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Mar 23, 2015

BTV Treks To Southern Border

The Territorial Volunteers is a group of Belizean patriots who have taken it upon themselves to draw attention to the border between Belize and Guatemala, from north to south. They do so through refurbishing dilapidated monuments, symbolic clearing along the border and planting coconut trees – basically as a reminder to both Belize and Guatemalan authorities that there is an existing, real border which needs real attention to maintain. On Sunday the Volunteers were in the far south, near the border village of Jalacte, to plant coconut trees, but as we found out – where planting is concerned, the Guatemalans have us beat hands down. Mike Rudon was in Jalacte and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The day’s journey started with less than an hour’s drive along the brand new highway between Punta Gorda and Jalacte, about forty miles west. The view rivals that of the Hummingbird Highway, as the road meanders through picturesque Mayan communities, lushly forested hills and sprawling valleys. From Jalacte, the Territorial volunteers, flags, machetes and coconut trees in hand, headed to the first stop. It is on this spot that the group first planted coconut trees a year ago. Just a few weeks ago, the Organization of American States, O.A.S., issued a release stating that in fact the group had erroneously planted trees on the Guatemalan side of the border.

 

Wil Maheia

Wil Maheia, Founder, Belize Territorial Volunteers

“The significance of this trip is to show the world that yes…what the O.A.S. had said that we had planted some of the coconut trees on the Guatemalan side…we brought our technicians who have been with us from the beginning. Whenever we go someplace we always check to see that we are on the Belize side. We came, we planted the trees here almost a year ago, and as you can see those trees are nowhere to be found. After we said that we were going to query the O.A.S. comments, we came out to GPS for a second and third time to make sure there were no errors…that we were on the Belize side.”

 

Giovanni de la Fuente, Northern Territorial Volunteers

“I am disappointed today. When Wil Maheia issued that press release inviting the O.A.S. to come and re-verify the planting of the coconut trees, I decided to come along and see for myself. I am very disappointed. We are here and as far as I can see the O.A.S. hasn’t showed up. And I was very interested to see what they would have said when we came today if they were present.”

 

The GPS readings were taken by former surveyor Orlando Williams, and he verified that indeed we were within Belizean territory. It would have been impossible to tell otherwise. To reach this spot, the group had to pass through farms and pasture land and even climb through a barbed-wire fence. Belizeans have been urged to stay clear of the border, but Guatemalans have either not received, or have not heeded that warning.

 

Wil Maheia

“Clearly we are in Belizean territory. There’s no doubt about that. We are in Belizean territory.”

 

Reporter

“So all that clearing around us…all those people putting up farms, that home, they are Guatemalans?”

 

Wil Maheia

“Yeah, we are surrounded…this clearing that we are seeing here today, all this pastureland…less than ten years ago we could have walked here and the sun would not have hit us because there is so much forests…ten, fifteen years ago, but we continue to lose forests to the incursions.”

 

Rufus Bol

From that point the group headed to the now infamous Container Hill, which is accepted as being in Belizean territory. It lies about one hundred metres inside the border, but there are signs all around of consistent and organized encroachment by Guatemalans. It is here that the group stopped to plant their coconut trees.

 

Rufus Bol, Former B.D.F. Soldier

“As a Belizean I think I have a responsibility, we have a responsibility to take care of our land, because it is not only me…there will be many more to come – my children and my children’s children, so we have to start working on these issues.”

 

Kevin Bernard

Kevin Bernard, Mayor, Orange Walk Town

“We have Guatemalans coming into our territory, taking our land, planting and cultivating…today is a very good experience for me where I have seen it firsthand, so it is my duty as well as a Belizean to be part of this movement, to be part of the Belizeans who are vocal on this issue. And I ask that apart from those that may criticize…instead of criticizing you should be part of the solution.”

 

At least on the ground, the O.A.S. has not been seen as a friend of these Belizean patriots, but as an advocate of the Guatemalan effort. The election of Belize’s Ambassador Nestor Mendez as Assistant Secretary-General of the O.A.S. should then be good news, but to this small group, there’s no cause to rejoice just yet.

 

Giovanni de la Fuente

Giovanni de la Fuente

“If you read what the release said in the media, this good gentleman has already declared that his office will distance itself from the Guatemala/Belize issue due to the fact that he is a Belizean and he doesn’t want to come off as being biased. So that question that you’re asking, only history will tell, but he has already stated that his office will apparently not be active in this issue because he doesn’t want people to believe that he is biased.”

 

Wil Maheia

“We have to make a statement. We have to send a strong message to the O.A.S., to the Belize Government and to the Guatemalan government. This is our land. No disrespect to Guatemala. We love our neighbours. We should be friends with our neighbours. But your yard is your yard and my yard is my yard. We need to take care of what belongs to us.”

 

Mike Rudon for News Five.

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