Grieving Families of Belize Defence Force Helicopter Crash Victims Still Awaiting Compensation After Four Years

Grieving Families of Belize Defence Force Helicopter Crash Victims Still Awaiting Compensation After Four Years

It’s been four years since four members of the Belize Defence Force lost their lives in a helicopter crash, but so far only two of their families have been compensated. In 2020, Major Adran Ramirez, Major Radford Baizar, Corporal Yassir Mendez, and Corporal Reynaldo Choco perished when the helicopter they were in crashed into the lagoon just off Coastal Road. The group was on an operation to locate a drug plane that was busted in the area when the pilot reportedly lost his bearings. The crash left several families mourning and without their breadwinners. The force had stated the men were on an official mission; however, it was not until 2022 that the government accepted liability. But so far, only the wives of Majors Ramirez and Baizar have been compensated after agreeing to out-of-court settlements. The other two grieving families had sued the government but are yet to collect any funds for the loss of their loved ones. Today, their attorney, Audrey Matura, spoke about why the families believe the government is acting in bad faith and dragging its feet. 

Audrey Matura, Attorney: “The problem we are having is that this matter has gone through three judges. First, Westmin James, then Genevieve Shabbat, and now we are just appearing again before a new judge Justice Tawanda Hondora. So when we do appear in court, yes the judges they do their work but when we change judges these three are judges that are coming, going, coming, going. So we are at a standstill. But one of the things we did was to apply for an interim payment. The law allows you that if you do not get the compensation but you know you’ll get compensation, as we do know we’ll get because they accepted liability, you can ask for an interim payment until the matter is being heard. We applied for that last year. We haven’t had a hearing. We’re just going to have a hearing for mention March 6th of this year. But before we even applied for the interim payment, we wrote the government. We pleaded with them, like come on you all must could make a payment. No answer. Before that we even said you all must could settle and I feel as the attorney for the family, and this is expressing how they also feel, they feel that the government is acting in real bad faith. How could you say we accept that we are liable for the death of these two gentlemen but yet when it comes to facilitating the process to get payment you stall, you object, you everything. We even had to apply for specific disclosure because for us to calculate what these families are entitled to we have to see what was their record, what was their training, what was their allowances, what was their salary. And believe it or not their wives didn’t know. And until we get that then we could calculate how the BDF would give compensation. So that’s how far back we are in terms that we’ve done our work but two things working against us, the government objects to everything. To us, they act in bad faith and of course the judges that come on short-term contracts they come, they do their part, but then they leave and then a new judge takes over the file and see our notice says that it will be mentioned, doesn’t even says that hey, we are gonna have a hearing on a specific issue. So that’s the dilemma the family face.”

Attorney Matura further explained that one of the issues that has prolonged the payout has been the amount being requested by the families. She says that after carefully examining various aspects of the men’s lives, their widows are seeking a million dollars each in compensation, but the government seems reluctant to honor that figure. 

Audrey Matura, Attorney: “Because these gentlemen died so young and their wives were not involved in their everyday life to know all the details we had to first apply and as the government disclose to us their personnel file. When their personnel file was disclosed it was amazing how positive it was for us in terms of what they really would be able to get. So yes, we are hoping that the compensation would be somewhere in a million dollars each. We are hoping – that’s what we are claiming. Of course, the government under the previous administration and still the position of this administration, had hoped that we would have accepted compensation of only $100,000. That’s what, remember when Michael Peyrefitte was the attorney general that’s what they threw out and they offered. But it seems that those who accepted that you had to sign off a document that you’ll not sue further. I knew from experience that no, these families were entitled to more. These are young men, young, young men who died in the line of duty just started their life. Just got married, have children, have a whole life they had at least another 11 years in the BDF because you could serve up to 22 years. They had a whole new life ahead of them. So we had to use that to be able to calculate compensation. So when we look at what they had offered and what we could get we know it’s far more, but not only that. You are asking if can there be an agreement where it’s paid monthly and stuff like that? Remember, the government and us could not reach settlement in quantum. So we go back to court for the court to see all the evidence, put the data into the formula that the courts use and pronounce an amount that these families could get. Now the problem with that is that let’s say that the court says, okay they’re entitled to a million dollars each, the government could choose to then appeal that. So I keep saying, it’s pure bad faith on the part of the government. Why is it that you accepted liability but yet but yet you are not willing to reach and do the right things for us to agree on compensation ?”

President of the Public Service Union (PSU), Dean Flowers told Love News that he is angered at the situation, saying that the government seems uncaring as to how these families have been managing with their breadwinners gone.

Dean Flowers, President, Public Service Union: “It really makes me upset and angry, Renee, to learn today that these families still have not received any compensation. It goes to highlight the lack of compassion, the lack of empathy, the lack of love that we don’t have for each other. It also brings into sharp focus the need for us to do more where our living servicemen and living public officers and living teachers are concerned who are in the same predicament as the families of these brave soldiers who simply cannot get what is duly theirs. Their pension and in this case their debt in harness settlement. I don’t want to blame anybody but I think that it is a damn shame that this occurred under the previous administration and three years after the fact under a new administration settlement or payment has not been made. I want to plead and beg to the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Defense, the government of Belize, none of you elected officials know how these families are surviving. None of you know how they’re surviving. And it’s a damn shame that none of you are sympathetic enough to move the necessary hands and make the damn decision so that these families can receive the money that is due to them.”

The official cause of the crash, according to the Honduras Air Force Accident Prevention and Investigation Board, was a pilot error. ////

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