Barrio el Juda has been a controversial area for over two decades. Recently, the area was back in the news when businessman, Jorge Espat sought the authorities’ assistance in removing Guatemalan squatters off his property that is in the Belize territory. The media was taken on a tour of the area where residential and farming areas have been set up. We have heard from Espat and we have heard from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who noted that they have been addressing the matter through the Organization of American States (OAS). From a military perspective, Brigadier General Steven Ortega spoke to Love News on what has transpired and how the matter is being handled.
Steven Ortega, BDF Commander: “What happened is that some months ago we discovered that these houses were on the Belizean side. How they got built is another issue because these guys they don’t build the houses while we are around, we pass and we see it, we register it, we through our chain of command which means we get a report from the guys on the ground to force headquarters up to our ministry to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and because it is in the adjacency zone and so close to the border is that we have to send it to the OAS for verification. The verification came back that the houses are in Belize side. I think the closest one is about five meters and the other one is ten meters on our side of the border and the OAS went out and verified it so when we found out that yes it’s on the Belize side because we know that area is private property we have go out and try to find out who owns the property. So it took us a while to find out who owns the property and we informed the property owner of the development on his property and meanwhile that is happening we’re also going through the confidence building measures process that was developed some years ago which goes through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the OAS and the Guatemalan government to actually clear up any issues like that. There is a process laid down in that confidence building measures to actually say how it is that we remove settlers from one area of the border back to their original country so I believe foreign affairs is going through that process presently. “
Naim Borges, Love FM News: From there how do we move on?
Steven Ortega, BDF Commander: “Well we continue to patrol that area regularly because I don’t know how family you are with the Barrio Juda area but that area is about twenty kilometers long and our guys patrol that every day now. Before they used to go into one are for one day, one area another day we actually split it up because it’s really testing out there, the terrain isn’t all that good so now we’re developing more we have to put more troops out there to continue to do all that patrols and all that is really testing the limits of our manpower because we only have so much manpower and you can only do so much with the man power you have. So our guys are actually doing a lot of extra now to try and maintain that area so that no more buildings get erected in that area presently.”
Naim Borges, Love FM News: Have there been any disputes or contact disputes between your men and the residents there?
Steven Ortega, BDF Commander: “No disputes, we’ve actually done a patrol there with the Guatemalan army and the Guatemalan army has come and explained to them that yes they are on Belize and I know that the government of Guatemala has been informed and they are working through the process of actually getting these people moved back into Guatemala. So their military has already informed them, we have informed them so they are aware they are on Belize side.”
Barrio el Juda is in Melchor de Mencos, Peten but Guatemalans have been slowly creeping across the border, extending the town onto Belize territory. As we noted, this has been happening for an estimated twenty years.