BELIZE CITY, Fri. Sept. 18, 2015–The slander lawsuit brought by Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar “Gapi” Vega against his political opponent, Ramon “Monchie” Cervantes, Jr., continued in the Supreme Court of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin today.
Vega brought the lawsuit against Cervantes and Fiesta FM, claiming that a broadcast from that station, which the Cervantes family aired, slandered his reputation. The allegation is that in the broadcast, Vega’s name was mentioned by Manuel Castillo, who is wanted by police for allegedly masterminding the murder of the senior Cervantes, in a phone conversation with Cervantes, Sr.’s widow about the murder of her husband, Ramon Cervantes, Sr.
From the beginning, Vega has denied all involvement in the matter.
At the trial today, Cervantes took the witness stand and told the court that it was his family who decided to air the broadcast, and that they did so without telling him, since they did not want him to relive the memory of his father’s decomposing body.
Vega’s attorney grilled Cervantes in cross-examination for over three hours, during which time Cervantes told the court that he was not the one who had planned nor authorized the recorded conversation to be broadcast on national radio.
Williams continued to grill Cervantes about the truthfulness of his story, but Cervantes stuck to his position.
During the evidence phase of the trial, the actual recording of the statements made by Castillo was never played for the court to hear. In fact, the actual recording is in the Spanish language, but the court’s official language is English.
Furthermore, there appears not to be a copy of the actual conversation that was purportedly aired on Fiesta FM. Vega’s side has a copy of the broadcast that was aired on Love FM, but they could not get that admitted into the evidence against Cervantes.
Now that the evidence phase of the trial has concluded, it is doubtful whether the actual recording will be played for the court, because that is not a part of the evidence that the plaintiff, Vega, was able to get admitted in the trial.
Upon exiting the courtroom, Eamon Courtenay, SC, who is the attorney for Fiesta FM, told reporters, “In order to prove a libel, you have to prove the document – for example, a book or a letter or some writing, or in the case of television or radio, some actual recording. You will recall that on the last occasion that I spoke to you, I said that they had tendered into evidence a recording from Love FM.
“Mr. Williams said that today that he would come and attempt to get in a recording from Fiesta. Well, he closed his case and he has not put in any recording from Fiesta. So as I stand here today, there is no recording that they relied on. There is no evidence that our clients have published it. Some of the witnesses said that they have heard that Fiesta had started to broadcast and then said exactly what we have maintained from the beginning: the quality was poor, they couldn’t understand, and they changed to the other station.”
“In those circumstances, it is our view that it is unlikely that the Chief Justice is going to give a judgment in their favor. But as you know with these things, we have to make our submissions to the judge and he has to consider all the evidence and make a decision,” Courtenay said.
Cervantes’ attorney, Said Musa, SC, when asked how he felt about the case, replied: “I feel very confident about vindicating my client. As far as I am concerned, at the end of the case, there has been no proof of any publication, and that is fundamental to the case. How can you claim libel or slander when there has been no proof of any publication whatsoever? There is no primary evidence of any tape. No tape has been admitted in evidence. So, to me, that’s the end of the matter. But of course, we have to argue the matter.”
Vega’s attorney, Rodwell Williams, SC, when he was asked whether the absence of the recording in the trial crippled his case, replied: “Well, obviously not. The case is still going on and in fact we were able to put appropriate questions to Mr. Ramon, who testified today. Put in not only what he said he heard in the conversation, but what our client, Gaspar Vega, also heard on the air and also what his two witnesses, Bobadilla and Castillo, heard. Remember now, the case is a case of slander, which is spoken words, and libel, which is publication by way of the airwaves. And the words that were spoken is what we are after, not necessarily the primary place where they were first spoken.”
The case has been adjourned to October 16, when the attorneys will make submissions to the Chief Justice, who will have to then rule on whether or not Cervantes slandered Vega.