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#401474 - 03/02/11 03:33 PM Jalacte, The Road Less Travelled
Marty Offline
Last night we told you about the contract signing for the Forty Seven million dollar upgrading of a 23 mile stretch of the Southern Highway, from the dump to Jalacte.

The official spin is that it is expected to give the residents of Western Toledo improved access to Punta Gorda and the rest of the country.

But the truth is it will facilitate brisk illegal trade at an unauthorized border point but one that keeps Belize Guatemala Relations at a healthy middle ground.

We found out as much when we visited Jalacte in December of 2008. We reprise that story tonight:..

The issue of the Special Agreement and referendum it promises has taken center stage nationally but there's a significant dvelopment on the ground that is a far more immediate concern. There is a significant structural incursion into Belizean territory near the south western village of Jalacte. It is a development authorities on both sides of the border and at the OAS are aware of but it seems to have been something they were powerless to halt. This weekend Jules Vasquez and Alex Ellis went into extreme south western Belize to investigate.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
These horses are saddled with two hundred pounds of corn each. These farmers and his sons will walk them about ten rugged miles from Santa Elena Village to Jalacte Village. It will take them 5 hours - and they started at dawn in the golden light and 60 degree chill of an early December morning.

Jalacte is the end of the line - a village on Belize's most southwestern border and a lively trading point between Belize and Guatemala. The Mayans of these Belizean take their corn from Jalacte into Santa Cruz, the nearest village in Guatemala; it is about a mile and a half away. Here, traders are fastening their bags snugly to horses and donkeys for the difficult trek into Guatemala.

Jules Vasquez,
How much for each bag of corn?

Pedro Kus, Farmer
"78 quetzals."

Jules Vasquez,
That's about 25 Belize dollars.

Pedro Kus,
"Yeah."

25 Belize dollars per sack for a lengthy, difficult journey - involving hours of man labour not least of which is this - the shelling of the husks of dried corn - a back breaking manual process that takes hours. And these farmers saved a few hours; they hitched a ride in our pickup truck and here in Jalacte transferred their hundred pound sacks to horseback because there is no road into Santa Cruz. Still road or not, dozens of sacks of mostly corn go across daily.

Dionicio Choc,
"The reason why people bring their corn here is because there is no market in Belize. For that reason, the people have to come all the way to Guatemala to sell their product."

Jules Vasquez,
And the Guatemalans are eager to buy it?

Dionicio Choc,
"Yeah if you bring 100 bags they will buy it but in PG if a poor farmer takes his corn there, 5 bags, it would take the whole day to sell the corn there but Guatemala is a place where they buy corn."

And they buy plenty of it. So the farmers have to trek across from Jalacte to Santa Cruz, the nearest village in Guatemala. It is an arduous journey across these last few miles, up and down hills and narrow, muddy hoof-pocked trails and across the Aguacate Creek. The landscape is often broad and breath-taking but the terrain is rough, and by the end of it I was exhausted.

We were met the by BDF soldiers who just happened to be patrolling the area. The road you see them walking on lined by Madre Cacao trees is what's commonly considered the borderline between Belize and Guatemala though it is not formally demarcated. And the road beside it, is considered Guatemalan. But according to GPS coordinates, that would be wrong; the road built a few years ago is on Belizean territory though the Guatemalans built it. For these reasons and many more, the BDF are on very high alert when they are in this area.

Corporal Tasher of the BDF,
"As every soldiers knows that once you are on the borderline, they are risking their life because it is not only the soldiers that we are interacting with, it is also the civilians from Guatemala so on a day to day basis we are risking our lives."

Jules Vasquez,
How do the Guatemalans respond to your presence in the area?

Corporal Tasher of the BDF,
"Well sometimes they accept us and sometimes when things get hot on the border, reference to other things when they know they are doing wrong, then they try to retaliate on us."

And things are hot right now because of this buildup on top of a hill which looks directly across to Jalacte. It is the highest point on a Guatemalan owned cattle ranch which is in Belize - we're told it's the property of Leonel Arrelanos, a powerful local businessman in Santa Cruz. One month ago, he started to build in an area clearly within Belizean territory. The BDF who patrol the area sent official notices of the incursion to their higher-ups in Belize, but nothing was done to stop the works.

Wil Maheia a third party activist with the PNP and our guide for the day also sent warnings.

