At press time tonight, three Belizean security guards and their American employer remain in the custody of Mexican officials following a shootout in the early morning hours of Sunday, which occurred on the Belize side of the border.
Since the incident, Belizeans Martin Miller, David Gomez, Curlin Thompson, and their American employer, George Hardie, Jr., all of Las Vegas Casino at the Mexico/Belize border, have been charged with entering Mexico in a clandestine manner with firearms and ammunition, and attempted murder committed in a foreign country.
The men were initially held by the military, but are now in detention at Centro de Social in Quintana Roo.
All four men and their attorney, Licenciado Luis Jorge Fitzmaurice Moguel, will find out early Friday morning whether the Mexican judge hearing the case will offer them bail or continue to hold them on remand.
In addition to that court proceeding, Fitzmaurice will have three days to convince the judge to hear the case immediately. If he is unsuccessful, his clients would be jailed for an unspecified length of time while the case meanders through the Mexican judiciary.
The case has created significant controversy on both sides of the border, as the Belizean version of what led to the arrests differs sharply from the accounts of the Mexicans. George Hardie, Sr., was not in the country at the time of the incident, but this afternoon told Amandala that he has spoken to his son, who recounted the series of events to him.
According to Hardie, Sr., around one on Sunday morning two patrons in the casino were behaving “unruly,” grabbing drinks off waiter’s trays and even stealing tips. The businessman says the duo were escorted to their car in the parking lot by security guards, who were further subjected to abusive and vile remarks.
According to Hardie, the inebriated customers told the guards, “We’ll be back.”
The casino owner goes on to assert that approximately half an hour after the men were asked to leave, they returned in the company of a third man and shot at a security guard who was outside attempting to settle a domestic dispute.
The occupants allegedly then headed to the entrance of the casino and fired indiscriminately at the building. At this point, Hardie says, his guards reacted in self-defence and for the first time in the two years the casino has been in operation, pulled out their nine millimeter handguns and returned fire.
When questioned what was the intent of that decision, Hardie surmised that the guards were simply trying to quell the violence and, if possible, shoot out the assailants’ vehicle’s tyres.
While all this was going on outside, George Hardie, Jr., was reportedly inside his home, located next to the casino, and upon hearing the reports of his employees, determined that the attackers were “crazy” and in an effort to warn Customs and Immigration officials on both sides of the border, jumped into his vehicle and crossed the border into Mexico.
Once on the other side, Hardie, Sr. says, Hardie, Jr. approached Customs officials with his weapon between his two fingers and placed it face down on the counter. Within minutes, Hardie and the three Belizeans were arrested.
Why did they pursue the car in the first place?
To that, Hardie told Amandala, “They didn’t chase them into Mexico. They are not dumb! They were simply hoping that the Mexicans would be alerted in time to apprehend the shooters.”
Hardie, Sr. also told us that his son is not familiar with the laws of Mexico, but having served in the United States Armed Forces, wanted to “do the right thing.” Hardie, Jr. is said to be “stunned” at the outcome of his decision.
Hardie, Sr. couldn’t agree more, maintaining that the casino is the victim in all this and that the unfair bad press from the Mexican media is hurting them. The businessman also says that his son chose not to call the Mexican officials because their experience in the past is that the phone is never picked up.
To bolster their story, Hardie, Sr. says they do have a number of sworn statements from both customers and employees who witnessed the incident, as well as video surveillance footage that captured a portion of the shooting.
But according to Mexican press reports, uncle and nephew, 35-year-old Edwin and 18-year-old Luis Navarro, are painted as victims in the incident. In two separate newspaper interviews, the men allege that they were fired upon by the Belizean guards in the casino’s parking lot, apparently after an argument over a bottle of beer.
In the shootout, four bullets struck Edwin Navarro in the head, the arm, chest, and leg. He was treated for the injuries and released, but it is unclear if either he or his nephew have been charged for their involvement.
Back at home, the families of the four men continue to press for public support and official assistance for their loved ones’ return to Belize.
On the diplomatic front, on Thursday evening Chief Executive Officer, Alexis Rosado, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the Minister Consular to Mexico, Mike Bejos, was dispatched to Chetumal today and will be Government’s point man on the matter.
According to Rosado, Belmopan’s “main interest is to ensure their well-being, and by that we mean that the men are being well treated, have access to legal counsel and right to family visitations; we will make sure their rights are protected under Mexican law; we will see that due process is done and most importantly, that justice is done in the speediest manner. Justice delayed really amounts to injustice.”
But all that said, Rosado maintained that while all diplomatic efforts will be pursued, GoB cannot interfere in the judicial process of another country. The CEO told Amandala that Belize’s Ambassador to Mexico, Rosendo Urbina, is appraised of the situation and will have direct involvement in the case when he officially takes up residency in Mexico City on Friday.
Mexican law carries strict penalties for gun and ammunition related offences. Estimates are that the Belizeans and their American boss could face a combined maximum of as much as twenty years behind bars if convicted of the charges against them.