Well, that isn’t how I expected this story to end.
Cher Urbina was in Belize with her family in January 2021, when she was arrested for having her mask off while walking and eating a snack. One of her family members videotaped the incident:
At first glance, it appeared to be a typical “self-absorbed American who doesn’t want to comply with the local laws” situation, complete with exclamations of, “Is this the way you guys treat American travelers?,””I cannot eat with a mask on,” and “I have a medical condition,” as she continued to escalate the situation and eventually resisted the officers who were handcuffing her and taking her away.
Before COVID, tourism was the second largest industry in Belize. The nation reopened to tourism on October 1st, 2020, albeit with a bunch of health and safety protocols in place to protect residents and visitors from COVID-19. According to their rules for masks and eating, masks can only be removed when people are eating in an outdoor restaurant; the rules mention nothing about walking and eating.
Response to the video of the woman’s arrest varied greatly. Many Belize residents thought the officers were not discreet enough about carrying out the arrest, while others favored her being arrested since she was not following the rules as written. On the other hand, several Americans thought she was acting like a typical “ugly American.”
The incident made its way up to Police Commissioner Chester Williams in no time. He, in turn, quickly ordered the woman’s release. He posted on Facebook, “The officers erred as if the lady was eating, which in fact, she had something in her hand that she was eating, then the officers overreacted. The lady should not have been arrested…”
However a day or two later, Williams changed a little of his narrative:
From my understanding is that the officers had passed moments before and they saw the tourist without a mask and they had warned the tourist about not wearing a mask. Subsequent to that the officers returned and the tourist was seen without wearing her mask and based on that again the officers went to warn her to wear her mask and she went off to the officers. Let me make you clear is that the quarantine regulations that are currently enforce does not make any provisions for persons who are eating or drinking in public not to be wearing a mask. However as a matter of our internal practice we have advice our officers that is a person is eating or drinking in public or any public space then we must exercise our discretion and so it was in that light that I had said the officers may have overreacted and could have used their discretion. Equally it must be understood that the tourist must abide by the law. Even in the video footage that you saw the officers did try to exercise some level of patience in how they dealt with her. But at the end of the day we don’t to promote an environment that would not be conducive to tourists, especially in a time like that.
So it went from “the officers overreacted” to “use discretion; we want to keep our tourists happy.”
Well, OK then.
And was Cher Urbina happy? Apparently so. The following was posted not long after her release:
Meanwhile, Honorary Andre Perez, Minister of Blue Economy and Civil Aviation and Area Representative of Belize Rural South met with Ms. Urbina and her family, not long after her release, to clear the air. Said Perez:
This [the video above] is the recording that Ms Cher did and sent to us. My wife and I visited her at the Bella Vista Resort at the Aji Restaurant yesterday. She was in the company of her husband and her brother. We listened to her and then spoke to her and expressed our sincere apologies on the unfortunate event.
I reached out to her and explained all the good things we are doing as a new administration as we bring about change and reform in the police department. She did acknowledge that despite the incident, she is still able to see all the good things our country has to offer and in particular the people.
She was very grateful and very gracious in receiving my wife and I on behalf of our government and people of Belize. She also acknowledged the good staff from Bella Vista Resort / Aji Restaurant and Reef Ruin Adventure Tours.
Commissioner Williams suggested that area роlісе wіll bе rесеіvіng сuѕtоmеr саrе trаіnіng rеlаtеd tо thе tоurіѕt іnduѕtrу tо аvоіd furthеr іѕѕuеѕ.
Because, you know, you gotta keep the tourists happy.
References: ambergriscaye.com, Channel 5 Belize, Facebook
Feature Photo (cropped): Wikimedia
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#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands #wearamask
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary