The cries of the Friends for Conservation (FCD) have been sounding for years as the forest reserve at the Chiquibul has been pillaged and raped by Guatemalans trespassing on Belize’s territory. The cries have not gone unheard, but there has been resistance and hesitance by government officials to take a strong stance against the Guatemalans and their illegal settlements. All that seems to be changing now as the Briceno Administration is looking to dismantle the homes and settlements along the border areas. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eamon Courtenay explained that they will follow the diplomatic protocols but that it is time to also take action.
Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “The long and short of it is this, the confidence building measures sets out a procedure for the regularization of whatever incursions there are on either side of the border. The Government of Prime Minister Briceno have said and I have said this to my Guatemalan counterpart, that we intend to apply the confidence building measures strictly. And so we have been working with the Ministry of National Defence and Border Security to do an audit of all the people that are there in collaboration with NGOs like Friends for Conservation and Development and we have a very good idea of the location, the type of activity, the persons that are there. We intend to and we have now I believe arranged a meeting for very shortly at the OAS to say formally that we want to invoke the process, people need to move, people need to be given notice and the law of Belize will apply. It is absolutely important in my view for Belizeans to appreciate that not only is this a violation of our territorial integrity and sovereignty but it’s also a violation of the laws of Belize. Persons on our side of the border are violating the immigration law, they’re not here legally and so the immigration law will be applied and they’ll be receiving orders to leave and they will have to leave. In addition to which there’s degradation of the environment. The Chiquibul, the Colombia River Forest Reserve in these areas are so rich in biodiversity, the watershed that provides a lot of our water, our rainfall etc and just the beauty of these areas need to be protected. So Ministry of National Defense and Border Security has been receiving a bigger budget because for all intents and purposes we are disturbed about the way in which the BDF and the Coast Guard were underfunded under the previous administration which means that they were less effective and therefore these incursions were allowed to build up over time. So we need to reverse that and we intend to do so in an orderly way. The final point I will make on this is the following. Whilst we will be strictly enforcing the law, whilst we will be strictly enforcing and applying the confidence building measures we also have to remember that we’re not talking about enemy combatants, we’re not talking about enemies, we’re talking about very poor people by and large who have nowhere else to go. So when BDF moves in let’s say to a settlement of four or five houses and say ‘I’m giving you notice that next week this time you need to leave, by next week.’ those people have nowhere else to go but having served notice and having informed the Guatemalans and the OAS the BDF has to do a job and it means destroying what is there, it means getting them out and it means bringing them in and turning them over to immigration and police.”
Minister Courtenay says he is aware that the Guatemalan settlers would have nowhere to go, but the fact is that what they are doing is illegal and that it infringes on the laws of Belize.
Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Those people in the main don’t have a home or a house to go to. So whilst we enforce it and we will insist we have to keep our monitoring and vigilance high because they came over here by force of circumstance and it is quite likely that they will return. So that’s why it’s important to engage the Guatemalans. If you remember under the confidence building measures it makes provision for calling on the groups of friends to assist with the opportunities for housing on the Guatemalan side so that the people who we move out have somewhere to go. I want to emphasize and I don’t want to be misunderstood the fact that there may not be housing does not meant that we will not discharge our duty, we will be moving because this is a violation of our territorial integrity and our laws and it is degrading the environment.”