The Road Less Travelled…to Aguas Turbias
The Belize Territorial Volunteers have already been to Jalacte and San Vicente. On Saturday they embarked on their third border clearing expedition when they went to Aguas Turbias – which is at the northwestern edge of Belize’s territory. It was a fascinating journey down a road not much travelled. Daniel Ortiz and cameraman Codie Norales left Belize city at 3:30 am on Saturday morning to accompany them – and here’s their report.
Daniel Ortiz reporting
At around 6:30 a.m., approximately 80 Belizeans arrived at Linda Vista Shopping Center in Blue Creek, the first real checkpoint on the journey to Aguas Turbias. They arrived in a convoy of about 10 vehicles and a bus.
The passengers who arrived by bus quickly disembarked for a quick logistics meeting before they could truly start the journey.
Those volunteers were ready and proud as ever to display the Belize flag, signaling that they moved with one purpose.
They all readied their equipment and made a few last-minute preparations to fly their colors proudly, and it was then time to meet the coordinator for this expedition, Orlando De La Fuente. He gave us a quick briefing as to what the game plan was.
Orlando De la Fuente - Coordinator, Aguas Turbias Expedition
"We're going to go West for thirty to forty minutes more until run into the border with Mexico. That is going to be the staging area. From there we're going to have to alight the vehicles and we're going to take tractors and trailers and we'll head West along the border for 10KM to the monument."
The monument is the structure erected to signify where Belize’s border intersects with those belonging to Guatemala, and Mexico.
Everyone then moved off, determined to make it there in good time.
45 minutes later, the terrain started becoming too difficult for the bus to traverse. That’s because there were no more cleared roadways.
From then onward, the path was just a crudely cut picado through several miles of bush.
The majority of the group had to be transferred to 2 tractors, transportation generously facilitated by the Mennonite Community. When everyone was safely aboard, both tractors moved off leading the way, with the other vehicles better equipped for off-road bringing up the rear.
20 minutes into the ride, the convoy made a complete stop, and the lead tractors then took a left, leaving behind the roughly hewn trail, for route very far off the beaten path. At this location, the Volunteers were at the frontier where Belize’s Orange Walk District meets Mexico.
On this new path, the convoy then started at a sluggish pace south along the border for approximately 10 kilometers.
This new route was arduous, and hardly big enough to accommodate the vehicles.
Very frequently, the pace slowed to a crawl because path was uneven, and nearly impassable. Several times, the convoy’s progress ground to a
halt. That’s because there were overhanging branches which the scouts had to cut down.
Finally, after almost 2 and a half hours in the baking sun, and the still, dusty air, the BTV finally arrived at the border point known as Aguas Turbias.
This is where the borders of these 3 neighboring countries intersect. That white post in your screen is the monument which Orlando De La Fuente spoke about. It is a concrete marker demarcating where the 3
The problem is that both Guatemala’s and Mexico’s borders points are clearly visible; Belize’s - not so much. so, the BTV immediately moved in to change that:
Orlando De la Fuente
"We are here today to celebrate the 1859 convention signed by Her Majesty and the republic of Guatemala on April 30th. In that convention, Belize's borders were clearly defined; that was when Belize was conceived. Maybe we were born on September 21st, 1981 but we were conceived on April 30th, 1859. We had sent an invitation to the Mexican Embassy and the Guatemalan Embassy if they would have liked to send a representative to join us here today to join in this convention. The Guatemalan Embassy said that they would not have been able to join us and refused to give us a flag. The ambassador said that if they provided us with a flag would be their acceptance that there is a boundary between Belize and Guatemala. He says that there is not a boundary but an adjacency line and he would not give us the flag to fly on their side of the marker. The Mexican Embassy called and said that they would prefer to remain neutral and they didn't want to get into the affairs in something internal between Belize and Guatemala, so they also refused to give us a flag. So we will not be flying the three flags of those countries here. In place of that we brought three Mahogany trees and they are going to represent the three countries at the marker. We've planted the three Mahogany trees over there to represent Belize, Mexico and Guatemala."
But nowhere was there such a glaring example of the stark contrast in policy and respect for one’s territory, than as seen right there at Aguas Turbias. Guatemala and Mexico have clearly demarcated their frontier, and signs of encroachment from either side can easily be queried. What makes the issue even more contentious is that a few meters away from this delineation, the border between Belize and Guatemala was unclear - so much so that the Volunteers had to cleave to the far corner monument to be sure that they were in their own territory.
Orlando De la Fuente
"I'm very disappointed. Internationally, if you look at the boundary this is a tri-partite boundary and it is what divides Belize, Mexico and Guatemala. Nothing would have stopped out from coming out here today so for them not to be here - I don't know the reason for them not being here."
Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers: Southern Regiment
"We are standing right now on the Mexican and Guatemalan border. I believe that Belizeans need to take a note of this and demand from our Government that we maintain our border similar to this. There are no incursions into Mexico from Guatemala and there are no incursions into Guatemala from Mexico. The border is clearly demarcated; our border is not as long as it is in Mexico or Guatemala. Our border should be like this and it will prevent all the incursions that are taking place. Belizeans need to demand from the Government that they do more to protect our country, Belize. If the Mexicans and Guatemalans can do this then there isn't any reason why we cannot do the same. "
Orlando De la Fuente
"If you look behind me due West - that is where the border continues between Guatemala and Mexico. That is a good example how borders should be demarcated. If you were to look at it they have boundary marker every 200 meters and on it is a Bronze plate that says 'Joint Tribunal - Mexican and Guatemalan Tribunal for water and land"
"I don't think we should even look at Guatemala, I think we should look at our own selves and at our own government for not taking up the challenge. If Guatemala and Mexico could agree to demarcate their borderline there's no reason why we can't demarcate our own line with Guatemala. The government needs to stop looking for excuses and need to start taking care of their border, reduce the incursions and take care of Belize and show the world that Belize does have a border."
And according to De La Fuente, maintaining the border, as laid out by the 1859 Treaty, serves another purpose because right now, Belize has lost a lot of its legal footing. He says that this does not look good for the ICJ case, if it ever does get to that point.
Orlando De la Fuente
"It seems that the boundaries have not been maintained, have not been kept demarcated and I feel that at this point in time that Belize is at its most vulnerable. I think Guatemala has the strongest claim yet. Belize has agreed that we no longer have a border with Guatemala they are now calling it an adjacency line. Guatemala is about to publish new passports which would show, for the first time, the map of Belize on the front of their passport. It's not a good position for Belize and I think we need to change course and we need to stand firm."
After the Belize Plaque was installed, the BTV closed the expedition with the National Anthem and prayer. The leaders also shared a few remarks and a vote of thanks for the support from the Belizeans who showed up.
According to the expedition’s coordinators, they plan to go back to monument and install a second Belize plate, and properly paint it. That’s because there are 2 sections which point to the Belize border. Also, tomorrow, the BTV plans to make a trip to the border point at Gracias A Dios in Toledo.