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May 20, 2020

Are There Illegal Crossings Happening in Arenal?

Today marks thirty-seven days straight without any active case of COVID-19 in Belize.  And while this is good news for the country as it continues to relax restriction measures, the possibility of a second wave continues to increase as cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in neighbouring countries like Mexico and Guatemala.  To crack on the likelihood of an imported case, Belize closed its borders.  But as we have seen in recent weeks, several persons have been jailed immediately for entering the country illegally.  But this hasn’t stopped the illegal movement, thereby increasing the risk.  In the western community of Arenal, the ease of crossing back and forth poses a risk to that village and the rest of the country should an infected person enters illegally. Today, News Five’s Andrea Polanco went to find out how the village is responding. Here’s the story.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Arenal Village is quite unique in its geography. It lies smack in the middle of the Belize-Guatemala border. Half of the village is Belizean territory and the other half is for Guatemala. In the centre of the village, the unofficial demarcation is this football field, where the left side is Belize’s and the right side is Guatemala’s. If you’re not from the village, it is quite easy for you to wander onto the Guatemalan side of the village illegally – with just a few steps. When you look around the village, the homes, the people, the way of life look so similar and may be difficult to differentiate. And the people, for the most part, live in peace with each other. They usually move easily and freely between the two countries. For most of the villagers, the proximity has never really been a problem to their way of life. But during a pandemic it’s a different story. Because while movement of people has slowed down big time, it still continues to happen. And this poses a serious risk – where one infected person can re-introduce COVID-19 to Belize. And this is a big concern for Chairman Lucio Sanchez.


Lucio Sanchez

Lucio Sanchez, Chairman, Arenal

“From one to ten, I can say that ten – because as you know there are positive cases right outside there so it could be easily [brought in] that is why we are working hard in trying to educate and warn our people to not go there to buy anything. From Melchor, well no Belizean is going but this is very risky.”


Andrea Polanco

“Are your villagers here in Arenal cooperating, by not going over?”


Lucio Sanchez

“Yes. Yes. They are doing.”


Andrea Polanco

“So, the problem right now would be the people coming over here?”


Lucio Sanchez

“The people coming over here. That’s it.”


It is quite easy to move back forth on both sides. People cross over for different reasons. Many for jobs, some to visit friends and relatives, others to shop. And although Belize is heavily penalizing those who use these illegal border crossings and Guatemala has announced its own restrictions on the movement of its citizens, illegal crossings between the two sides haven’t stopped. And with the closure of the official border point – that may have also pushed others to enter Belize illegally. Take for instance, this morning after eight we were in the village and a few people were moving back and forth – walking across illegally from Guatemala to Belize and Belize back into Guatemala. A bread vendor from over in Guatemala was on the football field in his truck – on the Belize side selling. According to residents, these movements are the usual way of way life on a regular day – but for most these times are anything but usual. Although there is no known active COVID-19 case in Arenal in Guatemala, there is growing number of cases across the country where to date there are over two thousand two hundred active cases. Chairman Sanchez says he has been working with his community to educate his villagers so that they can try to prevent this virus from getting into the country through his village.


Lucio Sanchez

“You know that the borders are closed, the main entries, as you know and all the Belizeans know, that persons from outside especially from Guatemala work here in Belize. And now that we are ok out of this virus, they will try to come in.  It is easy here to cross from one side to the other and so that is one of our most preoccupation and as chairman of the village, I have been having with my council and talking to the villagers to try to implement the best as we can of our measures to avoid this. And we are trying as best possible to be out of relation with the Guatemalans.”


According to Sanchez, law enforcement authorities are helping to curb these illegal crossings. There is a police station in the village – and on site we observed at least two B.D.F. soldiers. A drive around the community, however, didn’t show any patrols or authorities present on the ground while we were there. It is important to note that the police station is just a stone’s throw away from where people move back and forth freely between the border of Arenal in Belize and Guatemala. But, as Chairman Sanchez points out, the authorities have restricted some of those who entered illegally but it is not easy policing this community.


Lucio Sanchez

“The police officers, immigration and customs officers are doing their best. They are trying to control this but as you know this is something of a social conscious. That is the best tool because people will try to find to jump even if they have to go through the mountains.   The day after yesterday, I see two persons who came in. They are not from here and so I was happy when I saw the police officers caught them and chased them out.  I had a report that people call me that strange persons are crossing. So, as I said, the villagers we are cooperating here as the frontline here. So, they call me and I call the officers and we try to do our best, nuh.”


From what we saw this morning, the risk is still high in this community. While local leaders report that the Belizeans are adhering to the law, there are Guatemalans who are still entering the country illegally. And that may continue to happen, as the economic blowout from COVID-19 is taking its toll on Guatemala, which may push its people to look for opportunities outside of its borders. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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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