Opinion — 03 October 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd
Right to the Point: I stand in defence

I am forty-five years old and during that short lifetime I have had the privilege of living the experience of a woman 80 years old … I have travelled into the most remote places of Belize and camped out in the jungle and once in pursuit of a news story I tracked for hours by foot from Jalacte Village, Toledo District to various parts of Guatemala to determine the details about the capture of some three BDF soliders and one police officer by the Guatemalan military … I hope Belizeans haven’t forgotten this matter just a decade and a half ago.

I have met some of the most humble people of my country … sat down to eat iguana meat with a family and only hand-made corn tortilla and pepper with another, and have met and communed with people of all races and ethnic backgrounds and love every diverse culture of my great Belize. In my youth and days as a feisty journalist I went on many anti-drug missions with the then Dragon Unit, a narcotics specialist arm of the then Police Force, ‘cause now it’s just a Department. I have been banned from the BDF camp for breaching their security and have been arrested and charged for standing up for myself … my point – I have earned every scar, stripe and right to be a full thorough bred Belizean. I love my God first, my children next and my country in that order … and because I love my children I fight so hard to give them a better Belize than the one my parents gave me and a Belize for them to love as much as I love it or more!

I am of mixed race. From my paternal linage, my grandmother was a “wicka,” that is, African mixed with Irish and she had a fighter’s spirit; my grandfather was full East Indian tracing his roots to Calcutta, India; and on my maternal side, my grandmother was Mestizo – Spanish mixed with Maya Indian and my grandfather I know little of, but my maternal great-grandfather was of Yucatec Maya origin and was born during the Caste War in Mexico and as a boy met the leader of that revolution, Marcus Canul. I am now seeking to trace my full heritage to India … but from all I know I come from a people who are warriors on both sides of my linage. I am proud to stand up and I don’t even look behind to see who is standing behind me, because I do not want to be disappointed. Plus when I stand, I am prepared to stand alone … so numbers don’t matter to me … principle does!

I say all of this because I am proud of my mixed heritage and the land where it all melted making me Belizean. I am sure that there are many Belizeans like myself. So I call on all to PLEASE get involved in the defence of our country … and it does not mean picking up arms. Stop attacking each other and making the issue of our national security a party-political Issue … because it transcends that.

The first modern incursion

The territorial integrity of every nation is a concern for its citizens as much as it is for its security forces and government, and Belize is no exception. It is the sworn duty of every Belizean to take interest in said affairs of its nation and the first step is to always become informed about the laws and issues on this topic. For Belize, the Constitution not only defines its physical territory, but also establishes the entitlement to citizenship and the rights enjoyed by them as well as the establishment of the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary – the three most important pillars of our democracy.

From Sections 23 to 29 under Part III of the Belize Constitution it lays out the rights to citizenship and explains what qualifies a person for Belizean citizenship. However, it specifically makes known who cannot be a citizen of Belize where at Section 29 (3) it states:

“(3) No person shall be entitled under the provisions of this Part to be a citizen of Belize or be granted citizenship of Belize if such person shows any allegiance to or is a citizen of a country which does not recognize the independence, sovereignty or territorial integrity of Belize:

Provided that the Minister may in his discretion grant Belizean citizenship to persons falling under this subsection who would otherwise be entitled to such citizenship under the provisions of sections 23 and 25 of this Constitution.

Section 23 deals with persons who acquired citizenship in the day of Independence and Section 25 deals with citizenship by descent through mother or father.

However, despite Guatemala refusing to recognize our Independence and claiming our entire country and wanting the ICJ to hear a case against us, OUR GOVERNMENT, our politicians, yearly, but especially in an election year, issue out hundreds, if not thousands of Belizean citizenship documents to Guatemalans, and many maintain their allegiance to Guatemala and carry two passports.

Now this incursion on our Constitution is at the very hands of the same politicians, turned Ministers from either party, who we MUST rely on to make the right policies and laws to ensure the defence of our borders and our national integrity! We the people have remained silent over the FIRST incursion for too long … thus the incursions at all levels continue.

