REPORT #295 June 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

The aftermath of the massacre on the Puerto Barrios ferry in Guatemalan waters is not over yet. But some things have come reasonably clear. The ferry was boarded by three contract killers. Pirates, or hijackers with a probable hit contract in mind. Enroute they shot the man driving the boat, but miscalculated with a passenger load of Central Americans. Central Americans know that you are going to be killed under certain circumstances and there was immediate resistance against the three armed men. If you expect to die anyway, then you try to take some of the killers with you. In the melee that followed, six people were killed and three wounded, surviving after floating for 17 hours in the sea. The three contract killer pirates got away with the ferry, one presumably injured with a knife cut to the throat.

The ferry was later recovered up the Rio Sarstoon, a remote border river nearby! At least one body is still unaccounted for. The contract failed, as one owner/brother still lives.

From the eye witness accounts, no firm motive has been established. But the most probable motive was a contract killing of the two ferry owners operating this small 30 ft. speedboat ferry with two Yamaha outboard motors, that made the trip the 30 miles across the waters of the Gulf of Honduras and Bay of Amatique. Trip time, is usually only one hour.

This was just business Guatemalan style. No personal vendetta, just a matter of business. In Guatemala, you remove competitors, or people who have a successful small business and take over the market, by killing the competition. Kidnapping, extortion, ransom, are normal in Guatemalan business affairs. This put the Belizean two brother/operator/owners running the ferry at a disadvantage. In Belize you are not allowed to have guns to protect yourself. Guns are controlled, as in under Imperialism, and Monarchy systems. The Central Government wants to be the only one to have guns; that way you can control rebellion, and political opposition. In the USA, the Constitution allows citizens to be armed, to protect themselves FROM an oppressive government and thus force a government to go to court.

In Belize, business problems are usually decided in court. There may be strong disagreements and feuds, but for the most part business arguments end up in court, with the only winners being lawyers. Political persecution though is very common using government departments and the government judicial system.

Unarmed, the two brothers owning the ferry from sleepy rural Punta Gorda town in Belize, were unprepared for doing business Guatemalan style. One of them is now dead, along with six other people.

Probably, someone in Puerto Barrios wants to take over the ferry business between the two countries. It is a small scale, but money lucrative traffic by Guatemalan standards. By Belizean standards the business is comfortable and marginal middle class. Not everyone would want to bother with it. The cost of fuel and replacing motors regularly would be heavy.

Belize gets a regular visit of fishermen turned pirate. Being on the sea around Belize is fraught with danger. Yet you are not allowed to have arms the government rules. But the fishermen who turn pirate usually are armed, with pistols, shotguns and machetes. I have been boarded many times. Mostly at night. Fortunately, one gets to be alert for these things and in one case at Turneffe Atoll, I managed to wake a group of American tourists on board the motorsailer before we were boarded. With flashlights in the incoming pirates eyes. The pirates ( fishermen from a nearby island camp ) armed with shotguns and machetes had no choice but to turn back. In another case, a visiting Honduran vessel anchored under Water Caye, sent a midnight raid by small dinghy and 3 pirates to Goffs Caye where my tourists were camped. I sleep light and the sea carries sounds well. A throttled down approaching outboard motor trying to chug along silently would not be heard on shore among the tourist tents and sleeping bags, because of tradewinds blowing in the coconut palms and roaring surf on the reef nearby, but on board the motorsailer the sound echoing through the water ( an excellent sound medium) woke me up immediately. The lightly sleeping brain in an uncertain anchorage catalogues the unusual sounds and identifies the probabilities. I was out of there in a flash knowing beforehand what was probably going to happen and where the attack was coming from; swam ashore and again woke up the tourists. Before the invading pirates could land, we had a spread out party on shore waiting for them, armed with flashlights and machetes. These foreign pirates also had to go back without the robbery they figured they were going to make. These stories could go on endlessly. After forty years, one thing is constant. A boat captain has to be alert and he should be armed with a pistol at least. I was always angry the Belize government would not allow me to be armed as a boat captain. It put me and my tourist charters in a very vulnerable position. I am sure now, the remaining brother who owns the Punta Gorda ferry is also cursing the government of townies in Belmopan with their ridiculous rules. A pistol in an ankle holster, or middle of the back holster should be normal wear on that ferry. Believe me, I know from personal experience.

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