Belize May Begin Patrolling Guatemalan Border

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Belize’s ambassador to Guatemala has said that the Belize military may begin patrolling the Guatemalan side of the border in order to better combat a “spillover” of drug-related crime. Belize borders the Guatemalan state Peten, whose governor has called for an emergency crackdown against drug traffickers, similarly to the “state of siege” declared last year in Alta Verapaz.

In an interview with the most widely circulated newspaper in Belize, Amandala, Ambassador Alfredo Martinez said that the two countries may begin conducting joint surveillance along the Guatemala-Belize border. This would involve coordinated foot patrols, perhaps with some air surveillance, along the approximate 80-mile frontier.

Eco-traffickers often enter Belize from the Guatemalan side, hunting animals and poaching flora like the xate palm in the country’s largest national park, the Chiquibul. These traffickers could also be working in the drug trade, smuggling narcotics into Mexico, said Martinez. “Incursions are increasing and we therefore need to keep those in check,” he told the newspaper.

“We are doing our part; [Guatemala has] not been doing it along Chiquibul,” he added.

Much like the Mexican border along the Guatemalan state of Alta Verapaz, porous enough for the Zetas to enter and consolidate themselves in the region, traffickers also frequently exploit the Belizean border with Peten. Guatemala does not even formally recognize a section of its border with Belize, due to a diplomatic row dating from 1974, when Belize became independent from Britain. In part because Guatemala still maintains a territorial claim on part of Belize, in the past Guatemalans have entered the country and settled there illegally, sparking tensions between the two countries.

There is evidence that international drug cartels do move their product through Belize, using go-fast boats or small aircraft. In one incident, five local policemen were arrested for trafficking 2,604 kilos of cocaine that arrived in the country by air, reports the Amandala.

In another notorious case, alleged Guatemalan drug trafficker Otoniel Turcios Marroquin was arrested in the border town of San Ignacio on October 25, 2010, and extradited to Guatemala three days later. He has a pending extradition order in the U.S. for trafficking cocaine. Another noted contraband family in Guatemala, the Lorenzanas, are believed to be using Belize as a refuge.

One possible sign of the increased incursion of drugs into Belize amy be its rising murder rate. One of the most sparsely populated countries in Central America, Belize registered 39 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010, compared to about 15 in Mexico and 32 in Colombia. The country saw a record 132 murders last year, a high statistic considering its population of 333,200.

Any increased military action in Belize along the border may be contingent on whether Guatemala orders another troop surge to Peten. The state’s governor has called for an emergency intervention there, similar to the “state of siege” which ended Friday in Alta Verapaz. There are no indications yet that President Alvaro Colom intends to repeat the operation elsewhere in Guatemala.

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