Physical incursion

There has always been some form of physical incursion by Guatemalans into Belize. Some have come to settle seeking a new home but others have come to illegally reap our natural resources, take it over the border and benefit financially from our timber, xate leaves, birds, wild animals and even gold. Channel Seven has gone on a mission to explore the happenings along the border in various news documentaries they produced over the years. Likewise, Tony Rath has exposed a very real perspective through his photography and account of his experience on the ground in a well-written piece entitled “Belize at War” earlier this year. And of course there have been other media houses that have taken on the “story” from time to time.

On the ground dealing with the problem are the rangers of the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) along with the Belize Defence Force who actually go into the forest and search out these illegal poachers. The evidence and statistics exist that would give any policy-maker sufficient information on the rate at which the incursions are occurring. And the physical changes of the topography … the clearing of the trees especially, are visible tell-tale signs of the extent of what is extracted.

Our BDF in recent times have shot at and/or killed Guatemalans illegally on our side of the border and even captured a few and handed them over to the police. All of them ARE Guatemalans. None have been reported to be of any other nationality or Belizeans. Now that borderline between Belize and Guatemala is 266 kilometers (165.285 miles) and its border with Mexico is 250 kilometers (155.34 miles). From all accounts and reports the critical problem arises from Garbutt’s Falls in the Cayo District to the south of the country ending at Gracias a Dios in the Toledo District. It would seem that it’s 82 miles of border that need to be constantly patrolled and secured. A look at the Map of Belize from my layman’s perspective, the area of the Chiquibul Forest that abuts the Guatemalan border is some 50 miles approximately.

Thus my proposition is that our Government needs to find the will power to start intensely manning and safe-guarding those 50 miles of border as a start, until we can develop further our national security plans to deal with ever growing demands Guatemalans make on our natural resources because they have depleted their forest.

Proposed solutions

Many are angry at the death of 20-year-old special constable Danny Conorquie, but I am asking that we turn the energy of that anger to action and finding solutions to present to our government. Here are some of my suggestions:

1. Remove BDF soldiers off the streets and return the full complement back to do soldiering, a large part being on the border with Guatemala;

2. Provide more and better transport and communication equipment to the BDF;

3. Make the Tourism Police fully-trained police with proper firearm training;

4. Re-build the forestry stations we once so proudly established in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, since the law empowers them to enforce our forestry laws;

5. Include at the outpost Immigration and Customs Officers as well, since the illegal entry across our border is an offence in itself;

6. Develop an inter-agency response to the illegal activities in that area – since the violations are immigration, forestry, customs related and they have their role to play while the BDF are to provide the security of the area and the police to support their law-enforcement effort;

7. I think we need to also set up a system of cameras with night-vision capabilities so we can record the entry along the border.

8. Re-open the archeological sites with additional security and a 24-hour plan; to remain locked down – psychologically is to say we are afraid and weak!

At this point it would be right to answer Mr. Patrick Menzies: what is the 30 million US loan for improving national security ear-marked for and what are the strings attached? But the promised aerial support with the purchase of a much needed helicopter is welcomed news and I wait to see the results.

From the diplomatic/political stand-point, I believe much can be done, starting with re-thinking how we respond to the claims by Guatemala against us. For example, we presently bus five busloads of students from Melchor to our primary schools and high schools into Belize daily. What I saw at the borders while I attended Tuesday’s protest is that the buses have Belizean license plates and I am informed, and can be corrected, that these are buses hired by and paid for by the Ministry of Education. If this is so it is so sad that we have at the highest level participated in another level of incursion and paid for it too. No argument of part Belizean parentage can help, or of the mother giving birth in Belize, but living in Guatemala can help … unless Belizeans have the same treatment and courtesy!

We need to better scrutinize the issuance of tour guide license, fisherman license, driver’s license and the like to persons from Guatemalan, living in Guatemala but using Belize. As to their ability to access our social security benefits … it’s amazing! These issues can be addressed internally, with policies and laws, but we lack the political power because the politicians use these same people to vote them into office and thus pad our voters’ list … you know who you are!

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