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May 17, 2013

Finding Belize border marker with Guatemala at Garbutt’s Falls

Gracias Adios and Aguas Turbias are two of the markers that signify Belize’s border with Guatemala. Those markers are not normally visited because of the journey it takes to get there. But Garbutt’s Falls is another marker that many Belizeans have come in close contact but never realized it was there. If you have ever gone to the Benque border, then chances are you might have been as close as a hundred feet from it. But to get to Garbutt’s Falls you have to travel along the river’s edge.  News Five’s Jose Sanchez joined the Referendum Unit as they went to visit that border marker with Peten, Guatemala.


Jose Sanchez, Reporting

Knowing our border is knowing both history and geography. Earlier today, the Referendum unit trekked the bank of the Mopan River to find Garbutt’s Falls.


Stuart Leslie, Coordinator, Referendum Unit

Stuart Leslie

“A number of our facilitators have never been to any of the monuments. The Garbutt Falls and Gracias A Dios monuments. The one at Benque, Garbutt’s Falls was the closest so we thought that if they are going out there and talking to students and people about the issue, then it would be best for the experience of going there and seeing it. Some of our Foreign Service officers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs joined with the facilitators to go actually visit the monument at Garbutt’s Falls, which is the one in Benque.”


There is a farm owned by a Belizean on the other side of the river, but it is Guatemalan residents whom we see washing clothes in the river. The group treks further along the bank and meet the white water rush of Garbutts’ Falls. It is pristine, but the area close to the marker on Guatemala’s side is littered with burnt garbage and putrid smells. But the unassuming piece of concrete is a shoulder of 330 thousand Belizeans.


Gian Vasquez

For five months this history teacher has been a facilitator with the Referendum Unit. Visiting the landmark has increased his passion for Belize.


Gian Vasquez, Facilitator, Referendum Unit

“It has been an incredible experience in terms of educating the young minds and how much people don’t know about the history of Belize especially as it relates to the Belize Guatemala issue.”


Jose Sanchez

“This is your first time at Garbutt’s Falls?”


Gian Vasquez

“Indeed it was. It was the first time I went to Garbutt’s Falls and it was an incredible experience with the immigration and police. It felt like you were contra-banding in a sense or going into an area you are not supposed to be. And I think all Belizeans need to come and get that feeling why this issue is of paramount importance to us as Belizeans. If you don’t get that feeling, you will never realize the important issue this really is.”


On the top of the hill is the official border crossing; nestled between Belize and Guatemala is the O.A.S. Secretariat’s Office in the Adjacency Zone.


Stuart Leslie

“We wanted to give them a feel for what happens there; how we handle issue and we got an update also on illegal settlements on our side of the border. And so we got an update on the settlements removed and the people got to ask questions about the work of the O.A.S. in adjacency zone.”


Sergio Benitez, Director, Office of General Secretariat of O.A.S.

“The O.A.S. works in two levels—one level is with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the other is in the field. In the field, we create a very fluid dialogue between Belize and Guatemala and I think that makes a very friendly information for dialogue between the two countries that hasn’t occurred in the past.”


Jose Sanchez

“In terms of the border settlements that we have nearby. What does the O.A.S. do? What is your role when there are disputes?”


Sergio Benitez

“The settlements in the area, when we receive requests from the people leaving there, we inform the government and support to relocate them in their country. It is the same for Belize and Guatemala. The reality here is that we have no Belizean settlement in Guatemala. It is mostly Guatemala living on the other side of the line and we relocate them in Guatemala. We finish the process one month ago; relocate the last community in Guatemala. And now doesn’t exist any community.”


Jose Sanchez

“How many field officers do you have and is it adequate to cover the areas of complaint?”


Sergio Benitez

“Well something important to understand too is that for the mandate that we have, we are enough. We have one office; we have enough people for the mandate in the mission. We are not military, not police, not immigration or custom. This is a peace keeping mission carried out for civilization. For the verification we are enough, but providing the legal framework is the confidence building measures, it is the country that is in charge of the sovereignty of each side.”


Jose Sanchez

“Is it easy to distinguish that line? I know there has been much talk about the line whether there are specific marker points. We just saw Garbutt’s Falls marker points, but is it an easy line to distinguish where there border lies?”


Sergio Benitez

“It is complicated. For that reason, what we do is provide a GPS for the armies—for the Belize Defense Force and the Guatemalan army. And we provide the trainings for the soldiers how to use GPS. With the same equipment and the training, you can see where is the line and that avoids conflict between armed forces. We don’t have one incident in thirteen years.”


