The Government announced today that a contract valued at BZ$47,995,867.50, to be financed mostly with foreign debt, has been awarded to Cisco Construction for the upgrading of 23 miles of road in the Toledo District, from The Dump in Big Falls Village, located at Mile 14 on the Southern Highway, to the Belize-Guatemala border, less than a mile south of Jalacte.
Amandala understands that a bridge, not included in this project, would still be needed to connect what some have called the Jalacte Highway to the Pan-American Highway on the Guatemalan side of the border—a project for which an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had been prepared in 2002 and recently updated, due to extended delays in implementation.
The two-lane road upgrade, which would span about roughly 28 feet, including paved shoulders, would complete Belize’s connection to the Pan-American Highway – a regional network of roads from Mexico down to Panama. It would pass through villages such as Mafredi, San Antonio, Santa Cruz, Santa Elena and Pueblo Viejo on the Belize side, the government notes.
A map of the area, which Amandala has obtained from the May 2010 EIA, shows that the Guatemalan village of Santa Cruz is on the other side of the border.
Amandala readers will recall that back in 2008 there was major controversy over an attempt by a very influential Guatemalan villager of Santa Cruz to bulldoze a road into Belize at Jalacte. The man, Leonel Arellanos, had defiantly set up a bodega on the Belize side of the border and had threatened to shoot Belize security forces personnel if they dared to remove his bodega. The structure was only removed after OAS intervention. Prime Minister Dean Barrow had said that Santa Cruz villagers had threatened their own security forces if they dared to remove Arellanos’ storage bodega, which had been perched atop a cleared hill at Jalacte.
At the time locals in the area highlighted the fact that this cross-border migration and trade, mostly agriculturally based, was a way of life for those on both sides of the border.
In light of this fact, there had been calls by the People’s National Party (PNP) for the government of Belize to establish a formal Customs port in that area.
Pin-pointing the two main objectives of the upgrade, the Government of Belize said in its press release today: “When completed, the highway will serve several objectives and will allow villages located in the Western part of Toledo District improved access to Punta Gorda and the rest of the country.
“It will enhance our capacity for commerce and trade from our Central American neighbors and encourages the formal establishments of a second border crossing with Guatemala ...”
John Woods, proprietor of Cisco Construction, told Amandala today that his company was the only local company to meet pre-qualification requirements, and he beat out three foreign companies to get the job during a competitive bid. Woods said that his proposal was BZ$10 million cheaper than the rest.
Working during the rainy season will no doubt be a challenge. According to Woods, who underscored the need to “make hay while the sun shines,” surveyors are being dispatched and materials are due to be trucked into the area in as early as three weeks, although the entire project is expected to take about three years.
He told us that the bulk of the fill materials would be trucked from quarries at San Pedro Columbia and Jalacte, and the project would employ about 300 workers. Woods also said that they will also hire private crushers to help in the project.
The main challenges, he added, will be weather and finding a way to carry on works while keeping the roads open, since the roads are used regularly by children who commute to school by bus.
Amandala contacted Contractor-General Godwin Arzu to ask him for his views on the recently concluded contract, but we were told that he would get back to us when he secures the relevant documents.
According to the Government of Belize’s press release, “Funds for the implementation of this project were sourced from a loan to the Belize Government from the Kuwait Fund for the Arab Economic Development and AFID (OPEC Fund for the International Development), including the Central American Bank for the Economic Integration (CABEI), and counterpart funding contributed by the Government of Belize.”
Woods said that the upgraded road will be “just like the Southern Highway.” Cisco was also contractedto do the South IV and South V projects, both spanning 1999 to 2002. South IV involved upgrading of the road from Mango Creek to the Stann Creek bridge, a total of 17 miles, at a cost of BZ$20.6 million, while South V involved 21 miles of road at a cost of BZ$24.7 million.
In November 2007, Alejandro Vernon, JP, of Punta Gorda, had written in a letter published in Amandala that, “In 1972, when I was area representative for Toledo North, I agitated for the linking of the Toledo/Peten highway, so that we, of Toledo, could have access to the Pan-American Highway system, like those of the Cayo District.
“In those years, the border villages of Jalacte [and] San Vicente did not exist, but there were footpaths from Pueblo Viejo on the Belize side to the Guatemalan border unto San Luis Peten.”
Apart from the road upgrade, Amandala is informed that the road will end at a river, and a new bridge will need to be constructed to connect with the Guatemala portion of the highway from the Belize side.
The proposal for this project had been in the news back in 2006 under the Said Musa administration. It had been explained that the Pan-American Highway was really a part of the Plan Pueblo Panama, to which Mexico and all of Central America are a party.
According to the May 2010 EIA for the project, “Cultural impacts are among the most important in the project area.”
It went on to say that the project area is dominated by the Mopan Maya, who live a largely traditional lifestyle.
“Improved road access will certainly improve the economic options in the area, but will also bring many other changes.
“Fears exist that it may affect local customs and land use patterns and even land tenure. But apart from that, there is widespread fear that improving this road and ultimately linking it with road access from Guatemala will affect safety by attracting criminal elements from across the border.”
The EIA, prepared by Belize Environmental Consultancies, owned by Jan Meerman, said that improved security presence to address safety and a moratorium on the issuing of land titles along the upgraded road would mitigate against the expected changes.