Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of National Security, visited the Dolores Village in Southern Belize to meet with Mayan Leaders to discuss border incursion concerns. The villages of Otoxha and Dolores have been asking for BDF assistance in clearing the border between Guatemala and Belize. In late May, BDF personnel were sent into the Otoxha community to investigate incursion reports. At the beginning of this week, Prime Minister Dean Barrow told the media that increased BDF patrol in these southern borderline communities will be a standing feature going forward. Well, yesterday, Hon. Saldivar, CEO Felix Enriquez, Ambassador Alexis Rosado, and Deputy Commander Colonel Loria assembled in Dolores village along with village leaders and members of the Maya Alliance Leaders. Saldivar opened the community meeting with a commitment to work alongside community members in securing Belize’s borders.
Hon. John Saldivar, Area Rep. Belmopan: We are here to discuss now the way forward having already inserted our defence forces in the area. We want to make sure that there is a lasting solution to your peace and security. I am here to listen as to how together we can provide solutions, not just our armed forces and our police department, but to all the communities in this area because the solution will have to be together. We will have to work together to ensure that we protect and conserve the integrity and sovereignty of our nation, and the safety and security or all our citizens. I repeat, we are here to let you know that we will defend our country at all times. We will be here to protect you and defend our sovereignty. Together, we will find the solution.
The five villages most affected by the incursion met prior to the meeting to discuss how these incursions have affected their livelihood over the past decade. Spokeserson for Maya Leaders Alliance, Christina Coc, gave that presentation.
Christina Coc, MAL Spokesperson: In 2003 and 2008, Guatemalan Omar Ramos illegally farmed 20-30 acres in the South West Corner of Otoxha. Between April and June of 2018, which is more recently, approximately 100 acres of land were cut by the Guatemalan trespassers. Conflict has escalated, this is evidence, and it is detailed in the report that shots were fired at local leaders upon investigation of this clearing. Guatemalan settlement on cattle enclosures have been illegally occupying land for decades with little to no government intervention, case in point, Paula Grande; this is a long and old settlement that has not been remedied. The government of Guatemala began surveying and issuing land along the Guatemalan side of the border, however, these surveys started to encroach upon Belizean land completely ignoring the borders. The BDF outposts in Halacte unfortunately have been ineffectively preventing these incursions. Halacte village leaders have been unsupported in their efforts to curb these incursions. For Dolores, the overview, the incursions of Guatemalans through the South of Dolores ranging from the foothills of Dolores to San Pedro landing has been occurring from since 2011. The result has been cattle branches that have continued to expand within the adjacency zone and well within Belizean territory. May 16th, 2018, Guatemalans imposed false markers on land being prepared for milpa farming for the Mayan Belizean farmers. June of 2018, Guatemalan markers were replaced with fence posts even while crops had been planted. Recent BDF patrol has been the immediate response in the area. Through San Vicente, trespassing is a daily occurrence; now impacts approximately 400 acres of land in San Vicente. They destroy crops, they damage milpas, they have negative impacts on the villages livelihoods, and they fragment the landscapes of San Vicente. Guatemalans are now clearing land. They’re planting grass and their being aggressive about raising cattle. Has completely disregarded villagers pleas to not enter their communities. Villagers reported the incursions to the BDF, no responsive action has been taken, and instead, the BDF recognized the extended area as the boundary. The BDF fails to recognize the traditional boundary lines as a national border and takes no action towards the Guatemalans who often threaten the lives of villagers. The villagers fear that a dangerous precedent has been set, Guatemalan incursions are being encouraged.
Ambassador Alexis Rosado briefly shared on how a favorable ICJ ruling can be the best solution to put an end to these incursions.
H.E. Alexis Rosado, Ambassador of Belize to Guatemala: The special agreement of 2008 provides that after the court rules, the two countries, Belize and Guatemala, will have to appoint International Boundary Commission Officers. With the support of the national community, they will come out here and demarcate and clear the territory, the borderline, permanently. That is something we need done. We need an International Court to tell Guatemala, “That is the border.”, and to force them to recognize and respect that border because right now they do not, and that is a part of our problem.
Christina Coc also shared some possible solutions proposed by the Mayan Community Leaders.
Christina Coc, MAL Spokesperson: The communities have organized a set of solutions that they would like to propose to the authorities today. Starting with the first emetic area protecting lands and resources, they offer the following solutions: The government of Belize should investigate and document current incursions from Dolores to San Vicente. The government should stop Guatemalan incursions in these villages, and the villagers are ready to open the border with the protection of the BDF to stop these incursions immediately. The communities are also asking the government of Belize to promote the significance of Maya customary practice around its ranks. Under the theme of reporting and monitoring and policing the border, we offer the following: that the government establishes a joint mechanism for information sharing, that there’s increase in sustained controls from Dolores to San Vicente, and not only when there is a conflict but throughout. That there is a collaboration with effective villagers to ensure optimal investigation. That the government institutes measures to protect the identity of the information source, particularly the community leaders. That there are mechanisms for efficient and effective support response from the BDF and the police to the village leaders. That there is continuous engagement with high level negotiation with Maya communities during the increased incursions.
Other suggested solutions included measures to be put in place to ensure the protection of the source of information, while also rectifying the status of Guatemalans claiming Belizean Citizenship. Maya leaders committed to updating their census for people living in their communities