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Apr 3, 2019

The Western Border Community Has its Say on the I.C.J. Referendum

Traversing the Sarstoon is a tense and perilous journey. The Guatemalan Armed Forces are there to impede Belizeans from freely travelling upstream so Belizeans require escort from the B.D.F. and Belize Coastguard on the journey on our side of the river.  That is in the south, but in the west, it is a different case. The communities live side by side without hostility; hundreds of Guatemalan children cross the border to educate themselves in Benque Viejo del Carmen, business is brisk and the people share friendly relations. As we continue with our series on the border communities, News Five’s Duane Moody and Kenroy Michael hit the ground in the west to get the reaction from residents on the I.C.J. referendum.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Since the installation of a fence and walkway at the western border in Benque Viejo del Carmen as well as the implementation of immigration cards for Guatemalan students crossing into Belizean territory for school, migrant flow between Belize and Guatemala has been picture perfect. The border communities of Melchor and Benque depend on each other for various reasons. There is also an absence of tension at the border when compared to other areas like the Sarstoon. It is replaced by harmony and respect amongst residents.

The legal border crossing out west has become an economic hub for Belizeans and Guatemalans alike who traffic this area for everything from trade to business deals and education—it’s the bread and butter for taxi operators as well as food vendors and money changers.

 

Antonio Ochaeta

Antonio Ochaeta, Resident, Benque Viejo del Carmen

“To me the locals, the nearby neighbours all of Peten; they prefer that Belize stays as Belize rather than Guatemala winning the claim of our territory. And the business is good, the relationship is good. We are friends.”

 

Gusberto Coy, Resident, Benque Viejo del Carmen

“The relationship is really good. I can go over there, have a nice time, spend one night over there; come back and everything safe.”

 

Gusberto Coy

Duane Moody

“So here, there’s really no tension in terms of Belize and Guatemala?”

 

Gusberto Coy

“No. Actually, I have a lot of friends that are from Melchor and they have me and several of my friends…we all get together, we all have a nice time and we all live life like one happy family.”

 

Belizeans from across the country are being asked to make a historic decision on whether or not the territorial claim between both countries should be taken to the International Court of Justice for final resolution. Benque Viejo residents question the relevance of having a court decide on the matter.

There is a sense that border communities like Benque have been opposing what has been described as a YES campaign by political operatives for the government. Billboards and banners are hoisted across the community from the referendum unit as well as the Citizens for the Defence of Sovereignty influencing the electorate. A poll of a few residents suggests that they will either NOT go out to vote or if they do, will vote NO—some from an analytical perspective, while others emotional.

 

Felix Caballeros

Felix Caballeros, Resident, Benque Viejo del Carmen

“I already decided my mind to vote no because I say if I vote yes, I am giving the land to Guatemala. If I vote no, that means I am not giving not even an inch of this territory to the Guatemalan people. It is not correct to vote YES. Better let us vote NO so that they can receive a message from the Belize people to defend their land.”

 

Morales

Morales, Resident, Benque Viejo del Carmen

“I will vote NO because Mister George Price said that we will not give not even a square inch of our territory to Guatemala. So Belize has been recognized by the UN, by the Commonwealth—a non-alliance country—so why should we go to I.C.J. You understand. I believe that we should fight for this. If we lose this, you will see the quetzal flying here and all the way to Belmopan.”

 

Antonio Ochaeta

“I have made my mind long time ago. I say no. I don’t feel we have nothing to negotiate with Guatemala.”

 

It is known that since late last year, the Referendum Unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been carrying out consultations and meetings with residents across the country. But are they being informed enough to make a decision that will determine the future of the next generation?

 

Gusberto Coy

“I am set on no. Why? Because I have no idea what will happen if I vote yes or no. So I really have no idea what is going to happen. So I am jut gonna say no.”

 

Duane Moody

“Are you saying that you are not informed enough to make a decision?”

 

Gusberto Coy

“Yah. That’s what I am saying. That’s what I am thinking; I’m not really going to go out to vote. And if I would go out to vote, it would be a no because I am not really that informed.”

 

Antonio Ochaeta

“The consequences; that we don’t know what will happen if yes we win or if we don’t win. What are the consequences, we don’t know so it’s very dangerous.”

 

For most residents, they are making a decision as a family. Gloria Salazar is among a few we spoke to who is saying that after being informed, a YES vote is the way to go.

 

Gloria Salazar

Gloria Salazar, Resident, Benque Viejo del Carmen

“I think we are well-informed. The government has tried to informed. They have been making all this, but the people for one reason or the other are not coming out to hear about this problem. They talk at their home and they have their own decisions. But until that day we will know what will happen.”

 

Carlos Coyoc, Resident, Benque Viejo del Carmen

“I’ll vote yes make we go and one time finish the problem.”

 

Carlos Coyoc

Duane Moody

“Could you explain to us why? How you came to make your decision?”

 

Carlos Coyoc

“Because if we don’t vote yes, this problem will continue.”

 

Norman Reyes, a former educator who is originally from Succotz, but has been living in Benque for twenty-five years, says that he did the research himself as well as listened to the proponents and detractors. Reyes says his decision is about country.

 

Norman Reyes, Resident, Benque Viejo del Carmen

“Before the political parties came and interfere saying yes and no, I decided myself first. I said NO from long time because I think this is the future of our country; for our grandchildren.”

 

Duane Moody

“So your decision is based on what?”

 

Norman Reyes

Norman Reyes

“Because I love my country and I am willing to fight for my piece of land. I don’t have nothing against Guatemala because we have a lot of families that have family from there too. But the thing is that we Belizeans need to be first and that’s why I am against this I.C.J. problem because we have been independent since 1981. And so as soon that we were independent; it’s ours noh.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.


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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