Xunantunich, the concert and the Succotz residents
In the west, emotions are running high among the tour guides and vendors in Succotz Village over the planned two-week closure of Xunantunich next Wednesday. The closure by NICH coincides with the height of the Mayan calendar celebrations and the residents say they were not consulted and it will cut into their Christmas earnings. News Five’s Delahnie Bain has both sides of the story.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
The planned closure of the Xunantunich Archaeological Site in Succotz, Cayo is causing controversy among tour guides and vendors who operate at the site. It was recently announced that the site would be closed from December twelfth to the twenty-sixth to accommodate the International Music Festival. But the tour guides and vendors say they will be losing major business, especially with the end of the Mayan Calendar on December twenty-first; a loss they cannot afford in the Christmas season.
Alberto Panti, Acting President, Cayo West Tour Guide Association
“Can you imagine, all these vendors here, each individual of us here we have kids that benefit from this. You can imagine all your kids are gonna ask for Christmas gifts, what are you going to give them? The place will be closed and there’s no other benefit from anything other than this main source here that we benefit from. December twenty-first is a time when it will be the boost of the Xunantunich archaeological site, the time when tourists will come big time. So one of the things I don’t really understand, we are going to lose big amount of jobs like I said before, we need to do something about this problem.”
Amin Aviles, Tour Guide, Xunantunich
“Moneywise, you’re looking at—on a minimum wage, if we do one tour per day which we’ve been doing from day one, you’re looking close from eighty to a hundred dollars per day; that’s per day per guide and it’s about ten of us that are out here. Maximum, you’re looking at if we do two or three tours, that’s two to three hundred dollars a day per guide.”
Minelia Chan, Vendor, Succotz Village
“I have kids, many of them have kids too and we have to sell every day. I send my kids to school and in two weeks if I don’t come what will happen? My kids will not eat?”
“And do you all have anywhere else to go these two weeks that the place will be closed?”
“Nowhere. Only we are here and we can’t go to Cahal Pech.”
They also believe that December twenty-first should be devoted to the Mayan celebration and say the music festival should be moved to either a different date or location.
“What we’re asking is if the departments and the government would actually look at the time they’re looking at, if they could actually change that time, don’t use this time which is the most important time for the Mayas, which is the most event which everyone is waiting for. They could move at least to January or move the location. That’s what we’re asking. We’re not against anything that they’re doing; it’s fine, it’s economic for the country, it’s good ideas that they’re doing but not this time.”
Glenda Pinelo, Vendor, Succotz Village
“The twenty-first is not a day for party. It’s a special day for Maya celebration; it’s not a party day. I don’t know why they are doing that like a party day. It’s not for party, it’s a sacred day.”
Elfredo Panti Sr., Tour Guide, Succotz Village
Elfredo Panti Sr.
“All the world has their eyes on Mesoamerica, middle America and particularly Belize. We’re proud to live in Belize because all the world is watching us and so there are thousands of tourists coming to Belize, visiting the sites and especially that particular day, they want to commemorate the end of the Mayan Calendar. That’s how we see it.”
But according to the Village Council spokesperson, Wilson Pat, the problem is simply the lack of notice and information. He says the Music Festival will actually benefit the residents of the village.
Wilson Pat, Spokesperson/Treasurer, Village Council
“The benefits of those—part of it will come to the village and part will be for NICH, archaeology to improve the sites and things. I mean, it’s a worthy concert their having, but the problem is that they didn’t consult, they didn’t spread the information before it is going to happen. So if it was going to happen like one month, give notice one month before and then everyone will know what to do, where to go. Last night they sent a person to us to inform me what will happen and on Tuesday we’ll have a meeting with the minister and responsible persons to explain everything and to clarify all this mishap, all this up and downs that’s happening but the thing is a matter of procedure.”
Pat explains that the tour guides and vendors will also have opportunities to continue making money, especially on the two days of the festival.
“If this site is being closed, we have the neighbor Cahal Pech, where I think it’s being done to divert everything to Cahal Pech right now so they can do their business. Also, the information that I got is that NICH will hire workers from Succotz and if these guys—they are involved here, they are part of us so they can easily get a job there working for those days with NICH. It will be closed on the site, but the highway will not be closed to vehicles coming from Petén and other areas, they can stop in and buy the artifacts and everything. Moreover, on those two days, they will be open at the site; they will put tables for them so they can display the arts and craft and sell it. Those two days, the twentieth and the twenty-first, everybody will be going up. It starts from like four o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night so they have enough time to sell anything they want. And it’s not only locals. It’s an international fest so it’s a time when they can make a little money.”
Meanwhile, Alberto Panti, the acting president of the Cayo West Tour Guide Association has been reaching out to relevant authorities to work out a solution.
“What I have been trying to do and I want to be clear here that I contacted Mr. Erwin Contreras this morning and he said that he is having a meeting with the Prime Minister of Belize today and later on he is going to talk to Mr. Heredia concerning the closing of the site. That is one of the few things I have done and I think that on Tuesday we are going to go to Belmopan for a meeting with the prime minister.”
Delahnie Bain for News Five.