The taxi service industry is one of the biggest if not the biggest revenue earner for families in Benque Viejo del Carmen Town, Cayo District. For the past year, these men and women have been trying to get the attention of the authorities on a concern they have as it relates to their counterparts in Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala. The Mayor of that municipality, Heraldo Rancharan was surprised at the dozens of taxi drivers who showed up at his home this morning in protest.
“I was surprised this morning when I saw a group of taxi drivers came in front of my house and I was wondering what was happening but the issue in general is mostly of the tourist buses coming into our country and I told them I was going to look into the issue because the town council has nothing to do directly with what’s going on at the border. So I told them to please wait for me at the Town Council since I was going to have a meeting with Mr. Galvez which is the Chief Officer of Transport and he would be the one to issue more directly the matter to explain it to them.”
In speaking with Arcenio Panti of the Mopan Taxi Association, we learned that taxi drivers from the Guatemalan side have gotten access to Belizean license plates for their vehicles, which now makes it easier for them to provide taxi services on the Belize side without undergoing much scrutiny.
“The thing is that we have long time problem with those vehicles that come from Guatemala. They have Guatemalan license plate and when they reach the Belizean border they put on Belizean license plate and they come into Belize and make money that is supposed to be for the Belizean people. They are from Guatemala. Government should help the Belizean people to stop those vehicles that come from Guatemala like how the Guatemalan government does. They stop all the Belizean vehicle that they cannot go into Guatemala so the government should do the same thing for us because we are Belizean people. The reason we are here is that we are waiting for the Benque Viejo Town Board for the Traffic officer who is in a meeting with the Mayor so when he comes out from there we are waiting for him to see if he could do a solution to this thing because the problem is that from Belmopan the Minister of Transport, they give the license plate to the foreign vehicles that are coming here doing money here in Belize. This is not only affecting us taxi driver from the border, it is also affecting the taxi from the Benque Viejo Bus Terminal and from the Belize Water Taxi too. When the vehicle comes it goes way to the water taxi express and those taxis from Belize don’t make anything either because they carry all the tourists so we need to put a stop to them. We are tired of those vehicles so if the government does not do anything to help us we will do it ourselves.”
We have heard Mayor Rancharan saying that he was unaware of the situation but Panti says that is a lie because they have begged for assistance from both the Mayor and the Area Representative, Erwin Contreras.
“The Mayor says that he doesn’t know anything about this. We went to speak with the Minister about this four months ago and the Minister said that he knew nothing about what is happening. This morning we went to his house and he wasn’t there. When we called him on the phone he said that he would investigate and he will have a response. We went to the Mayor house too and he told us to go to the Town Council because the officer from Transport from Belmopan will come and that’s why we are here. We are waiting for him to come out to see if he has a solution for us.”
Mayor Rancharan says that he has confirmed a meeting with the Minister of Transport, Edmond Castro for later this week.
“I explained to him, he even called the taxis residents as well explaining to them that he was going to look into the matter and also we will be having a meeting with Minister Castro on Thursday at 1pm to discuss this in more details. Like I said, I wasn’t aware of it until this morning when I was looking into a death. There was a guy who passed away and one of my officers told me there was a student bus coming in. So I told him to stop the bus, ask for details as to how he is entering into the country and as to my knowledge he said that they paid their duties, customs allowed them to come in but when it comes to the student runs I have no idea if they have any permit and we know to our knowledge when a vehicle pays their duty they are free to enter the country because they are paying their duties and that’s one of the main concerns they had this morning. We were looking into this bus that was coming with students and I guess it is coming from Peten and we didn’t have any idea of it.”
Incidentally, the Chief Transport Officer, Tirso Galvez was meeting with the Benque Viejo Mayor on a separate issue. When he arrived in the small western border town, he encountered the protest and as such had clarified some points for the associations including the various types of licenses that are available for foreigners who come into the country. Galvez also spoke of the switching of license plates allegedly being done by the Guatemalan taxi drivers in order for them to freely operate in Belize.
“We have taken a standpoint that if the person who is the owner of that vehicle does not reside in Belize and does not have a permanent address then he should not have that vehicle registered in his name in the country of Belize and even though they paid their duty that vehicle will still be considered as a foreign registered vehicle and will have to abide by the permits if they want to come in to do any of the four types of runs that I had mentioned before. They will not be allowed to enter the country to bring in students on a daily basis. They have no permit. The road service permits are being issued by the Transport Board and the Transport Board will not approve a road service permit for any person who does not live in the country of Belize or who is not a Belizean. If they change license plate at the border we have our personnel there. The Customs Department is there also because they cannot just change license plate from a Guatemalan License Plate to a Belizean License Plate and just be allowed to enter the country because that could happen to any stolen vehicle. If they do that then they would have to have documentation to show that the vehicle was legally registered in the country of Belize which means that they would have to provide a certificate of title for the vehicle bearing that license plate which they are putting on the vehicle on that side before they cross over to Belize. Of course the certificate of registration has all the particulars of that said vehicle meaning the VIN number; the vehicle identification number, the color of the vehicle and all the other information and the license plate. That vehicle will not be considered a foreign vehicle anymore because that vehicle has been legally registered in the country and the duty has been paid. If it is registered to a Belizean operator, insurance has been paid and so then it is legally a Belize registered vehicle. If the Guatemalan authority does not allow a Belizean bus or registered vehicle to enter their country but would allow it if they register their vehicle in Guatemala and they put on Guatemala license plate then that is an issue for the Guatemalan authorities that they would have to deal with because that’s not our concern then because it falls outside of our jurisdiction. The matter of legality like I said before, the vehicle is legal in the country of Belize as long as it has Belizean license plate and it is legally registered and licensed here. If the law in Guatemala requires that they have to put on a Guatemalan license plate and the vehicle is still registered in the same person’s name then that’s another thing for the Guatemalan authorities but we do not see it as any illegal activity as long as the vehicle is the same vehicle we are talking about and that’s their requirement then there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Panit says since they have gone to the Mayor and to their Area Representative, Erwin Contreras to no avail, the five taxi associations had decided to protest. An estimated seventy five taxi drivers joined in the protest from the Mopan Taxi Association, Western Taxi Association, Maya Cooperative, Xunan Taxi Association and Honest Riders Association.