Minister Elrington clarifies OAS faux pas

Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington explained that something was lost in translation when Secretary General Jose Insulza of the Organization of American States, speaking in Spanish, described as “lamentable” the unfortunate shooting of illegal Guatemalan logger Luis Alberto Ramirez by a Belize Defense Force soldier on July 19.

Foreign Ministry CEO Alexis Rosado also said the appalling gaffe – the use of the word “reprehensible”, which was attributed to Insulza in the first OAS release – was in fact an error in translation by some junior staffer at OAS headquarters.

That word “reprehensible”, coupled with another error that placed the shooting incident in the OAS Adjacency Zone, so incensed some Belizeans; that the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) demonstrated in protest outside the OAS office in Belize City, where they accused Minister Elrington of being a “traitor,” burning photographs of him and replicas of the OAS flag.

In last Friday’s special sitting of the House, Elrington also gave Belizeans, for the first time, a detailed account of what had transpired between the BDF patrol and Ramirez that led to his death; presenting the government’s official report of the incident.

The three BDF soldiers had been on a patrol in the Machaquilha area when they heard chainsaws near Sapodilla Hill and went to investigate. Leaving one man posted as a rearguard on the main trail, the other two climbed a hill from the top of which they could see two Hispanic men, one working the chainsaw while the other held a machete.

The soldiers shouted to the men, even firing a shot in the air to get their attention, but the two intruders could hear nothing over the sound of the chainsaw and remained oblivious to the BDF presence, until the soldiers approached them and searched them. The search revealed a small quantity of marijuana, cigarettes, a measuring tape, two chainsaws and chainsaw tools.

During this, the rearguard back-up man called in on his walkie-talkie radio, speaking in his Maya  language, to say he was being threatened by an armed man.

One of the two soldiers remained with their two captives, while the other retraced his steps to support his patrol team member, but before he could reach him, he saw an unidentified man aiming a gun at the rearguard man, who fired in self-defence. When he reached the scene, he searched the downed man, relieving him of a machete and a shotgun, which was loaded; as he found when he opened the breach and removed the live 410 cartridge. By this time the wounded man had expired and showed no vital signs of life.

The B.D.F. patrol detained the dead man’s companions, Jose Antonio Sosa, 60, of Carrizal area, Guatemala and Hugo Montroy Ramos, 33, of Pena Blanca area, Guatemala, escorting them to the B.D.F. campsite where they radioed in their report of the shooting to their main base at Fairweather Camp.

Belize Immigration officers later charged Sosa and Ramos with illegal entry and both were remanded into custody after they pleaded not guilty to the charge. Forestry officers had yet to charge the men for illegal logging.

Police Crimes Scenes forensics technicians had visited the scene of the shooting two days later on July 21, to process and reconstruct the sequence of events. They were accompanied by representatives of the OAS and the Guatemalan Embassy and BDF soldiers.

Sosa, Ramos and the three members of the BDF patrol had given statements, copies of which were forwarded with other supporting documents to the Department of Public Prosecutions, which initially reviewed the case file and advised the investigating officer of additional tasks to complete before the case file could be submitted to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for final review.

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