- Marcos Gonzalez Diaz
- BBC News Mundo correspondent in Mexico and Central America
Mexico has a strategic land border that is not much talked about.
In addition to the issues of economy, migration and security that usually lead the debates on its northern border with the United States and the one it maintains in the south with Guatemala, it also shares border limits there with another much smaller and less populated country: Belize.
But convinced of its importance, the Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador He included it in his first Latin American tour that he is celebrating these days to “deepen the political, cooperation, tourist, cultural and commercial agenda” between the two countries.
“Belize has positioned itself as an important interlocutor for Mexico in the Caribbean, not only because of the geographical proximity that unites us (…) but also because this country maintains solid ties with the states of southeastern Mexico (Quintana Roo, Yucatán and Campeche) and represents a relevant bridge with that Caribbean region,” reads the agenda for this official trip.
The Mexican ambassador to Belize, Martha Zamarripa, recognizes that for many people the Central American country “is not on the radar” and that some even think that it is part of Mexico.
“But what is certain is that Belize is a strategic ally for Mexico. Whenever we ask for its vote in regional forums, it gives it to us. And if for political reasons its relationship with Caricom (Caribbean Community) could be affected, in He rarely abstains, but he never votes against a Mexican position,” he says in an interview with BBC Mundo.
His counterpart in Mexico, the Belizean ambassador Oscar Lawrence Arnold, He agrees and thinks that the fact that its official language is English as a former English colony can explain the fact that many Mexicans see their relationship as more distant than the one they have with the rest of Central America.
“Our relationship with Mexico is historic. It was the first country to recognize our independence in 1981 by sending its ambassador just two days later. Mexico’s support was key,” says the diplomat.
In addition to the maritime dividing line in the Bay of Chetumal, the mainland border of Mexico and Belize is about 150 km, most of it delimited by the Hondo River.
Three border points are the ones that regulate the passage from one side to the other. In 2019, more than 560,000 entries were recorded at the Mexico-Belize border. Due to the pandemic, the latter kept its border closed until last February.
In a normal situation, life on both sides of the border goes on a daily basis with people crossing to the other side —especially Belizeans going to Mexico— to shopping, sightseeing, looking for entertainment or even medical services.
“It is a great advantage for border communities in Belize who can go out to get treatment for diseases such as cancer in Mérida or Campeche. It is medical tourism,” Ambassador Arnold tells BBC Mundo, who also highlights the existence of a free zone on Belizean soil where some Mexicans go to buy.
Zamarripa underlines how this arrival of Belizeans leaves enormous economic benefits on the Mexican border.
“The Belizean dollar goes a long way in Mexico, going to Chetumal is a must for many on weekends. Insteadthe absence of Belizeans due to the pandemic affected us a lot economically because much of their income comes from Belize.
As in most border areas, however, there are also security problems related to drug trafficking, organized crime or irregular migration, although, given its small size, the ambassadors rule out that it can be compared to other large borders.
“There are situations that have to be resolved, like the drug crossing issue that Belize tries to control. But really, on the Mexican side, you couldn’t say that it represents a serious problem for Mexico,” according to Zamarripa.
For his part, Arnold highlights the increase in the arrival of migrants who try to cross their border irregularly into Mexico and then into the United States.
“The routes are changing and now some arrive in Belize. ABefore that didn’t happen. Obviously, these are not the numbers that we see moving from Guatemala to Mexico, but we are already putting resources to prevent them from crossing,” he says while stressing the “impact” that the arrival of thousands of migrants at the border of a country could have. , Belize, with less than 400,000 inhabitants.
367 thousand inhabitants, the least populated country in Central America.
23 thousand km² of surface, little more than El Salvador.
1981 It is the year of independence from the United Kingdom (it is still part of the British Commonwealth).
fifty% of the population is of mestizo origin. The rest are Creoles (21%), Mayans (10%), Garifunas (4.6%), Mennonites (3%) and other minorities.
Business relationship and tourism
The trade relationship between the two countries —which generated close to US$139 million last year— is also important, especially for Belize, which has its second partner after the United States in Mexico.
Mexico is, for example, the main supplier of electricity and second of natural gas for Belize, that is forced to buy more than 50% of the national energy for its population.
From Belize to Mexico, on the other hand, live animals of the bovine species or shrimp, among others, are exported.
For years, both countries negotiate a trade facilitation treaty between the two and which, according to Ambassador Arnold, could materialize soon after a change in Belize’s strategic vision.
“Before, the government of Belize was more focused on Caricom than on Latin America. But that thinking is changing and we are working to be more part of Central America and the region. The work on this treaty has advanced more in one year than in all time.” before,” he says.
The relationship is so cordial that, according to Ambassador Zamarripa, Belize has offered to take advantage of its membership in the Caribbean Community to be able to sell Mexican products there.
“They told us that we could deliver our products to Belize, where they would add something additional, to export it to the Caribbean islands and that this Mexican product enter without paying tariffs. It’s a great relationship,” he says.
However, much of the Mexican investment in Belize is focused on tourism, a sector for which the Central American country has great attractions such as the second largest coral reef in the world, its famous Great Blue Hole sinkhole or the resorts of luxury in paradisiacal keys.
Belizeans, for their part, cross over to Mexico to enjoy the nearby sandbanks of Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Bacalar.
There are, however, other areas in which progress could be made in the bilateral relationship.
Ambassador Arnold points to cultural issues. “We are a great brotherhood since we are both part of the Mayan world and we have relatives who live in one country or another.”
For this reason, he says that he will promote his country so that Belize is better known in the center and north of Mexico.
Zamarripa is committed to the inclusion of Belize in the Mayan Train, a wish that the Belizean government already expressed last year but that has not materialized.
“Let’s imagine everything that it can imply for the two countries and as a first step for the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean,” says the ambassador about one of López Obrador’s star projects and whose construction between Cancún and Tulum remains paralyzed by order of judges until its environmental impact is clarified.
It is possible that some of these points will be treated in the trip that López Obrador makes this Saturday to Belize and that, in the words of both diplomats, has aroused great interest after the Belizean Prime Minister, John Briceno, visit Mexico twice and meet with his Mexican counterpart.
According to Zamarripa, “in Belize there is great expectation and the government has told us that the visit of a Mexican president is something very big after it was seen in previous conversations that there were many points in common between both leaders.”
“We hope that our relationship will grow. We have to thank Mexico for sending vaccines against covid-19, for offering scholarships… and because, despite the fact that we are a small country, Mexicans when we are at the dialogue table They give us all the respect and importance that they give to any other country”Arnold concludes.
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