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Apr 2, 2019

Jalacte and the I.C.J. Vote – Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Next stop: Jalacte, a bordering community of some eight hundred residents. The experience there is much different. People from both sides of the border cross unimpeded; there is no immigration points, just the B.D.F. on duty at an outpost. We found out that the residents are more interested in trade than on going to the International Court of Justice. Here is why with Isani Cayetano:


In the far-flung corners of the country, isolated places like Jalacte, in Toledo District, are a world onto themselves.  Away from the hurly burly of urban life, residents of this indigenous community go about their business peacefully.  It is Sunday morning and families are gathered for weekly service in the village.  The congregation is a mixture of Belizeans and Guatemalans, brought together by intermarriage.

Less than a mile away, dozens of passengers are arriving and departing in buses.  This scorched, nondescript location is the frontier point between Belize and Guatemala where, unlike the western border at Benque Viejo, there is no formal crossing.  Instead, the area is overseen by a patrol of B.D.F. soldiers from an outpost known as Treetops.  Laura Choc, a resident of Jalacte, is a moneychanger.


Laura Choc

Laura Choc, Jalacte Resident

“We are working here for a long time.  My pa, this is, my pa is first who started this business.”


Realizing the economic opportunity in cross-border trade, Choc’s father pioneered the local business of currency exchange.  Over the years, many have traversed this stretch of road which comes to an abrupt end here, where the neighbouring Guatemalan community of Santa Cruz begins.  It’s widely known for buying and selling contraband goods and commodities.


Armando Choc

Armando Choc, Santa Elena Resident

“I just would like to have a lee visit over this side because that is where we usually know one another and come here together and visit one another and do selling with like crops and whatnot.  So that is the way we use to come here.”


In so doing, both communities have formed a mutual, sister-village relationship and the polarizing I.C.J. vote seemingly has little effect in these reaches.


Isani Cayetano

Isani Cayetano

“With a population of approximately eight hundred residents, Jalacte is one of several villages along the western border whose majority vote remains undecided.”


That’s because residents contend that the information shared thus far is yet to take root in their community and time is quickly running out.


Manuel Salam

Manuel Salam, Chairman, Jalacte Village

“It’s very, very bad to me, my feeling about my village because you have a lot of young children here, lot of kids [growing up] but they don’t know what will happen [with] the problems coming to us because they say we don’t understand which one is better to go and vote, yes or no.”


Those children are spending the morning frolicking in the churchyard, while their parents participate in a vibrant celebration.  The future of Jalacte is what Village Chairman Manuel Salam is most concerned about, based on the lack of information that has been presented on the Belize/Guatemala territorial dispute and its possible resolution at the International Court of Justice.  Of course, all of this hinges on their upcoming vote.


Manuel Salam

“I am the chairman.  I can’t go and tell my people let us vote this and this because that will be a problem for me.  If I go tell them go vote wrong, ih wahn come, the problem will come back to me because I tell my village to go and vote.  Now, the people have the choice to go and vote what they want to vote because I can’t tell them.”


As original inhabitants of this region, the most important concern is about land.  Santos Cho, the Alcalde of Jalacte, holds that position firmly.


Santos Cho

Santos Cho, Alcalde, Jalacte Village

“We are Mayas, this is our land, we never know… We don’t want nobody to get in here.  This is our land.  But that vote, we never know what is good and what is not good.  We never knew about it.”


Isani Cayetano

“Has anyone from the Referendum Unit, from the government, come to Jalacte to share with you guys why you should or you should not vote for going to the I.C.J.?”


Santos Cho

“We don’t know about that, but I just want to know about this, our land, the people here, the small [ones] and the student don’t have no land for [themselves] but that’s why me noh want it.”


Regrettably, the lack of adequate knowledge on the issue is quite apparent.


Pablo Chun

Isani Cayetano

“Talk to us about how you feel about the upcoming referendum.  Do you feel as if though you know enough as to whether or not you’re going to be voting yes or no on April tenth?”


Pablo Chun, Jalacte Resident

“I don’t really have the full information, so it’s difficult to say either yes or no.”


On the other side of the border where I ventured unlawfully, it is business as usual.  The trickle of Belizeans entering Santa Cruz is constant.  The first question I asked, in speaking with residents here, is about the strength of their relationship with the border communities in Belize, given the existing claim.


Elias Augustine, Santa Cruz Resident

“Everything is good because right here we have a good relationship with, let’s say Jalacte, San Vicente, Pueblo Viejo and Santa Cruz.  For we, the people who live right here, for we, everything is clear.  Everything is good.  Noh mind if everybody go to the I.C.J., everything is good for me.”


Isani Cayetano

“As someone living in Guatemala, do you believe that Belize is for Guatemala or do you believe that Belize is its own country and that the relationship between Belize and Guatemala should be one where they respect the border?”


Elias Augustine

Elias Augustine

“Well, up to here, I don’t know if Belize will be for Guatemala or Guatemala for Belize.  What we want is the good relationship.”


If you’re wondering how Elias Augustine is able to speak and understand English competently it’s because, like many of his colleagues, he has accessed and taken full advantage of Belize’s primary education system in Jalacte. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


We’ll have more stories as our reporters head to the border communities in the coming days.

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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