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Nov 12, 2019

Guatemalans Squat in Barrio de Juda, Cayo

Encroachments by Guatemalans are well-known within the Chiquibul. But now, embolden Guatemalan nationals are setting up permanent structures closer to the western border and well within Belizean territory. For years, Belizean businessman, Jorge Espat has been battling with Guatemalans settling in his land.  Espat says that as of late, the situation has not only persisted, it has gotten worse with the beckoning of the Mayor from Melchor de Mencos. The mayor has been sending his supporters to clear land and settle on Espat’s property.  News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports. 

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

This is Belizean businessman Jorge Espat and he owns more than one hundred acres of land along this side of the Western Border in Benque Viejo del Carman in an area known as Barrio el Juda.

This is the mayor of neighbouring Melchor de Mencos in Guatemala, Amado Yanes. He has recently won an election and our understanding is that he has promised residents property in Barrio el Juda. Video shows Guatemalans clearing the land, building roads and up to recently constructing structures on Belizean territory.

 

Jorge Espat, Private Land Owner

“Every time they have municipality elections, it has been a recurring issue whereas to gain room in the General elections the parties involved direct the people to the Belizean territory which is my farm which is my area in the borderline to get parcels and to make settlements.”

 

The undocumented Guatemalans are essentially building on Espat’s land, on Belizean territory at the direction of their municipal leader. It is an issue that that has been discussed time and time again during the meeting of the National Security Council Meeting.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: October 2nd, 2019]

“Every time we have a National Security Council meeting there is a report. And that Barrio De Judah is a continuing problem. Remember how the protocol is, we received reports. The B.D.F. goes confirm, makes the in fact the complaint to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs passes it to the O.A.S., the go and they verify and once they say yes the settlement is in Belize then we are entitled to destroy it. You do it, a few months later they come back.”

 

But this time, Espat says, it is worse. Concrete structures are being built.

 

Jorge Espat

Jorge Espat

“This has been the worse. It has been a recurring issue. I recall the last incident we had we had managed to let them leave the area. They were force to leave the area. There were no structures at the time. There were just fenced properties with some cornfields and clearing of areas which were very recent at the time. Now it has reached to the scenario that there is a teacher that made very expensive investment, concrete building which is something that cannot be removed. It has to be destroyed eventually. Another person building a wooden structure and that was recently.”

 

The teacher’s name is Paola Reyes who told the Guatemalan press that she has been occupying the piece of land for four years after buying it from her sister who occupied the land for four years. Reyes who took out a loan to buy the land coughed up for thirty-two thousand quetzals and began construction in February. Reyes says that land was surveyed and was told that the land was in Guatemala.

 

Jorge Espat

“Unfortunately for the teacher I had contacted the entire vicinity in the area. I had advised them to stop or to cease investment and requested to them if they had any documents whatsoever and they said no. They don’t have. The teacher said she had. I told her to produce documents and of course it is a back and forth. They were insisting on my end to produce documents to them which indeed I have. I am on the Belizean side. It is my property.”

 

Recently, while on another visit to his land, Espat was confronted by Guatemalan authorities who had crossed over to this side of the border and asked him to surrender his firearm.

 

Jorge Espat

“I was in my area of course with my firearm and I had spoken to some of the people in the area and the police came by and mentioned to me that they wanted me to surrender documents.”

Hipolito Novelo

“Guatemalan authorities?”

 

Jorge Espat

“That’s right and I told them in no way I need to respond to them. I told them I am within my rights, I am in my territory. I am within my property.”

 

And to prove that the property is on Belizean side, the Organization of American States got involved, verifying the location of the land.

 

Jorge Espat

“The confirmation came about through the OAS and Guatemala as I understand had requested verification though the Mexican source and yes indeed the verification from the OAS came out intact.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Why not erect a fence around it?”

 

Jorge Espat

“Since it is the borderline there is a lot of contraband. It use to have a fence but at the end of the day why make an investment when the investment is not worth the while because the people come and take away whatever fence you put. It is a crime but I cannot go and charge them across the border. There were markers, there were posts and fence. They thief the materials for the fence and use it for their purpose. They come in to my territory to take out material to building their house and foundation. It is very sad.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.


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