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May 13, 2020

Guatemalan Truck Drivers Speak to News Five on Protest

Tonight, the situation at the western border involving cargo trucks has been resolved and traffic is now flowing freely.  For two days and a half, the truck drivers from Guatemala could not enter Belize to purchase grains and other goods nor could trucks cross to bring in goods.  Long lines formed at the border blocking the Guatemalan side of the bridge.  This afternoon, an agreement was hammered out and the trucks have been allowed to pick up cargo at Spanish Lookout as well as to deliver goods.  News Five’s Hipolito Novelo was at the border today and spoke to all sides of the dispute.


Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

On the Belizean side of the border, the gates remain close. Soldiers and immigration officers remain posted and health officers sit silently under this tent. Since Monday and up until this morning, there was no movement in or out and that was because on the Guatemalan side of border, this was the scene.

A line of cargo trucks stretching almost three kilometers from the adjacency zone, into Melchor de Mencos was formed. Guatemalan truck drivers blocked the bridge, creating a traffic bottleneck and preventing cargo trucks from crossing the border. The drivers are upset that Belizean authorities decided on a new system. They were told that they would need to remain at the border while a Belizean driver would do the purchasing for them. This decision was taken after countries like Mexico and Guatemala recorded a spike in COVID-19 cases. Belize has no positive case and authorities want to keep it that way.

Speaking to News Five behind the border gates, this Guatemalan truck driver says that he has been buying corn from local producers for years and it was not until Monday that they were informed of the new protocols. He says throughout the years, there has been little contact with Belizeans.


Guatemalan Truck Driver (Translated)

“We are asking that we are allowed to enter with our trucks up to Spanish Lookout because the authorities want to force us to detach out equipment here in customs for a Belizean driver to take it. So we are asking for us to be allowed to go with our trucks like we used to do and buy our products and return.”


The sentiments are shared by fellow Guatemalan truck driver, Sender Berganza.


One the Phone: Sender Berganza (Translated)

“We enter Belize only to buy. We buy corn in Spanish Lookout for one day, two days maximum and we return. It is the same when buy cattle in Shipyard, Blue Creek, one day two days maximum and we return. We don’t go to do other things in Belize but to buy and give revenue.  Little bit for them and a little bit for us. And now the problem is Belize. We are not making a scandal. What we want is for them to open the doors once more so that we can go buy corn because the Mennonites need for us to buy corn. They need us to buy their corn because they cannot have a lot of corn there because it will go to waste.”


Local grain producers invest tens of millions of dollars in their farms harvesting in a case of a single producer, more than ten thousand acres of extra corn, to be exported to Guatemala. General Manager for Cayo Grain and Agro Supply Limited Gilbert Canton Junior says that on a weekly basis four to five trucks would be loaded with yellow corn to be exported to Guatemala.


Gilbert Canton Jr.

Gilbert Canton Jr., G.M., Cayo Grain & Agro Supply Ltd.

“Right now t he price of corn is anywhere from twenty four to twenty five dollars for a hundred pounds bags. This is for yellow corn. If you look when you drive into our facility there is a   scale, empty trucks weighs in, full truck weigh truck weighs out. Then there is a transfer of money is done when they leave the facility, bank transfer or cheque and that is how that is done. We did an assessment of corn available in this area, between Spanish Lookout, ourselves and Banana Bank there is almost five hundred thousand bags of corn available here, excess corn. Not corn that we need for local demand. Excess corn that has to be move to Guatemala.”


And it has to be to Guatemala because Canton Junior says there is no other buyer, a partial scope agreement makes it so.


Gilbert Canton Jr.

“If you take a look at what happened in this industry with yellow, that industry was able to expand because the Ministry of Agriculture was able to negotiate a partial scope agreement with Guatemala which allows our yellow corn to enter their market. For example this facility, this entire investment is based in exporting yellow corn to Guatemala. The Mennonites in Spanish Lookout and other areas have expanded their ability to grow grain or expanded their grain production to export to Guatemala. It is significant. There is nowhere else for that yellow corn to go.”


A new protocol was agreement upon today and cargo trucks were allowed in the country. Guatemalan truck drivers agreed to certain conditions including that a customs guard will accompany them throughout their journey to purchase grains from local producers.


Gilbert Canton Jr.

“Not just with this industry but with other industries, the agro productive industries we can manage this. We can continue to operate with safety precautions in place for COVID-19. Masks and hand sanitizers and hand washing stations this can be done. It is minimal contact With the new protocols the truck driver can stay in the truck, we take him over to our loading facility and then can come and check and make sure he gets the full load that he wants to get. Then we will go back and weigh him out at the weigh station. We can actually complete the whole process without ever coming in six feet of the driver.”


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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