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Belize Men’s National Team walks into Haiti’s red hot cauldron

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Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2021. 9:21 am CST.

By Ruben Morales Iglesias: The Belize Men’s National Team (BMNT) went to play football but little did they realize they were walking into a red hot cauldron.

Haiti, as it has been throughout its embattled history, is living through a very politically and economically unstable crisis.

Amid rampant corruption, institutional violence, thousand of kidnappings by gangs that overrun the streets, and a president who won’t step down even though the opposition says his term is over, the police are caught in the middle trying suppress the kidnapping gangs. Some are also accused of trying to overthrow president Jovenel Moïse.

As the BMNT arrived in Haiti a group of rebel police made up of present and former policemen called Fantom 509 were raiding a police station jail outside Port au Prince to free a policeman jailed for reportedly killing a gang member linked to the mayor of the Village de Dieu (Village of God), a slum suburb of Port au Prince.

The police reportedly raided the Village de Dieu on March 12 but their incursion was botched and four police officers were killed. The Fantom 509 police have since been trying to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades and claim the government has blamed inspector general Carl Boucher, who has been jailed, of being responsible for the botched Village de Dieu raid. Yesterday, according to the Voice of America Geffrard Guerby, who identified himself as a delegate of the national police union,  Fantom 509 was following through on a previous threat.

“Yesterday, we said [that] until we get the policemen’s bodies back, we will make the country unlivable. It will not be able to function,” Guerby told VOA, acting as a spokesman for Fantom 509.

VOA reported the national police and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officers launched the March 12 operation in Village de Dieu, a Port-au-Prince slum and gang stronghold. Gangs there have been blamed for a surge in kidnappings that have targeted Haitians from all levels of society and terrorized the nation.

It is believed that the BMNT ran into the Fantom 509 and their followers who held them up with assault rifles on Monday as they arrived in Port au Prince. Even though no one was harmed, the team was very shaken up and the FFB said yesterday it planned to move the Belize Men’s National Team to “safer grounds”.

“While we were on the road …I would say almost 50 cycles with personnel on them approached the bus and stopped the bus, stopped the officers who were in front of the bus escorting us on cycle,” BMNT coach Dale Pelayo said.

 “There were two officers on motorcycles in the front and two cycles in the back. They were stopped and pulled over. They stopped the bus and the guns were pointed on the officers and on the bus itself, on the driver of specifically, and he was told to turn around. It was kind of a little bit scary to see people pointing guns at the officers and, in my view, ‘cause I was seating in the front seat of the bus, you know. There were people with the guns dressed in officers’ clothes which was quite scary. It seems they were police because they had police uniforms just like the ones escorting us.”

The FFB said they were in contact with FIFA and Concacaf after the incident.

“The Football Federation of Belize takes this time to express its disappointment and disgust at an unfortunate incident faced by the Jaguars as the team was headed from the airport to the hotel this morning in Haiti. Despite the four man police escort, the team bus was stopped by an uproar of insurgents with assault rifles on motorcycles and police escorts were forced to negotiate with them for the team bus to continue its journey to the hotel. The situation is one that the team should have never faced but we are pleased to report that our Jaguars, although shaken by the terrible experience, are safely at their hotel,” the FFB said.

Team Co-Captain Deon McCaulay said, “I am happy everyone is safe and I commend you guys for being brave. It was a moment of intense fear. Let’s continue to stick together and please make the best decisions when it comes to the team.”

The BMNT flew into Haiti yesterday morning after overnighting in Miami on Sunday.

The Belize Jaguars are playing against Haiti in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers at the Stade Sylvio Cator in Port au Prince at 3:00 p.m. Belize time on Thursday, March 25. But right now the situation is uncertain.

The BMNT Is scheduled to fly to the Dominican Republic on Friday for the second game on Tuesday, March 30 against Turks and Caicos Islands at the Estadio Panamericano in Santo Domingo at 3:00 p.m.

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