Posted: Friday, July 17, 2020. 1:39 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The biggest threat to Belize’s national security, both in the correct sense of that phrase and in terms of health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is the regular crossing and re-crossing of borders which are officially closed, especially in the North.
It is responsible in large part for the recent influx of cases, now at 40 nationwide, but the majority of active cases are in the Orange Walk District, with two villages, Blue Creek and San Felipe, under a state of emergency for 30 days.
Attorney General and Minister of National Security Michael Peyrefitte this week described a multi-prong strategy to reduce border-jumping: enforcing stiff penalties, stepping up presence from law enforcement, and educating citizens on the dangers of cross-border interaction.
And he acknowledges that while things are inconvenient in the area at this time, it’s a case of “we told you so:” “We tell people over and over, don’t go to Mexico; stay away from La Union. One, it is illegal to jump the border. Two, it’s illegal to do this contraband business with the different border. And three, Mexico especially on the border with Belize to the north is infested with COVID-19. So, when you jump the border and you come back and you infect people or come in infected you put the rest of us in danger. So, I understand their cries. I feel their pain to a certain extent but they need to also hold those people who they know jump the border accountable.”
But as he also admits, there are faults and holes: “I know that people want to see a policeman, a BDF, or a Coast Guard everywhere they turn, but we’re limited by numbers. We realize that border jumping is the greatest threat to us when it comes to the COVID pandemic. So, we’re doing everything to clog the hole – so to speak – on a very porous border, for which people for generations have just been accustomed to jumping the border with impunity. So, we have a situation, where we have to make sure we change the mind-set and educate people on the dangers of jumping the border, to begin with. But when we find that people have jumped the borders, then we make sure that we detain and isolate them, to ensure that if they are positive for COVID-19, they don’t infect the rest of us.”
And the Government has not completely discounted the possibility of locking down the entire district over concerns of community spread to the rest of Orange Walk: “We’re not there yet, but we may very well get there, depending on the spread. Let’s just hope we don’t have to close the whole district, or the two northern districts or the whole country again…we beg with people, we plead with people, please follow the protocols; please follow the law; don’t jump the border. But we can only beg and plead with some people. Some people are determined to break the law.”
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