Tourism Minister, Manuel Juniour Herredia made headlines in yesterday's Amandala - and it wasn't because tourism numbers are up.
Herredia is accused of forcing out the head of the island's tourism police unit after she arrested a tourist who has a lot of clout.
Woman Corporal Sharmane Young, who's been a police officer for 15 years, told the Amandala today that she was angry, because she felt she was punished for doing her job.
She arrested 43 year old Lisa Marie Merz, and charged her with with using indecent words, using insulting words, boisterous behavior, assaulting a uniformed police officer and resisting lawful police arrest.
Area representative and tourism minister Manuel Juniour Herredia got involved - and went to check on the tourist at the police.
He told us today what happened after that:
Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. - Minister of Tourism
"This one had to do with a tourist that had been coming to this island for 15 years, bringing groups of scuba divers at Amigos Del Mar. And I was called by an employee of Amigos Del Mar, who told me that this person had been locked up, and was in police custody, and that they wouldn't release her until so many days. So, I went immediately to the station, and the officer that was in charge over said that Cpl. Young is not in office, and she will probably not be in until later in the night, or the next day because she was out at Fido's doing a security job. But, I managed to speak with the officer in charge of San Pedro Command, Ms. Robinson, and I asked Ms. Robinson about the situation with this tourist. Ms. Robinson said, 'I heard from Cpl. Young that the tourist was behaving not in a very polite manner. I spoke to the tourist who said, 'Minister, thanks for visiting me firstly, because I don't think any other minister would have done that.' But I believe that I have a job to do, like I mentioned in the beginning, making sure to see that everybody feels welcomed. I am people-friend with everybody, locals or tourists, and I went over there. Immediately, the lady responded, 'I accept that I was a little upset, but that was because Cpl. Young was using excessive force with me. She wanted to take me. I have surgery on both arms, and my hands cannot bend behind.' And she showed me. She did show me, indeed. And she said, 'And the reason I started to use insulting words is because I couldn't stand the pain that was being done to my arm.' Nonetheless, I told her that what I would try to do is I will speak to Ms. Robinson, ask her if she can grant bail. But, Ms. Robinson was very open to say, 'Minister, I will not wake up my officer to grant bail to this tourist.' I called Aragon, who is in charge at Eastern Division. Aragon immediately called Mrs. Robinson. He said, 'Charge the lady if you will charge her, and then grant her bail.' According to Ms. Young, I wanted the lady released without any charges. That has never been my intention. I have never ever - Inspector Arnold can tell you; she was there for 5 years or more. Whenever I go to the situation over there, what is the situation of the case? What can be done? And I will immediately inform either the parents or the families as to what the situation is, and that's it-"
Jose Sanchez - Channel 5 News
"Minister, it is alleged that as a result of your intervention, this officer was transferred from the island."
Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"And I will be - I will - no apologies, right. That indeed for a few months before that, I had asked Mr. Aragon - I think - the Commissioner, if they transfer this officer elsewhere because she was not performing in the best possible manner that is supposed to - when she arrived on the island, she was the best of the best, I believed, that we have had at a person in charge of the Tourism Police. But after that, I personally saw that she was not performing to the best."
The San Pedro Sun quotes a witness who says that Merz's behavior was uninvited and unprovoked..and was disrespectful even after she was given the option to leave the area."
Merz pleaded guilty to four of the charges, but not guilty to the charge of "assaulting a uniformed police officer."
The total fines are as follows: assaulting a uniformed police officer, $800; use of indecent words, $100; use of insulting words, $100; boisterous behavior, $50, and resisting arrest, $300, to a total of $1,350, which Merz was ordered to pay forthwith.
Herredia told us today that this nurse from New York state is not any average tourist:
Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"A tourist of this magnitude that brings every two weeks - or sometimes weekly - groups of scuba divers to the country, and for her to tell me that she will not be coming any more to this country, and will be telling her friends not to come to Belize, when, Jules, we have been fighting for this industry. Ever since the recession was there, we have been working so hard, day and night, to make sure that we upgrade this industry. And today, the numbers can speak for themselves. We have the best numbers ever in this country, in tourist arrivals. And for something small to come around and destroy it, I am not into that."
The San Pedro Sun reports that Corporal Young, was given an immediate transfer to Placencia. No replacement has been made.