No conflict in thirteen years, but with the dialogue in limbo as Guatemala has withdrawn its plans, will there be a Referendum in 2014.


Stuart Leslie

“The Referendum Unit continues to operate until we are told to stand down. We continue to do presentations and so on. We are on the second phase of the outreach and information campaign. And so we’re moving with the motto “the more you know, the more you know. The more information Belizeans have, the better prepared they will be when the time comes for them to go and vote; hopefully 2014, right.”


Gian Vasquez

“I’m sure that going to Gracias Adios, you will see a lot of forested area. And we won’t be able to see any kind of delineation. So it would be just open forest. How do we decide what is Belize and Guatemala? But I don’t have a GPS and most Belizeans don’t have a GPS. So how do we know? So I think it would be good for us to go to soak up that experience. I think all Belizeans need to do something like that; to get that experience.”


Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.


So for now, the education campaign continues even though the referendum has been deferred to 2014 if the Guatemalan congress accepts that proposal. 

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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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4 Responses for “Finding Belize border marker with Guatemala at Garbutt’s Falls”

  1. Paco Smith says:

    Will the GOB ever concede that the call for Belize to go to the ICJ has been exposed for what little it is worth…an ill-conceived, zero-sum (for some), non-beneficial and tainted approach to dealing with a nation that has proven on several occasions that its word cannot be trusted?

    Guatemala and in particular, its president Otto Perez- Molina are seeking some modicum of credibility. Going into the most recent meeting at the OAS Headquarters, Belize had a distinct advantage as a result of Guatemala’s intransigence. Our foreign affairs team needed to stand its ground and say that the date of 6th October 2013 was mutually agreed upon and therefore we shall not move from it. Instead, as per usual, they acquiesced to the demands of the Guatemalans and capitulated. As a result, Belize’s delegation single-handedly nullified our advantage. Now they continue to push this bankrupt concept?

    If they didn’t already know, the Cayo Branch of the Belize Territorial Volunteers visited the Marker at Garbutt’s Falls on 30th April 2013, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of 1859, which acknowledged and set our present day BORDER.

    Belizeans and true friends of Belize, don’t fall victim to the propaganda of the GOB. Going to the ICJ remains a non-viable option for Belize, concerning Guatemala’s unfounded claim to our sovereign territory. Unless you want to (1) lend credence to Guatemala’s unfounded claim by placing Belize’s territorial integrity in the hands of people at a foreign court, (2) disregard the advances made during our struggle for independence and (3) further digress our nation’s status (e.g. going from a BORDER, to that of an “adjacency area/zone”, all Belizeans are asked to support the BCJ’s BOYCOTT OF THE REFERENDUM AS LONG AS IT IS RESCHEDULED FOR A DATE OTHER THAN 6TH OCTOBER 2013.

    Think about it, the GOB appears to be clueless as to the detriment of: (1 )actually considering going to the ICJ because it is not necessary , (2) coddling Guatemala in their every DEMAND and (3) encouraging Belizeans to support an initiative the inevitably will not solve Guatemala’s unfounded claim, because rulings of the ICJ have been demonstrated to be unenforceable.

    Since the government doesn’t have the spine to stand up for Belize, it is up to civil society to make our voice be heard. The best way to accomplish this is to support the aforementioned BOYCOTT, because rest assured, just as in many of instances, the GOB will most likely cave-in once again to the Guatemalan’s DEMANDS and, in this instance, change our referendum act, in order to accommodate those who seek our sovereign territory.

    Belize, Sovereign and Free – NO ICJ!

  2. NY says:

    @ Paco Smith, you sound like a TRUE PATRIOTIC BELIZEAN …… I too, do share your sentiments when it comes to the GOB HANDLING of this BELIZE/ Guatemala issue. It seems as if though the Belizean Gov. wants to let the Guatemalans off the hook scotch free. I say stick to the OCTOBER 6th DATE that was mutually agreed upon by both parties; and let us get this issue resolved once and for all…..HOPEFULLY

  3. ceo says:

    Well said Paco much sense! This has always been my cry: Guatemala is not trying to be settle up and live neighborly; they are trying to take Belize legally and we are putting our future in the hands of people who have no vested interest in Belize and do not care about Belize! Our foreign minister instead of standing tall with those that are leading the charge he is discouraging them. For the love of country: why isn’t he doing more? These older guys still have a colonial mentality they need to get out the way! Why do we have to wait for a decision to come from “England” like in the old days?

  4. Seletar says:


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