Spanish Lookout Community Work to Maintain Open Communication with Guatemalan Farmers
The Mennonite community in Spanish Lookout, Cayo, is working in collaboration with the Organization of American States (OAS) to maintain peace with Guatemalans along the western border. Both groups have established a working relationship to mitigate possible hazards that are brought about by development near the forest. Spanish Lookout Chairman, Harry Letkeman, says the cooperation between the Mennonites and Guatemalans out west demonstrates peaceful conflict resolution, and so far it has been effective. He adds that they have been trying to work with the government of Belize to try to establish an amicable line of communication with Guatemalans near the Chiquibul Forest Reserve.
Harry Letkeman, Chairman, Spanish Lookout Community: “Our community has been involved with the OAS and dialoguing with the Guatemalans but remember so the roles are reversed in Spanish Lookout compared to the Chiquibul. We have our farmlands adjacent to the Guatemalan reserve so here it is that they are very keen on not letting for instance if we’re doing development and there is fires for us to not let the fire burn into Guatemala. They are very keen on not letting that happen so they’ve engaged us and we have been in dialogue with them and so we’ve developed a good relationship with the Guatemalans as far as protecting their reserve adjacent to Spanish Lookout. Now remember the roles are reserves down in the Chiquibul. There it is their farmers encroaching our lands and so the government has brought us in on the dialogue because they believe the example or the relationship that has been developed by our community and the Guatemalans could perhaps be replicated in the Chiquibul where the Guatemalans would also try to not infringe on our reserve. So that’s the way I have seen where the government has been trying to engage us to help advance the discussions and get the Guatemalans on board and protect our reserve. We don’t have a problem with them up here in Spanish Lookout because here it is us developing and they’re protecting their reserve but I do believe that the government sees the relationship as beneficial and the government can go to Guatemala and say look the Mennonites are not encroaching on your land you need to respect us and not have your people encroach on our land because you know how frustrated you are when for instance a farmer in Belize lights a fire and the fire goes into Guatemala and so please show the same respect back to us and don’t let your farmers go into our reserve. And so I do believe that yes that example can be used to engage them and to bargain with them right ?”