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Oct 30, 2020

Mennonites in Shipyard Await First Light to Migrate to Peru

Shipyard in the Orange District is home to a large Mennonite community, who ploughs the land and raises cattle. About fifty of these families are now packing up and leaving the country and heading south to Peru striking a severe blow to the livestock and agricultural sectors. To find out about the large scale migration, News Five Isani Cayetano headed to Shipyard today.  The community is largely conservative so they would not appear on camera but provided the details about has triggered their departure.  First and foremost, a group of the businessmen, born Belizeans, were denied re-entry into Belize, via a private charter, for more than eighty days. Here is their compelling story.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Perhaps it was the utter disregard with which their request to be repatriated to Belize via private charter that was the straw that broke the camel’s back in their final decision to relocate to Peru.  In fact, that’s where community leader Juan Martinez was, along with nine other Mennonite businessmen from Shipyard, when the Philip Goldson International Airport and all other terrestrial and maritime entry points were hermetically sealed in an attempt to stave off the coronavirus.  They were there, along with other counterparts from Mexico, scouting land for a gradual move to South America, when they would be trapped outside of the country for eighty-two days.


Shipyard is a conservative Mennonite community in Orange Walk District with a population of four thousand.  Here, the vast expanse of pastoral land is used for cattle grazing and the livelihoods of its many residents revolve around agriculture.  While the colony has expanded considerably since it was founded in 1958, farmers are at a crossroads.  The supply of produce, including livestock, eclipses the existing demand locally and there is no new market within the country for them to tap into.  The mission to Tres Cruces, Peru identified affordable lands, as well as a population of thirty-three million that is largely dependent on the importation of food items; ergo, it is ideal for the migration of Mennonites from Shipyard and neighboring Mexico.


Back at home in mid-April, the informal cattle trade between Belize and Guatemala had ground to a screeching halt pending the enactment of an agreement with the governments of both countries.  Prior to an official trade agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, thousands of heads of cattle were being transported across the border through Bullet Tree Falls and Jalacte, a lucrative business for all livestock producers.  In Shipyard, there are roughly twenty thousand heads of calves, cows and bulls that will gradually be sold to the external market.  The small numbers of cattle presently allowed to go over into Mexico and Guatemala, however, is no longer profitable since a majority remain on farms and have to be fed and tended to in the interim.  The new regime presents an economic challenge for livestock growers.


Those are three reasons that inform the decision for forty families, including Martinez and his wife, to relocate to South America whenever the borders are reopened.  Nevertheless, it is the treatment that Martinez, a Mennonite born in Mexico and migrated to Shipyard at the age of ten, has received that is disconcerting.  According to Martinez, when they were stuck in Peru, numerous calls were made to government officials to facilitate the arrival of a private aircraft at the P.G.I.A. with ten Belizean businessmen from Orange Walk District.  They were equally prepared to foot all related expenses, including the cost of PCR tests to prove their COVID status.  Those calls, he said, all fell on deaf ears, despite these individuals being prominent in the agro-productive sector.  Ironically, at the time their applications for repatriation were being rejected, other private flights were also being allowed to enter the country.


It was not until eighty-two days later, twenty-five of those days spent across the Mexican border in Chetumal, that they were finally allowed to re-enter Belize, their respective businesses floundering in their absence.  Martinez says that the Mexican government was instrumental in assisting them with the necessary documents in order to fly them to Mexico which is next door to Belize.  For twenty-five days they lobbied with Belizean authorities to allow them access across the northern border before they were ultimately granted permission to re-enter. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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