Wil Maheia, PNP
"About a month ago, just before the 19th of November, I remember we came out here, sent pictures to the press, showed them where bulldozers have made a road coming into Belize and yet nothing has been done. If we Belizeans would do the same, go over there into Guatemala - we would have been thrown out."

But Arrellanos was left to build and one month later he has a concrete base, with a container perched atop it - upon a large prominently placed, well bulldozed mound. No one knows what's in the container, but the placement at the top of a prominent hill facing towards East makes it seem almost like a direct affront to Belize's sovereignty.

Information in the area says it will be some sort of hardware store, but no one knows really; all the BDF know is that this hill and the structure are in Belizean territory but the owner who lives just down the road carries a gun and says the clearing is on his property in Guatemala.

And that's where it gets complex because the road leading from the mound on the hilltop into Santa Cruz town is widely considered to be Guatemalan territory - in fact it's the Guatemalans who put down the road years ago, carried a gun, and it is used by Guatemalan taxis such as this one owned by Erwin Rene Martinez who is clear that he is in Guatemala.

Jules Vasquez,
Where are we?

Erwin Rene Martinez, Guatemalan Taxi Driver
"Supposedly they say this is a street in Guatemala."

Jules Vasquez,
Suppose I say we are in Belize?

Erwin Rene Martinez,
"It is possible."

Jules Vasquez,
If the Belizean officials were to tell you that this is a road in Belize what would you do?

Erwin Rene Martinez,
"If it's for Belize, it's for Belize. If it's for Belize, there is no problem. We have to be reasonable."

Edgar Savedra also is also reasonable, he's lived in Jalacte for 20 years but is Guatemalan.

Edgar Savedra, Jalacte Resident
"I was born in Guatemala but I have to live in Belize because I need somewhere to work. In Guatemala there are only pasturelands and poor people like myself have nowhere to love.

I have more opportunities here in Belize because I like to make milpas. I can plant beans and rice and I need to work. In my country I don't have an opportunity to work because I don't have any land."

And that brings into sharp focus the central issue between these neighboring countries; Belize has an abundance of land and opportunity; Guatemala has an abundance of people who need both and can't find it in their own country.

Which brings us back to corn - the currency that maintains the relationship between these border villages. The corn grown upon Belize's abundant lands comes here to this bodega as they call it. And guess who owns the bodega? Leonel Arellanos, the same man who's built the offending structure within Belizean territory.

His son Ferdie who spends his weekends helping out at the corn shed goes to school in Punta Gorda:

Jules Vasquez,
So you go to school in PG?

Ferdie Arellanos TCC student
"Yes sir."

Jules Vasquez,
Which school?

Ferdie Arellanos,
"TCC."

Jules Vasquez,
Why?

Ferdie Arellanos,
"Because I want to learn English."

Jules Vasquez,
But you live here in Guatemala?

Ferdie Arellanos,
"Yes sir."

Jules Vasquez,
But where do you see your future?

Ferdie Arellanos,
"Belize. I see the future there."

His little brother goes to school in Jalacte

Jules Vasquez,
Do they have school here in Santa Cruz?

Ferdie's Brother,
"Yes they have."

Jules Vasquez,
Why do you then go to school in Jalacte?

Ferdie's Brother,
"Because I want to learn English."

Jules Vasquez,
What's the advantage in knowing English?

Ferdie's Brother,
"The advantage in learning English is that most Belizean come to Guatemala and if we don't learn English, how will we understand ourselves."

And apparently, they understand fine right now, because Belize's Mayan farmers are paid in quetzals -most of which is spent right here on the village on cheap groceries like these that we saw Dionicio Choc taking back into Jaclacte. Santa Cruz Guatemala is a quite a bustling center of commerce - and one of the only places in the world where they prefer Belize dollars over US dollars.

[Shopkeeper indicating preference for Belize $2 note over US$1 bill.]

Unlike Jalacte, it has electricity and Belizean shoppers come here for Gallo beers, and cheap products. The village - or most of it - is in Guatemalan territory - the cemetery for example is believed to be inside Belizean territory. But it's a fine, widely unknown line, and the entire village exists under the eye of the BDF treetops observation post - the sole indicator of Belize's domain in the area.

It is ground they are holding in hostile territory, the Guatemalans resent the military's presence, and after taping for few minutes it was made clear to us by a group of village leaders that our presence was also not welcome.

