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  HOME | Central America

The Mr. Nobodys: Heirs of the Belize-Guatemala Territorial Dispute

MELCHOR, Guatemala – Between the vast plains that were once part of a thick jungle in Peten province, hundreds of Guatemalans are left to their fate. Paved roads and electricity are both very far away.

These forgotten Mr. Nobodys are among the world’s poorest.

In San Jose La Flores, a small settlement located a few yards (meters) from the Belize-Guatemala Adjacency Zone, locals hike to a noplace in both and neither countries. There they log timber, hunt game and prospect for gold in the rivers.

Clashes between the inhabitants of the settlement and Belize security forces, who Guatemalans say use extreme force, are frequent: the last recorded case occurred on April 21 of this year, when Julio Alvarado, 13, died after presumably being shot with Belizean bullets.

His father Carlos Alvarado told EFE he was walking with his two sons through the Adjacency Zone when Belizean soldiers opened fire.

“My son was not a dog but they killed him like one,” he said.

Living near the hillside that divides the two countries is Juana, 45, who came here from her native Izabal seeking a better life. That never happened.

Now her diet consists of corn tortillas practically every day. And she says “there’s no sign that tells you where Belize begins. We need wood for the fire and other things to survive because here there’s nothing,” she said in describing the area’s extreme poverty.

In San Jose, some homes have solar panels, enough to switch on a light bulb or charge a cell phone. But there are no doctors or a medical center. In an emergency locals have to hit the dirt road in an old SUV and in God’s hands for two hours.

Most inhabitants of the Adjacency Zone are mestizos who migrated from the provinces of Zacapa, Jutiapa and Izabel to the new ranches more than 20 years ago. However, the only way these populations, have found a sustainable way to live is on what the can hunt and gather from the Belize jungle.

The UK and Guatemalan governments have launched projects of sowing cardamom crops and breeding tilapia. But while these plans are being developed, trips to the dangerous Adjacency Zone will continue.

Guatemala claims some 8,867 sq. miles (22,965 sq. kilometers) of Belize territory, almost half the country, which began as a colony of the British Empire in the 18th century. The territorial dispute has gone on for more than 100 years and puts at risk the most vulnerable. The Mr. Nobodys who have nothing.

 

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