What’s the trouble at the border?


Belizean Jorge Emiliano Espat escorted the press to the western edge of Benque Viejo Town, Cayo, where the border between Belize and Guatemala is not so easily identified. That’s where his family’s land is slowly being lost to Guatemalan campesinos who are
building within what is considered to be the Adjacency Zone between the two countries. It appears that the situation is as alarming as he has described it; Guatemalans are encroaching on Belizean territory.
This location is known as the Barrio El Juda area. There is no official border entry and exit point to clearly define the territory belonging to either country. Espat has inherited somewhere between 100 and 150 acres land from his father and grandfather on the Belize side of this particular area. It is now under pressure from these Guatemalan nationals, who say that they are in need of land.
It appears that part of the problem originates from the Guatemalan politicians who have run for the elected office of Mayor of Melchor De Mencos. Espat claims that whenever there are upcoming elections in that municipality, the politicians try to leverage support from the Guatemalan voters by promising them land. They are then encouraged to seek those parcels of available land near the border. These folks seize the opportunity, and they slowly start to make their way east, which lands them in Belizean territory. Espat may have been careful not to over-exaggerate this encroachment. He focused on the home of Guatemalan Paula Reyes, who took out a loan from a bank in Guatemala to build her home, which ended up on his land.
On Thursday, November 14, at Espat’s request, several Belizean media houses visited the disputed Barrio El Juda area. It became clear that there were several other homes and farms belonging to these Guatemalan border settlers that were also built in Belizean territory. These Guatemalan folks have spoken briefly with the press, and they indicate that currently, about 30 families have taken up residence here. They are strongly resisting any claim that they are either encroaching on Belizean territory or squatting on Espat’s land.
The territories of both nations are separated by one single dirt road, but new clearings have caused this road to veer more on the Belizean side. The Guatemalans say that they use this road as the marker for how far they are able to go. The problem is that the road wasn’t clearly mapped, and even if they are following that strict marker, they have already entered Belizean territory.
They are also challenging Espat to produce land documents to indicate the land they are on is his. They claim to have a title for the land on the Guatemalan side, but when the press challenged them to produce it, they refused.One of the Guatemalan campesinos told the press in Spanish: “He has a title, how is it possible that here in Guatemala, there are titles?… That’s when we get into a controversy… He says he has a title, let him show it. We have a title, we’ll show it, but only to the respective authorities.”
At the end of the visit, Espat spoke briefly with the press to underscore that this encroachment will become more difficult to reverse the longer it is allowed to take place uncontested. For there to be actionable progress, the Governments of both Belize and Guatemala will have to work to remove these campesinos.
Espat said, “I may be a person that they claiming that I am impatient but I will rather be impatient than being a sitting duck. We need to do something, I need to do something, I can’t afford to be a sitting duck. The longer we take, the bigger the issue.”