Three weeks ago, when we first reported about problems in the national park that sits on the Belize-Guatemala border, the NGO Friends of Conservation Development made the prediction that tensions in the park would likely escalate into a serious conflict.
Unfortunately, that prediction has come to pass — in an even more tragic way than anticipated.
On September 25, Danny Conorquie was fatally shot in broad daylight while working at Caracol, one of Belize’s many — and some say, most significant — archaeological sites. Twenty-year old Conorquie was a special constable with Belize’s Tourism Police Unit (TPU), which posts officers at Belizean cultural attractions that receive large numbers of tourists.
“The Tourism Police, of which Danny Conorquie was a member, are trained by the National Police as Special Constables, and in this case [Conorquie was] tasked to Caracol to protect and keep order at these remote ruins. Until this point, [it had] been a relatively safe assignment, with only minor incidents of theft by Xateros from Guatemala,” said Jim Bevis, owner and operator of Mountain Equestrian Trails, Ltd., a tour outfitter in Belize’s Cayo District.
Rafael Manzanero, executive director of Friends of Conservation Development (FCD), added, “Wardens and workers normally stay with limited security any day at Caracol. Two tourist police are usually stationed there full-time, and we [the FCD] provide occasional support.”
The shooting occurred around noon on Thursday. In a press release about the incident, Raphael Martinez, Police Press Officer of the Belize Press Office, stated:
“Initial reports reveal that SC Conorquie approached two men of Hispanic descent who were on horseback. [The men were believed to be xateros, Guatemalans who come to Belize to harvest palms illegally.] The two men opened fire, mortally wounding SC Conorquie, and then fled the scene retreating into the dense cover of the jungle. SC Conorquie was rushed to the San Ignacio Town hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
This incident occurred in the general vicinity of the main temple in plain view of several tourists and tour operators.”
The incident has become front-page news in Belize, but has yet to receive any coverage in the U.S., a fact that astonishes Bevis.
“The incredible irony is that the U.S. will fund countries to stop the growing and trafficking of drugs to North America,” he says, “but ignores the activity which is destroying old-growth intact rain forests worldwide. It is like going into the Redwoods in California or Yellowstone National Park and logging them out. Nobody would stand for that.”
A protest along the Belize-Guatemala border is planned for today; organizers say the goal of the protest is to draw attention to the crisis in and around the park and to compel the government to act on a border issue that has not been addressed adequately.
Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow, for his part, issued a press release earlier today in which he expressed “outrage at the heinous nature of the killing,” which, he said, was believed to be perpetrated by Guatemalan nationals. Barrow also gave indications that his administration is taking action on the border, stating that the Belize Defense Force launched “Incisive Gallop,” an operation “designed to clear illegal incursions into [Belizean] national territory” the day after Conorquie’s murder.
“[O]ur capacity to deploy security forces more rapidly and effectively in the jungle [along the border] is also being reviewed,” he concluded.