Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Mules carrying corn over frontier, from Belize to Guatemala to sell.
Guatemala and Belize map


Excellent video on television this past week, by Channel 7 news on the news on Friday night. With dry season coming on, it showed the trade between farmers of Jalacte area of Toledo District and the neighboring village on the Guatemalan side of the border. The trade is mostly corn going out and it showed a Belizean farmer taking four hundred pounds of corn on a two pack mule, freight system, climbing up and down the hills and track through the beautiful hilly countryside, to the village on the other side of the OAS boundary zone. The video showed the labor involved in picking milpa corn cobs by hand, carried home. Using a tump head band traditional carrying system, for both man and woman, then to the village and then beaten on a rack with a stick to collect the kernels in a blanket or cloth. The subsequent corn was put into 100 lb sacks. These farmers then loaded corn on a mule and trekked ten miles across the frontier to sell it to a buyer on the other Guatmalan side at the trading post. The market is insatiable as there is not much milpa done in the Peten. Most of the land is in cattle, for the Guatemala City market and local populations require corn to live. The Belizean farmer gets .25 cents Belize per pound and can sell all they can provide. Farmers on the Belize side then buy their necessities, in manufactured goods from the Guatemalan trader, to take back home to Jalacte and surrounding villages on the Belize side of the remote frontier. There are no border fences, immigration posts, or anything like that.
Looked at from the viewpoint of port city people in Belize, this is a hard life. Quite the contrary, it is a seasonal life for the farmer. He grows his own food, builds as big a house as he wants, dependent on the communal labor supplied by his fellow villagers and lives in comparison to a port city lifestyle, a much richer family life and existence than they do, who live the more materialistic lifestyle of Belize City. A shortage of money is not a disastrous thing, as it is in Belize City were all daily functions work on money. There may not be much money involved, but you only need money for materialistic things, sometimes a novelty processed food item, like a soft drink, or luncheon meat or something different like that. Rubber boots, machete, tools and files are most common. Though I notice that the Belize side of the frontier, the villagers had cell phones, from Guatemala and which worked from the microwave cell tower servicing the village on the Guatemalan side. There is no comparable telecommunications service in the communities on the Belizean side of the border. On the Guatemalan side, they had roads to their farms and electricity as much as they needed from powerful transmission lines. Not so on the Belizean side of the border. If you are in range of the Guatemalan microwave tower you can get internet, telephone, television and all the modern things. On the Belizean side none of that is possible, except through the Guatemalan system.
The arrangement is that families on the Guatemalan side send their children into Belize to Punta Gorda for schooling, mainly to learn English, so they can be tri-lingual and have a better chance in life. Also for some reason, the land being given over to pasture for cattle on the Guatemalan side, there is little farming going on like in milpa and no free jungle land available on the Guatemalan side. On the Belizean side there is a lot of jungle land to be used for milpa and new generations can live and raise families, building their house out of bush materials as big as they want, or need free of charge, except for labor and a few bundles of tying wire. The Guatemalan side, trading store, is more of a trading post for basics and the sale of the extra corn not used for personal food on the Belizean side. Many Belizean farmers had cell phones. Using the Guatemalan cell phone system of course, you cannot get service on the Belize side of the border from our communications monopoly. Obviously our frontier Belizean milpa farmers are living very well and have enough money to pay for some gadgets to raise their life styles.
The scenery was very beautiful, the thatched wood homes simple, old fashioned, but denoted a very comfortable and pleasurable way of life. I think our frontier with Guatemala is going to get a lot more rural Belizean settlers very soon, for this simple but excellent country life style. The reason is the advantages of modern services from Guatemala and trade goods, accompanied by a ready market for corn and beans in Guatemala. A small milpa farmer on our Western frontier can live a darned good lifestyle. KUDOS to Channel 7 for this informative video.

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