While one illegal logger is safely behind bars, there is another report of unease along the Belize/Guatemala border. Residents of southern Belize told News Five earlier today that the Jalacte border is closed. It is an area where cross border trading is brisk between Belizeans and Guatemalans. The closure follows an incident that reportedly took place over the past weekend in the area of Santa Cruz, Petťn. According to the sensational press reports, joint B.D.F. and police patrols destroyed corn fields and crops of beans belonging to Fernando Estrada and Ernesto Esquivel early on the morning of September nineteenth. The reports in La Prensa Libre, buttressed with photos of villagers, say authorities of Santa Cruz are urging the residents not to allow the incident to go under the radar. The B.D.F. this afternoon confirmed a routine patrol in that area along the border, but recorded no incident or any incursion into the Guatemalan territory. From what we understand, neither has the Guatemalan government sounded any alarm over the alleged incursion in the Guatemalan press reports.
PlusNews visits the Belize Guatemala Border at Jalacte
Delegations from Belize and Guatemala met at the Organization of American States Headquarters in Washington DC yesterday with OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza to discuss relations between both countries. At the close of that meeting a joint release was sent out stating that the Foreign Ministers and we quote ďunderscored the effective and efficient work of the OAS Office in the Adjacency ZoneĒ since 2003 to maintain amicable relations between the two countries. To get a closer view of some of that amicable relation at work, Plusnews visited bordering villages in the South; Santa Cruz Guatemala and Jalacte Belize where recent reports of hostility brewing between Belizean Soldiers and Guatemalans have originated from. Jesse Mendoza has the report.
Jesse Mendoza, PlusTV Journalist
Plus news travelled to Jalacte Belize to investigate reports that the border had been closed for some days due to rising tensions between Belize Defense Force Soldiers and Guatemalans in the area. While the road to Jalacte is currently being paved, that experience was only bliss for some three miles of the journey after which our crew endured an almost three hour drive on the hilly and rough terrain through the Mayan villages of San Antonio, Santa Cruz, Santa Elena and Pueblo Veijo before reaching our destination. Jalacte is a small Mayan community of about 500 persons. Though small; the village is robust in agricultural entrepreneurship as the mountainous landscape is decorated for as far as the eyes can see with corn fields. Itís a way of life for the people living here but that livelihood was in jeopardy only some three days ago when BDF soldiers allegedly burned down some corn fields in the area presumably belonging to Guatemalans. According to a Prensa Libre article, the BDF soldiers also threatened the residents of Jalacte that their fields would be burned down also as they belonged to Guatemalans. That incident led the Alcalde of the Village to contact Juan Coy, President of the Maya Leaders Alliance.
Juan Coy, President, Maya Leaders Alliance The issue is about the corns that were being destroyed by the BDF. I havenít gone to the area where this happened, but we have Alcaldes representing our Mayan Communities in all thirty-eight Mayan villages and those Alcaldes have come to our offices as the Mayan Leaders Alliance along with the Toledo Alcalde Association. It was last week Friday, not this Friday, but last week Friday, they came to our offices whereby they were being threatened by the authorities from Belize, which is the BDF and they were being told that their corns were going to be destroyed as well, not only for the Guatemalans. However, the Alcaldes stood up and told one of the BDFs in charge of that patrol that went to the border-line that it was not for Guatemala, all those fields that were there. However, they still insisted on doing what they felt like they had to do and for them thatís their means of income and their resource of food.
The relationship between the Belizeans and Guatemalans is quite a unique one as we observed them doing trade of corn and horses right on the border. To get a better understanding of their trade and trek, plus news followed a group over to the other side. The trail took us to a small creek, just shy of knee dept, which we crossed and walk some ten minutes after to Santa Cruz Guatemala. No passport needed and no immigration checks. Coy spoke to us about that relationship and their concerns about border boundaries.
Juan Coy The relationship between Guatemala Santa Cruz and Jalacte Belize, well they have a good relationship, because with the trade that they do especially, the people from Jalacte, they produce corn and beans, which Belize doesnít have a market for. So they have to go there, there is no option for them, so they have to go to Guatemala and sell their product. Therefore, they have good communication and a good working relationship with Guatemala. I think it is a big issue, well to me itís a national issue. We have heard about this borderline for many years and we donít know who will come up to resolve these issues. We called on the authorities, securities and also on the OAS. We know that there are adjacent zones in those areas, but people are still looking for where Belize and Guatemala should be. I think it is a big issue when it comes to the border.
In our short time of an hour at the border, we observed approximately twenty horses making the memorable walk on the trail leading across the border; each stacked with four sacks of corn on their backs. We also noticed that small vans and cars would come to the border and for a small fee of 15 Quetzals or 5 Belize one could be in Santa Cruz within 5 minutes. Coy told us that while they are not in support of Guatemalans using Belizean land for their activities, he believes that some level of diplomacy should have been exercised in the matter with the BDF and Jalacte farmers.
Juan Coy After the Alcalde left or office, we decided not to take it on our own. So we called the police and the BDF to come together and sit around the table and figure out how we can address this, because the Alcalde needs an answer from us and from the authorities. For us, as I said, itís an issue, so we really want to get to a point where we should address the people as to what will be next, because I know that some of them are farming in Belize land, but for us, I think that we as the authorizes here in Belize, should have made all efforts to go and explain to these people about the continuation of planting in Belize. I think they had an understanding; according to the Alcaldes they went to meet with the Guatemalans, so if they would be informed ahead of time, they would respect it because they know that it is that there are laws in Belize and laws in Guatemala and thatís what we were told, we were not there, but thatís what the Alcalde told us.
Coy reiterates that in no way are they encouraging Guatemalans to cultivate corn in Jalacte, but according to Coy, in trying to get a reasonable answer as to what took place, they had agreed on and scheduled a meeting with BDF and Police. However, while on their way to that meeting, it was cancelled by the BDF and Police.
Juan Coy The report that reached our office is that they donít know exactly when these corns were being destroyed. I think it was at night time, because the owner of the corn left late in the evening and when he arrived in the morning maybe about eight his corn was already destroyed. Well I think thatís the move that we should have been taking along with our authorities. I know that those issues are not something new, itís been happening for years. So we believe that the Guatemalans should respect our land too because they are Guatemalans and we are Belizeans. We are not allowing Guatemalans to come and just do farming; we do agree that we have to address these situations. However, again the BDF didnít go to the meeting and they canceled the meeting that was set along with the police we went all the way to the dump, but we returned because it is like a chicken running without a head. What would we do there? The issue is with the BDF and they didnít show up.
We understand that a sack of corns sells for approximately 270-350 Quetzal which is anyway between 90-117 Belize Dollars per sack and Beans sells for a 100 dollars Belize per sack or 300 Quetzal. Jesse Mendoza reporting for plus news.