and who ran away to avoid justice, should be used now to endanger me and my family. I cannot understand how anyone could want to place any reliance on what this Castillo supposedly says. His co-accused have confessed and detailed exactly how Castillo masterminded this, and another murder. This has been confirmed by the evidence the police gathered. The fact is that as the murder mastermind, Castillo can have no credibility. This is also underlined by the huge holes and obvious lies in the story he tells on the recording. At the end of it all, therefore, I have to feel that politics is involved here. It is a terrifying thought, but the facts are clear, and I condemn what is being done,” said Hon. Vega.