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Oct 29, 1999

Defending Belize’s border with Guatemala

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In a story aired on News Five on September fourteenth, we said, “much of the Belizean border with Guatemala is an imaginary line.” Right after the report aired, the Ministry of National Security and Immigration called to inform us that there are in fact two principal monuments and thirty-nine border cairns marking the border with Guatemala. Escorted by Permanent Secretary Alan Usher, News Five’s Janelle Chanona and cameraman George Tillett woke up a little early and headed west to one of those monuments.

Janelle Chanona

“By just looking at me right now, you wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m actually standing on the border between Belize and Guatemala. There are actually two terminal points marking the border, one here at Garbutt Falls in the Cayo District and another at Gracias a Dios, Toledo.”

Belizean security forces encounter hundreds of illegal immigrants along the border everyday. Alan Usher, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security says most of time, the people are peasants and the standard procedure is to point them back to where he or she came from. But what happens when someone crosses the Belize-Guatemala border illegally, right before your eyes, like it’s no big deal?

(Man enters on footpath from Guatemala)

Q: “Hello. You speak English?”

Man

“Yeah man.”

Q: “You would talk to me? I am from Belize media.”

Man

“You are from Belize? I’m going to Belize right now.”

Q: “You’re Guatemalan? You’d talk to me a second?”

Man

“No me from Cayo, San Ignacio, but I just walk right here to check my family.”

Q: “You have family over there?”

Man

“Yeah.”

Q: “You do this all the time?”

Man

“Not really but right now just because tonight I come and I spend all my money, I drink and I spend all my money, right.”

Q: “And your passports?”

Man

“I got it right here but I no want pass right there, check. I pass right here because right here, they don’t do nothing, check.”

Q: “So what they do over there you don’t like?”

Man

“Nothing, but I pass here because here we no have problem, check.”

Q: “So what kind of problem they give you over there?”

Man

“No, no problem, just because I take it more easy right here, just to pass.”

Q: “So it’s just right through instead of customs?”

Man

“Yeah, if I want I could go to Benque. I go to Guatemala. Right now I’m going home cause last night I was drunk and my money done spend and I have to reach home right now.”

Q: “So you are trying to avoid the fines that you have to pay over there?”

Man

“I have to pay to come into Guatemala but to come out of Guatemala, I no have to pay nothing.”

Q: “So you think this alright then?”

Man

“Yeah man, for me everything alright, because I no have no trouble with nobody. I could pass, I could turn again and no problem, right… check.”

The well-worn footpaths in the area show that this man is the not only one to feel that way. Usher says defending the border is bigger than trying to make sure everyone keeps to their side of the line. Most immigrants are found in protected areas, trying to make a living at farming. Usher says studies show those areas are made up of a thin layer of soil over many layers of hard rock. As the practice of illegal farming continues in these preserved forests, more and more the land is being cleared. Usher says, if the trees of the rainforest were ever cut down to a great extent, the repercussions for Belize would be enormous.

Alan Usher, P.S., Ministry of National Security

“There would be more flooding, less control, severe water management problems as well as in the long run, within a decade and a half, we would actually lose major portions of our living reef. So the importance of maintaining patrols along this border is tantamount to the existence, Belize’s existence in the shape and for that we know it today.”

The Belize Defense Force is aware of these issues and conducts frequent border and air patrols to ensure all illegal activity, including illegal entry and agrarian encroachment is kept to a minimum.

Alan Usher

“The B.D.F. has been sensitized, has always been sensitized to the territorial issue. As far as we are concerned, there is a definite boundary, there is a border. There’s an international border recognized not only by Belize but the rest of the world and we have to protect the protected areas of Belize.”

Janelle Chanona

“Presently Belize does not use walls or fences to have its borders recognized, it’s hoping its friendly relationships with its neighbors will serve that purpose. Janelle Chanona for News Five.”

The border with Guatemala is the line agreed upon in a treaty signed on April thirtieth, 1859 between the United Kingdom and Guatemala. The border extends from the mouth of the Sarstoon to Gracias a Dios Falls then turning right directly to Garbutt’s Falls and from there, due north until it strikes the Mexican Border. The treaty formally establishing the Belize-Mexico Border was signed between the United Kingdom and Mexico on July eighth, 1893. Since gaining Independence on September twenty-first, 1981, Belize has continued to recognize both of these treaties.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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