Belize Territorial Volunteers demarcate Belize’s border lines
March 2nd, 2013, the Belize
Territorial Volunteers (BTV) spearheaded by Wil Maheia of PG TV and the People’s National
Party (PNP), met at Belize’s border with Guatemala, to carry out a cleanup campaign to clear
vegetation on Belize’s side of the border. The group consisting of 150 volunteers began the work
at Container Hill from sunrise to late afternoon.
The contingent had representation from various social groups including Citizens Organized for
Liberty through Action (COLA); the University of Belize; the Belize Coalition for Justice;
BelizeCan, a NonPartisan,
Organization established as a “Watchdog Group”
to strengthen the Democratic principles and social justice in the Nation of Belize; Belize
Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association, various media representatives, along with
Belizean men, women and children.
According to Maheia, the day was a successful one with approximately 20 meters being cleared
along Belize’s side of the border. “The day went without a hitch. During our preliminary work,we
discussed the border and pointed out exactly where it is at.. As we walked along the road, we
met up with Guatemalans who had with them the presence of a representative from the
Organization of American States (OAS) who confirmed, after verifying his GPS coordinates, that
the Guatemalans were indeed on Belizean soil.” After a conversation with the Guatemalan
neighbors Maheia stated, “rather than being arrested at the border as the Foreign Minister [Hon.
Wilfred Elrington] had indicated, there were hugs instead.”
The Belize Territorial Volunteers plan to continue clearing Belize’s side of the border. Cayo and
Orange Walk volunteers will now set to plan their individual campaigns and clear border lines
along their districts. “We just want to clean up our country. To clean the overgrown vegetation on
our side of the border,” stated Maheia, “This is not the first time such an initiative is being carried
out. The same exercise has been conducted many times peacefully before without incident or
conflict. We simply now will carry out the job that has been neglected for so long.”
Belize Territorial Volunteers are a group of volunteers, concerned Belizeans who live mostly on
the south, along the border, and are concerned about the incursions into Belize. The initiative
BTV, was started by Wil Maheia and this year they began a campaign called “Clear Our
Borderline” with the first clearing taking place on March 2nd, 2013.
Belize territorial Volunteers chop along border
There were dire forecasts from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and from the security forces, as Belizeans prepared to make the symbolic journey to the border with Guatemala. Officials warned that the move would be seen as aggressive and could invite a violent response from Guatemala’s residents and from the army. Guatemala’s president Otto Perez Molina was quoted saying that his government was on high alert because of the planned expedition. B.D.F. Commander David Jones advised Belizeans that while the symbolism of the trip was laudable, it wasn’t a smart move. But organizer and activist Wil Maheia was undeterred, and on Saturday he was joined by a group of patriotic Belizeans as they headed south to the border. Freelance reporter Mike Rudon joined the determined group and has the story from the border.
Despite much effort to deter Belizeans who decided to travel to the border with Guatemala and clear the land, early Saturday morning a group of about one hundred headed to Jalacte, which is the country’s most south-western village, on the border with Guatemala. They came from every corner of the country, and flew the Belizean flag proudly was villagers looked on from the roadside. The destination was the border, the intention to clear a symbolic line and the message was echoed proudly by those who made the journey.
Dickie Bradley, Attorney
“Belize is ours; Toledo is part of Belize and that we feel that it is important to say that we have a right to walk and to even do a symbolic as well as a real clearing of our side of this beautiful earth that god has given us.”
Lita Krohn, Belizean
“I asked my son, what do you think of this clearing of the land along the border and he said someone’s got to do it. And that is why I am here. Someone’s got to do it and that’s why I am here. I just want to show support. I really believe that we have to stand our ground and show that we love our country; if not, what’s the purpose.”
David Barnett, BGYEA
“Mein it’s the most patriotic thing I’ve ever done in my life. To come and actually see this border that these guys say don’t exist and the people here say they know when they reach Belize and when they don’t reach Belize. And the next thing, they told us is that there will be dense jungle; there is no jungle here. the road is almost paved.”
Edward Young, Belizean
“We need to make a stand. We need to stop rolling over for the Guatemalans and we need to stake our claim. If we don’t stake our claim then they have every right to come in and encroach. We need to mark our territory. Our government had failed to do so from the time of independence. The border was kept when the British was here. When they left, it has been neglected as you can see. So if the government isn’t willing to do it, the people should rise up and do it. That’s why I am here.”
At Jalacte the group disembarked from their vehicles and prepared for the next leg of the trip, a half an hour hike to Container Hill, which lies on the border with the village of Santa Cruz. There were repeated and serious warnings from government officials and the military about the density of the jungle on the border, but nothing could have been further from the truth. The land was well cleared and while the journey was taxing, the scenery was well worth the trip.
Community activist and organizer of the outing, Wil Maheia, picked Container Hill to be cleared, since it has been established that it does lie within Belize’s border.
Wil Maheia, Belize Territorial Volunteers
“Today, we come here to show the Belizean people that Belize do have a birder and a border that should be maintained. The message that we want to send to the people of Belize and the government of Belize is that we do have a border and we need to maintain the border. Belize seems to be the only country in the world that I know of that do not take care of their border. The land that we are standing on, clearly as you can see we have Guatemalans coming in, occupying our land and we have thousands of Belizeans that cannot even get a piece of land. If you look all around us, all this has been deforested, all this has been clear and I can tell you that it is Guatemalans who are farming on our land right now.”
