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Nov 14, 2019

Guatemalan Community Growing along Western Border in Belize

In the west, a sizeable group of Guatemalan families have set up homes on land belonging to local businessman Jorge Espat. The problem has been building up for some time and today we had firsthand experience of the encroachment at Barrio el Juda where the squatters have settled so comfortably that they even have water and light bills in their names.  While we were there, they confronted Espat saying they are on Guatemalan soil, though clearly they are not as verified by the O.A.S.   Here is a report with Hipolito Novelo.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Illegal encroachment by Guatemalans is real and continues to happen today. Some thirty families along the western border continue to inch their way in to Belizean territory, seemingly without any hindrance or opposition. Jorge Espat owns about one hundred acres of land along the border. The Guatemalans have cleared and built on this land. Today the media was invited to witness firsthand the illegal encroachment in the Barrio El Juda area in the Cayo District.

This road represents the border, where territories of Belize and Guatemala meet. Further up, the road diverges into a different route, into Belizean territory.

 

Jorge Espat

Jorge Espat, Private Landowner

“So automatically if you look at that road and you look further down automatically see that that is not a straight road. This wall, or this fence, the road suppose to pass here on this fence and it will be cutting into the Guatemalan side. If you can see there are building so actually they are coming into Belizean territory, Belizean side. They need to be more to the left. The road supposed to be going further up but it came towards my property.”

 

Reporter

“And they believe that they are in Guatemala?”

 

Jorge Espat

“Well as you can see. They even have their own electricity bill and water bill. Right next door the road to the front so what is that indicating to you?”

 

And the indication was quite clear. Some thirty families, living on privately owned land within Belizean territory were adamant today that they are in Gautemala. Espat informed them that they were trespassing and had illegally settled on his land, but they refuted the assertion saying that the land forms part of the Melchor de Mencos.

 

Guatemalan Residing in Belize [Translated]

“Because we need where to live, we are here. Supposedly from the river the line I believe, the house there that have title and they remain, the line wouldn’t be diagonal. It has be straight. You understand?”

 

Reporter

“But do you have title then? From where?”

 

Guatemalan Residing in Belize [Translated]

“Those lands there have title. When the Mayor Jorge Cowo was in all of this had rights to property.”

 

Reporter

“So can you show us the title that you have?”

 

Guatemalan Residing in Belize [Translated]

“The titles are not here right now.  No one has come here to tell us that we need to stop occupying here. On the contrary, they told us to continue living here.”

 

Reporter

“Not the O.A.S.  The O.A.S. has come?”

 

Guatemalan Residing in Belize [Translated]

“Yes they have come, but they didn’t tell us that we need to move from here.”

 

Reporter

“What did they say?”

 

Guatemalan Residing in Belize [Translated]

“That they are going to figure what will happen because it will be taken to both governments because it will be the governments that will solve this.   We can’t do anything. The mayor has to come so that he can speak to you. We are villagers and we cannot be fighting with you or sharing information because we don’t know how the government has those papers because as far as we know there is no specific line for Belize because there hasn’t been any agreement. This part is part of the municipality, not a line for Belize.”

 

Jorge Espat

“It is very risky. Of course they will put up a fight and there again it is sad because as far as I see it we don’t have the assistance from the government, the backup, the support even though it is land registered.  Yes we had had some buildings before that they claim that they have three documents perhaps but that closer to the marginal line where the diversion started to happen. Now that I have come by and notified that for them to cease and I guess maybe with the government claiming that the government came and told them I believe that the kind of movement that I am trying to do the information is getting there. The lady with the investment in the concrete building has ceased but the squatting continues.”

 

The Organization of American States has verified that the Guatemalans are some two hundred feet within Belizean territory. In fact while there, we took a snapshot of our location on Google maps and it showed that we were well within Belize. But today we saw a Guatemalan community developing on this side of the border.

 

Jorge Espat

“You can see some evidence of the existing fence where as the people come and cut the fence and that is where I refer that the investment is not worth the wild. There is a lot of illegal activities. There is the barb wire so you can see the proof. We have it lying on the ground. This is something that is cut with a machete so actually it is the people doing illegal activities, using the area for the purpose of business. People over this end they take out material to do their buildings, foundations. There are some big holes dug up and they use it as a garbage dump. As you can see there is a lot of garbage over this end.”

 

Recently the Ministry of National Security issued a release stating that there have been joint efforts to actively take steps to address the issue. The ministry said that actions have been taken to ensure the immediate discontinuation of illegal settlements in that area. But as we saw today, the Guatemalans continue to illegally settle in the area, uninterrupted and with the strong belief that they are in Guatemala.

 

Jorge Espat

“I hope the government can intervene as quick as possible. They say, as you call can see through the press release, they are trying to do their part. And I understand it takes, through diplomacy, its own time and course. The longer we wait, the more incursions and at the end of the day more building erected, more people coming and so it is something we need to move quick.  From the very first instance I knew it was something that myself cant able to make a stand or make a final solution. This is something that we as the people of Belize we need to come together because it is happening here. It can happen further down the line. At the end of the day once we are at ease it will continue to happen.  I may be a person that they are claiming that I am impatient, but I rather be impatient than be impatient than a sitting duck. We need to do something. I need to do something. I can’t afford to be a sitting duck. The longer we take the bigger the issue.”

 

Reporting for News Five I am Hipolito Novelo.


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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