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Jan 24, 2023

Benque Viejo del Carmen Proposed Boundary Expansion Causes Rift With Neighboring Village

Benque Viejo del Carmen is the westernmost town in Belize. Its history dates back to the ancient Mayas, to the British logwood cutters of the sixteenth century and the chicle industry in the nineteen century.  Today, Benque Viejo is mostly inhabited by Spanish-speaking Mestizos whose heritage traces back to the Mayas from Peten, Guatemala and Mestizos, as well as Mayas from Yucatan, Mexico. The town’s infrastructure has also developed over time to meet modern demands. It is estimated that the population of Benque Viejo del Carmen has grown by forty percent over the last decade and a half. But, with progress comes challenges. The Benque Viejo Town Council, headed by Mayor Jorge Rosales, is now pressed to expand its services beyond its current boundaries, as a number of Benque Viejo residents are venturing beyond the town’s existing limits. But, as Mayor Rosales attempts to expand the town’s borders, he runs the risk of encroaching on land claimed by the residents of San Jose Succotz Village. San Jose Succotz was founded in the 1860s and was mostly settled by refugees of the Caste War of Yucatan. It is also the location of Xunantunich, the second tallest Maya temple and arguably the most important archaeological site in the country.  These neighboring communities are now at odds over territory. In tonight’s special edition of Kolcha Tuesday, News Five’s Paul Lopez looks at the growing rift between the two communities.


Jorge Rosales

Jorge Rosales, Mayor, Benque Viejo del Carmen Town

“What happened here is that the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government came to us and said we need to redefine our town boundaries for the services that we need to give to people. And Benque on its own, half of Benque was not included in its boundaries. Here you could see what Benque has been, if you see here, half of Benque was out that is before and this there. But, this piece right here was gained by a mayor in 1997-2000.So, when this happened this was an official, came to be an official part of Benque. Benque was just right here to there across, but this was in 1997, it was done at this was claimed by Benque.”


The portion of land which was claimed by the Benque Town Council in 1997 is also claimed by the residents of San Jose Succotz Village today.  This is the first point of contention.  SherrelCocom, chairlady of San Jose Succotz, says the majority of her villagers have been living with the impression that all that land was within the boundaries of the village, until recently.


Sherrel Cocom

Sherrel Cocom, Chairlady, San Jose Succotz Village

“There proposal really got us out of character because it is something that not even myself knew, but not even the elders knew, because it comes way back from 1996. To be exact, there was a gazette signed, from September twentieth 1996 and our boundaries were altered without our village knowing about it, without the consensus of our villagers. I know that when this happens a referendum needs to be carried out and a process needs to be carried out. September twentieth 1996 our boundaries were alerted and this is getting back to us.”


And, compounding the dispute between the village and town councils are the newly proposed boundary lines for Benque Viejo.


Jorge Rosales

“This is currently, this here if you bring in the camera, is the proposed. We are not taking anything away from Succotz. It is the same thing. We are just going back to the border and up the hills and nothing from them. It is very easy and simple to understand. The Council itself we don’t have anything to do with it. I am not pushing to take nothing from nobody.”


The challenge here is that the land on which the Mopan Technical High School sits is claimed by San Jose Succotz villagers. This is land that falls within the newly proposed Benque boundaries.  Chairlady Cocom says she grew up hearing stories of a former chairlady who fought to have the school built.


Sherrel Cocom

“In regard to the proposal, Benque Viejo is proposing you give us, we give you back a piece of land and you give us back another piece of land, which is in front of the Nazarene High School and Mopan Technical High School, which actually belongs to us. This comes way in 1948 where our grandparents, we might also call it our ancestors. We have a map from 1948 where they would tell us our village ends at the entrance of Benque, all the creek side, and it includes Mopan Technical High School. And, I do recall my parents stating we had Ms Chan, a chairlady who fought for Mopan Technical to be built, so we know that Mopan Technical was an is part of San Jose Succotz.”


And on Saturday, Chairlady Cocom called a public meeting to inform residents that the village council has not yet taken a decision on the town council’s proposal, following reports that the town council’s proposal was final. And, today Mayor Rosales confirmed that the final decision is in the hands of local government.


Jorge Rosales

“I really don’t feel no way, it doesn’t hurt the council, it doesn’t hurt the town. It doesn’t hurt the council or the town, because we are not taking anything from anybody, simple and easy like that. Nobody has to go to know strike or nothing because there is nothing to do about going and fighting like what they said in the meeting. There is no need for that. It is simple like that. This is from 1997. If the minister says I will take a piece from you for them to be happy. I do not care. It is the minister’s decision. It is the local government decision. I will not go to somebody’s house and say I will take this no. There is ranchers and farmers from Benque that needs road access that is why the town expansion has been done, to serve the farmers are around. The farmers have been asking to have roads to get to their farms. If the governments choose not to give us the expansion, I don’t have a problem.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez

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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