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May 14, 2018

Belize’s Security Initiative at Western Border Irks Guatemala

Tensions flared up at the western border over the weekend when authorities sought to clear the area to allow for the discharge of construction material.  Government has decided to upgrade the perimeter fence to improve the flow of traffic and other activity.  Now, Guatemalan taxi drivers are known to operate freely in the adjacency zone, also considered no man’s land. According to the official word, things got heated when the taxis were asked to move to allow for the offloading of the material by the Light Engineers of the Belize Defense Force. Not long after, the Guatemalan army showed up. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has the following report. 

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The effective management of border crossings in the north and west remains of critical importance to the agency tasked with that responsibility.  Ensuring that persons and cargo entering or leaving the country are able to do so safely and without delay, as part of the daily ebb and flow at the Benque Border, has at times proven to be challenging, both from a national security and a foreign affairs perspective.

 

Felix Enriquez

Felix Enriquez, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security

“For some time now there has been a general policy in place and a strategy to improve the way how things are managed at the border and while it is a national security issue, it is fundamentally to be managed by the Border Management Agency.  Now we’ve seen a lot of it happen up north, but the Benque Border has been, the Benque Border crossing point has been neglected for some time and what happened is, we’re seeing an increase of activity in terms of the throughput of people passing to and fro.”

 

So as to better manage that traffic and improve the efficiency of operations at the Benque Viejo/Melchor border crossing, the Government of Belize has decided to take on a project that will see the construction of proper fences and gates in the weeks ahead.

 

Said ‘Badi’ Guerra

Said ‘Badi’ Guerra, Director of International Affairs

“The way our border is, it’s a bit porous, you know, and this is being done to have more control, more security, not really control, but security for both sides.  What we try to do is to avoid any incident that could happen and as it is anything could happen.”

 

That in mind, the Ministry of National Security is now putting in place necessary infrastructure, as well as protocols to safeguard the western frontier with Guatemala.  That decision has been long in the making.

 

Felix Enriquez

“The National Security Council, from a long time ago, had identified that we must improve what’s happening there.  Now this is part of a wider process that needs to take place, but the immediate action that must take place is to improve the security itself, right there.  Because of the budget constraints and other constraints and, of course, we see it as something that needs to be done in order to not affect too much what happens every day, the daily routine at the Benque/Melchor Crossing Point.  The light engineers of the Belize Defense Force were asked to do it.  The light engineers, as you know, is a part of the service and support battalion of the Belize Defense Force.”

 

The commencement of work however, is not without controversy.  Not only is there a territorial dispute between both countries, Guatemala’s media also seems intent on propagating misinformation.  Director of International Affairs Said ‘Badi’ Guerra, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, provides accurate details of an incident involving B.D.F. personnel and Guatemalan civilians that took place on Sunday at the border.

 

Said ‘Badi’ Guerra

“Yesterday, we had a [situation].  I got a call from an inspector in Benque to inform me about what was going on.  Of course there is a lot of distorted information.  It was on Facebook and the media, you know, also on the Prensa Libre, but it is a misinformation most of all.  Our B.D.F. went there to download some material because, as you know, work was commencing today for the development of the infrastructure.  That infrastructure is taking place in order to provide more security.”

 

The latest issue of the Prensa Libre carries an article stating that Guatemalan tour operators were being roughed up and forcibly moved by B.D.F. Guerra, on the other hand, says that no such use of power was exercised.

 

Said ‘Badi’ Guerra

“The only thing that happened yesterday is that the B.D.F. arrived and asked a tour operator to please move from the parking area where they were going to download.  They wanted the area to be cleared.  That was about it.  But our friends from Guatemala, from the other side, they thought that they were being moved, but they were not being moved by force, we had our police also intervening to explain to them and to translate what was happening to the tour operators and taxi drivers who usually sit around that area in front of the O.A.S. office.”

 

The scope of the work, as outlined by C.E.O. Felix Enriquez, is to provide controlled access by upgrading existing infrastructure and building new ones in and around the area of the border.

 

Felix Enriquez

“What they will do is improve the fencing.  So they will install a gate that closes off, to a certain extent, the traffic going out and restrict how that is happening and of course monitor what is coming in, so that the agencies that are there, customs and immigration could have a better hold of things.  So they will be working in conjunction with the Border Management Agency to get this done.  It will be done quite quickly.  We expect that within six to eight weeks the entire project will be finished and they will return to their normal duties.”

 

C.E.O. Felix Enriquez emphasizes that the B.D.F. is not establishing a permanent presence at the Benque/Melchor Border Crossing. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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