Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Building a Border Accord

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Building a Border Accord

Article excerpt

IN A NEUTRAL AREA at a border crossing between Belize and Guatemala, a small OAS field office helps defuse day-to-day tensions that may arise as the result of a longstanding territorial differendum between the two countries. The office monitors compliance with "confidence-building measures" that have been agreed to by both countries, verifies any reported incidents, and promotes greater understanding between communities in the area (for further information, see page 14).

"This mission has played a critical role in verification and fostering better relations, and it deserves the continued support of the member states," Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin said, following a visit to the office in September.

The small OAS General Secretariat office was established three years ago between immigration checkpoints at the most traveled crossing, connecting Benque Viejo, Belize, and Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala. The OAS staff of nine--two international employees, the others Bellzeans or Guatemalans--can walk to lunch in either country.

The office sits in what is called the Belize-Guatemaia Adjacency Zone--a vertical strip extending one kilometer on either side of an invisible line whose coordinates were determined several years ago, through negotiations held under the auspices of the OAS. The line stretches from Aguas Turbias, where Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico meet, to Gracias a Dios in the south.

In the middle of the dense rain forest that covers much of this region, it is not always easy to tell where one side begins or ends. In the case of a reported incident--such as the detention of a citizen of one country by authorities from another--the first step is to establish exactly where it took place. The OAS office uses handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment for this pin-pose, which it has also provided to authorities on both sides. The Pan American Institute of Geography and History, a specialized OAS agency, provides technical support.

When an incident arises, the OAS dispatches someone to interview the parties involved and check the facts. Some areas are too remote for a vehicle and must be reached on foot or by mule. In cases where the jungle is impenetrable, the mission sometimes receives helicopter support, through the Belize Defence Force (BDF).

Once the OAS determines the nature of the occurrence, it reports to Belizean and Guatemalan authorities. …

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