BELIZE CITY, Wed. July 28, 2021– Today, the Government of Belize released a statement in which it detailed what occurred on the 23rd and 24th of July near the Belize-Guatemalan border, where a confrontation reportedly took place between Guatemalan civilians, backed up by members of the Guatemalan Armed Forces, and members of the Belize Defence Force.
At the time that the confrontation occurred, BDF soldiers, along with rangers from the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) and the Forest Department, were engaged in a special operation that involved the removal of farms set up by Guatemalans in the Rio Blanco area of the Chiquibul National Park, just a stone’s throw away from the Guatemalan border.
The operation was approved by the Organization of American States as a part of the steps outlined in the Confidence Building Measures for the removal of encroachments from Belize’s territory, and the Government of Belize release emphasized that the operation was carried out in full accordance with the confidence-building measures.
Despite the OAS’s approval and the adherence of the BDF to the proper protocol, however, at two points during the two days on which the operation, was carried out, Guatemalan Armed Forces crossed the country’s border and came unto Belizean soil, where they questioned BDF soldiers about their actions.
On the first day, according to reliable sources, five of a group of nine Guatemalan civilians, reportedly armed with rifles, approached the BDF soldiers and rangers. The Guatemalans, two of whom were said to be on horseback, then allegedly fired a shot at rangers from the FCD, which triggered a BDF formation and the firing of two shots by the BDF in the direction of the Guatemalans. The civilians then retreated to a hilltop overlooking the area, and shortly after, a Guatemalan Army helicopter could be seen overhead. According to reports, it landed on the Guatemalan side of the border, and a short while later, 8 GAF soldiers were seen with the civilians approaching the BDF. Both military personnel and civilians reportedly had weapons.
The BDF commander on the ground reportedly informed the group that they were on Belizean soil and went on to explain that the operation was approved by the OAS. He advised the Guatemalan captain to notify the civilians of this, and they left, and went back to the hilltop, presumably to observe the BDF operation.
Reports are that at one point the civilians planted a Guatemalan flag and started a fire on the said hilltop.
On the following day, the Guatemalan military and civilians returned, again requesting information about the operation. They were again advised that they were on Belizean soil — which the Guatemalan commanding officer then acknowledged. He was again advised of the OAS’s approval of the operation, but he told the BDF soldiers that the farms being removed were critical to the livelihood of the villagers.
They again observed the operation of the BDF, who were able to successfully destroy all the encroachments in the area during the special operation. Reports are that the illegal settlement of a well-known set of Guatemalan encroachers, the Jiminez family, who set up a farm and had cattle ranges on the Belize side of the Adjacency Zone, was finally destroyed.
While reports are that, on the ground, tensions were high, no one was injured during the confrontations. The release from the Government of Belize called the verbal discussion between the BDF soldiers and the Guatemalan commander “cordial”.
For years, Friends for Conversation and Development has been sounding the alarm over the aggressive illegal encroachment by Guatemalan nationals on Belizean land.
They have formed settlements in the precious Chiquibul Forest in areas including Valentin, Retiro, South Cebada, and North Rio Blanco.
Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Eamon Courtenay, told local media that this is one of many operations that will have to take place to carry out the objectives of the Confidence Building Measures, which include the removal of illegal encroachments from Belize’s side of the Adjacency Zone.