Recently seemingly unrelated incidents have crippled our economy and few seem to be aware. The first incident that passed with little comment was the arrest of the major Guatemalan drug trafficker in San Ignacio by US authorities without the assistance or knowledge of the Belize Police.
Shortly there after the Guatemala authorities clamped down on Melchor arresting and jailing a variety of Customs, tax officers, police and others while working to break up a big contraband ring working out of Belize. The ringleader was a Belizean who they apprehended at a roadblock in the Guatemala interior. Guatemala military searched businesses and private homes seizing any large amounts of money, particularly Belize dollars or US dollars, that could not be documented and are still working, the operation is far from complete. This also passed with little comment except for a few postings warning of vehicle ID checks in Melchor.
Now some few weeks later and suddenly the Mexicans have completely shut down the Northern border to commercial traffic. They did this by revoking the operational permit of the only Mexican Customs Agency authorized to process the paperwork for shipments into and out of Belize. The reason given was “one of the following three reasons, lack of information on the declaration form, a falsification of information on the document or wrong address. This would be an indication that some form of contraband was at play. This received also practically no attention except for the obvious losses but none of the implications of what was going on.
Now two weeks later Mexico has installed sophisticated checkpoints on all roads out of Chetumal searching for fugitives and contraband and coincidently the Mexicans opened the border again after announcing a successful two day trial of their new checkpoints by awarding a new “patente” to a different company allowing them to take over from the old agency. This has received no comment at all.
The obvious thread here is contraband coming out of Belize. The original International investigation of the Guatemalan narco caught in San Ignacio revealed a high-level drug trafficking/money laundering ring operating out of Belize, of which the Belize police knew nothing. They were not invited to participate in the investigation, which took a surprising twist when it was discovered that large amounts of contraband were been used for payment instead of cash. It was being moved from the Corozal Commercial Free Zone through the Western Border sometimes over-nighting in the Benque Viejo Free Zone before being passed into Guatemala with a wink and a nod as legitimate cargo considering it was all fully documented from the Belize side. In response the Guatemalans started a huge investigation arresting scores nation wide including the Belizean “ringleader”.
With the assistance of the International Law Enforcement operation in Belize the Guatemalan authorities were able to piece together the picture and identify a substantial list of Belizeans involved in the drug trafficking and money laundering operation that were responsible for the facilitation of the contraband from Belize to Guatemala. This sizeable list is reported by classified sources to include Senior Police, Customs Officials, Benque Viejo Free Zone CEO Al Sattler and Ministers of the Belize Government including Erwin Contreras, Minister of Trade and many other lesser conspirators.
In this context it is easier to understand the Mexican Border closure as many of the shipments come from the Corozal Commercial Free Zone, the operation of which is part of Erwin Contreras portfolio as Minister of Trade and Investment Promotion. The alleged ringleader captured in Guatemala also operates out of The Corozal Commercial Free Zone.
Contraband at these levels affects national economies and must be dealt with. It is unacceptable for Government officials be implicated in smuggling into neighboring countries thus promoting crime and hurting the economy of the neighboring countries as well as Belize.