David Pech, Belizean
“I was a B.D.F. in 1979. I was a member of the second intake and I patrolled this border. And I came here after so many years to prove to the government and the whole world that we have borders. They are saying now that we don’t have borders and I know [we do] because I have been to Gracias A Dios border, to Garbutt falls monument and the one with Mexico, the three-faced monument. So I patrolled those areas so I know that we have borders. And then I wanted to see it for myself. That’s why I am here.”
Lloyd Jones, (Ret’d) B.D.F. Major
“I don’t see anything wrong with a bunch of Belizeans coming along and observing where the border might be. I think Wil’s gesture is more of a symbolic gesture than anything else because you couldn’t possibly clear the border without proper surveying equipment and so on. So it is more of a symbolic thing and it serves to stir up patriotism and nationalism and I think we need more of that in Belize.”
From Container Hill the group looked down on the community of Santa Cruz, marked by this well-traveled road. There was no sign of the Guatemalan military, even though one person we met on the way claimed that soldiers were nearby. We did get a glimpse of six B.D.F. soldiers far up on the hill looking down, but they did not approach. The first contact with the Guatemalans was made by Orange Walk businessman Orlando de la Fuente, who headed down to the road to speak to the persons assembled there looking on curiously.
Orlando de la Fuente
Orlando de la Fuente, Belizean
“The road that you see right here just west of us is on Belizean territory and the border is about thirty meters beyond that. So we felt confident and we walked up to the border. At first the people weren’t very friendly, but then we bought a watermelon and we split it open and we invited them to come and eat some watermelon which they did. A couple of them were very friendly and they said that among the people within the villages that there are no problems. But one thing stuck out in my mind, even the Guatemalans want a defined border. They said if we know where the border is then there won’t be any problems; neighbors will live in better harmony.”
And since his GPS showed that the area of the road was still within Belizean territory, the media decided to head down and speak to the persons gathered there. Far from being aggressive or violent, the Guatemalans were more than happy to take a moment to hang out with us. The Alcalde of Santa Cruz Alvaro Paredes says that they live in peace with the Belizeans on the border.
Alvaro Paredes, Alcalde, Santa Cruz
“The truth is we haven’t had any problems with the villagers on the other side. We have actually worked together in harmony and hand in hand.”
The OAS was present, or at least a representative was, but as you can see he took pains to leave when the media approached him. Paredes, and others gathered there, told us that they believe that where they were standing is actually on Belizean land, and they would want the border to be clearly marked so that they would know for sure.
“We have not had any incident on the Belizean side nor on the Guatemalan side regarding which side is ours and which side is there’s. if there was a defined boundary, we would respect that. But for the moment, there is no definitive line that would allow us to act in that manner.”
The actual clearing of the land which took place was more symbolic than anything else. In fact, there was very little chopping, but the trip was a success by any definition, and invoked a deep sense of patriotism in those who made the effort to come out, even as they expressed their disappointment in Government’s efforts to discourage the venture.
“How wonderful it would have been if our government could have said, the president of Guatemala can say anything. Wil Maheia has a right to go there and clear the border. He needs to be very careful; we will have B.D.F. out there to advise him. Do not go beyond that point, but do not be afraid of what Guatemala is telling you. That would have been a better approach than to give the impression unu deh pan unu own. If dehn pick unu up and go with unu, all I could give unu dah wah number fi wah lawyer.”
Phillip de la Fuente
Phillip de la Fuente, Belizean
“Belize is ours. There is no disputing that; that Belize is for Belizeans. And if we just give up, anybody will walk over us. Belize is ours; let’s keep what is ours.”
Carolyn Trench-Sandiford, Belizean
“We have a lesson to be learnt from today; that the B.D.F. on the own cannot protect and defend Belize. The people on their own cannot protect and defend Belize. We need the B.D.F. and the people of Belize together to work in partnership to protect this country that we call Belize.”
Giovanni Brackett, President, COLA
“It was important for us to be out here to show solidarity with Wil Maheia, who is the COLA representative for Toledo as well. So we had to be out here to show the government that this is not an activity to increase tension between the two countries. How is it that government can just neglect its citizens by saying you are on your own? Completely just neglecting and saying you are on your own. If anything happens, you are on your own. Mien it shows the low level of patriotism that our government has and we are completely disappointed with our officials. And kudos to those who are out here today.”
By early afternoon the group headed back to Jalacte satisfied that the message was sent, and that message is resounding and clear.
“Dis da fi we country; from the proud Rio Hondo to the old Sarstoon. No one will give it to us, we need to take it; it is ours. So get involved if you are not already.”
“We came out here today not knowing what to expect. According to the government and the B.D.F., there might have been armed troops on the border; there might have been Guatemalan people on the border being aggressive.
But it was nothing like that. We met friends, we spoke to people on the border and the one thing we found out is that nobody knows exactly where the border is. The people we spoke to weren’t sure if they were in Guatemala or Belize. What we can tell you after what is a successful day is that the people who made the trip today, who made the journey today, came back with a greater sense of achievement and pride. Reporting for News Five, I’m Mike Rudon.”
About one hundred persons from a wide cross-section of the community made the trip to the border area. There was no mobilization of the B.D.F., even though Guatemala’s Prensa Libre newspaper makes notice of the event, and claims that the B.D.F. was mobilized as a preventative measure.