Back in Jalacte and after recovering from the grueling trek back under the midday sun, I considered this village, a small trading outpost, its jarring juxtapositions between of Guatemalan and Belizean branding, the commanding Guatemalan phone tower on the borderline, the fact that my phone had switched over from Telemedia to service from the Guatemalan phone company TIGO, which is the only phone service this and surrounding villages get - where by the way, they offer triple-up, not double up as we found out when this young Jalacte woman was putting in credits for her Guatemalan phone.

And moving as freely as phone signals, everyday the BDF looks on as scores of Belizeans and Guatemalans go back and forth between Jalacte and Santa Cruz. Their job is to hold the line - a line not marked in any way, a line whose true location is known only to technicians who use GPS devices, a line that is a good few hundred feet west of, behind this structure. It is either a matter for grave concern, or earnest hope.

Edgar Savedra,
"We live as a community in friendship. That is why we don't have any problems, we live in peace."

Wil Maheia,
"Every year Belize gets smaller and smaller because the road that we just came on, that is clearly inside Belizean territory and the people living there are Guatemalans. They think they are living inside of Guatemala, yet they are living on Belizean territory."

Ferdie's Brother,
"Belizeans with Guatemala, we are friendship. We and Belize, we are friends but I don't know what the people think and someday we argue with Belize but I don't know why. I just only want to ask that question, I want to ask somebody: why they noh come friends."

And how the technicians, politicians and diplomats deal with this illegal encroachment will largely determine what happens at the official level - but at the ground level, we suspect the free movement and informal trade will continue because these are neighbors and no policy or referendum can dictate their co-existence.

A few significant notes. First about the illegal structure, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells us that they expect that it will be removed by Thursday or Friday of this week. They have been discussing this with the OAS, and though the BDF is expected to remove it, they will do so with oversight from the OAS.

And the second note: while corn is one thing, sources tell us that smuggling cattle from Belize to Guatemala is far more significant and a far greater threat because there's much more money involved. Sources with knowledge of the area tell us it's the illicit cattle trade which is driving and has driven development in Santa Cruz and along the border line. Indeed, we saw quite a few cattle trucks empty in the daytime -shuttling around the area and one of them with Guatemalan plates was parked in Jalacte.

The observation has also been made that with this highway to the southwestern boundary with Guatemala, only a bridge would be needed to link the Southern Highway with the Pan American Highway - a regional network of roads from Mexico to Panama.

Some Community leaders from Toledo have also expressed concern that it could facilitate crime in the area as two recent homicides; the culprits are believed to have escaped through the unregulated checkpoint at Jalacte.

Channel 7


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#409511 - 06/08/11 03:00 PM Re: Jalacte, The Road Less Travelled [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala talks about highway to Jalacte

Fred Martinez

On Monday you heard the Foreign Minister of Guatemala, Haroldo Rhodas, speak about the referendum on the Belize/Guatemala dispute. While in Salvador, we caught up with Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala, Fred Martinez. We asked him about the development of southern highway to Jalacte and whether it will change relations with Guatemala.

Marleni Cuellar

“Recently we secured the funds to be able to initiate the highway in southern Belize. How has this changed the dialogue between Guatemala and Belize or has it really in terms of trade and in terms of security?”

Fred Martinez, Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala

You’re referring specifically to the Big Falls to Jalacte portion which is being funded by the Central American Bank of Economic Integration and obviously we will have to enter into discussions with Guatemala as to what do we do with that border crossing point, which right now is very informal and everything passes through there. The poor policeman there who is quarantine, inspector, he is customs, he is immigrations, he is police security, everything. Obviously, we will have to put in a formal crossing point there on our side. We have begun discussions with Guatemala, obviously it is a very sensitive issue to the—well not to the government, but to a few of the hardliners who believe that if we install another crossing point as a recognition of the border. But I think that they themselves are being faced with a situation where they see so many things passing through their side that they will be at some time or the other forced to admit that yes, it is necessary. We will, however, go and put in our controls unilaterally.”

Channel 5


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#422883 - 11/22/11 02:46 PM Re: Jalacte, The Road Less Travelled [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Work continues on the road to the Belize-Guatemala border

JALACTE ROAD UPGRADE

BUILDING THE JALACTE ROAD

The project that will see the stretch of road from just outside of Punta Gorda town all the way to the Belize-Guatemala border continues on schedule. Our Toledo correspondent Paul Mahung reports.

LOVETV


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