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Jan 3, 2008

First eight families will leave Santa Rosa tomorrow

Story PictureSanta Rosa. It’s a tiny settlement of Guatemalans on the Belize side of the border in Toledo that has for many years been inextricably linked to a settlement of Guatemala’s claim to our country. While Belizean authorities successfully removed other illegal Guatemalan squatter communities such as Machaquila and Rio Blanco, Santa Rosa perhaps because of its longevity, was never touched. But as part of the O.A.S. brokered process of reducing tensions at the border, the Guatemalan government finally admitted that Santa Rosa was indeed in Belize and would help facilitate its residents’ relocation—provided somebody else paid. With donations from various countries the O.A.S. purchased land in the Peten area and by the first of this year all twenty or so families were supposed to be gone. That has not yet come to pass, however. Today, C.E.O. in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amalia Mai, told News Five that due to rainy weather that slowed construction, the first eight families will not be moved until tomorrow, with the rest to follow in the coming weeks. And while that positive outcome is all but assured such was not the case back in July of 2002 when News Five’s Janelle Chanona and Rick Romero trudged across miles of difficult terrain to first bring the story of Santa Rosa into Belizean homes. Tonight we air that story again to remind viewers that in the world of diplomacy sometimes even the smallest victories take years to accomplish.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
The journey to the village of Santa Rosa begins at the end of the road in San Vicente in the Toledo District. The hike is arduous, especially in the wet season. Crossing a stream like this one is the easy part, as the rest of the path alternates between muddy quagmire and rain-slicked limestone.

Two and a half-hours later, we arrive at our destination. The settlement is sparse and a foreboding sense of isolation hangs in the air. The villagers here lead a simple life…they are subsistence farmers…the hills and valleys they’ve cleared are planted with beans and corn…cattle provide beef and milk…and they log timber from the forest, albeit illegally, for building materials. To buy whatever else they need, the villagers trade their produce with people from the village of Santa Cruz in Guatemala. From any perspective, life here is hard, but the people of Santa Rosa seem content.

Antonio (Translated from Spanish)
“For us, it is good because we are accustomed to working in agriculture, with the land. This is good land to work, everything you plant grows.”

Janelle Chanona
“Located in Belize, the village of Santa Rosa is home to some twenty Guatemalan families, but this small community is expected to play a significant role in the settlement of the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory.”

And despite their insulated environment, the people are aware of the international dispute brewing over the land they occupy.

Esao Ramirez, Primer Alcalde, Santa Rosa (In Spanish)
“There is no line dividing Belize and Guatemala. There are international negotiations taking place…and they all know that we are all Guatemalans. Even the Belizean military patrols, they know we are Guatemalans as well. And whenever we need to do anything official, like filing papers, we do it in Guatemala.”

According to Belizean officials, the village is actually in the Columbia River Forest Reserve, a protected area where no settlers, Guatemalan or Belizean, are supposed to live. The western side of the settlement touches the border and extends eastwards for approximately five hundred meters.

Luis Antonio Ebenez Palas, Teacher
“I am the teacher here, and I was sent here from Guatemala to work here.”

The classes taught at the Santa Rosa school are on Guatemalan subjects, some of which include reinforcing the idea that Belize is part of the Republic. Teacher Luis Antonio Ebenez believes if this was Belizean land, there would be a Belizean in his place.

Luis Antonio Ebenez Palas
“Because this has always been Guatemala and at the moment there is no border in this place. I think we are in Guatemala, but there is a negotiation in process over this territory and I hope there will be a solution, so we can find out whether we are in Guatemala or Belize.”

And that mentality of living in a no man’s land is one shared by other villagers. Forty-three year old Javier Zacharias has lived in Santa Rosa nine years and says he has never known a border.

Janelle Chanona
“Are you Belizean or Guatemalan?”

Javier Zacharias, Villager
“Right now, Guatemalans but we want to become Belizeans.”

Janelle Chanona
“Is this land Belizean or Guatemalan?”

Javier Zacharias
“We don’t know. Here we don’t know whether we are in Belize or Guatemala. Nobody knows.”

Janelle Chanona
“Is it important for you all to know?”

Javier Zacharias
“One has to know to respect the law of the people of Belize or respect the law of Guatemala.”

Janelle Chanona
“So where is the border?”

Javier Zacharias
“We don’t know; here there is no boundary.”

Fifty-five year old Antonio Moralez Orzua and his family have lived in Santa Rosa fourteen years. Moralez is optimistic that one day soon, the boundary question will be answered soon.

Antonio Moralez Orzua, Village
“The Belizeans say this is part of Belize but no boundary has been established. I believe they will do that this month, somewhere around the end of July. This is what I have heard in the news.”

Janelle Chanona
“No matter what the outcome of the negotiation process is, it is clear that for the people of Santa Rosa, this is home and this is where they want to stay.”

Esao Ramirez
“We have children and as parents, we need to take care of them. We need to plant and sell our products so we can feed our children.”

Antonio Moralez Orzua
“We are living here because we want to. To work and raise our children.”

Reporting for News 5 from Santa Rosa, Toledo, I’m Janelle Chanona.

Tomorrow the Belize Government is expected to issue a release on the relocation of Santa Rosa’s first eight families.

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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