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OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone

Amb. Raúl Lago, Special Representative of the SG for Belize and Guatemala (center) visits the OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone. Sergio Benitez, Director of the Office, first from right.
The Adjacency Zone between Belize and Guatemala was established with the signing by Belize and Guatemala of the first Agreement on the Promotion of Confidence-Building Measures on February 7, 2003. Under this agreement the OAS opened an Office in the area to oversee the implementation of the confidence-building measures. The main purpose of the Office and one of its most important tasks is to verify and follow-up on incidents that occur in the Adjacency Zone, as well as to monitor constantly the entire Adjacency Zone in order to detect incidents at the onset stage and prevent their escalation (Early Warning). The Office also performs a series of activities designed to enhance communication, integration, and cooperation among the parties involved, as well as to promote a culture of peace.
Main Duties of the Office
The most important duties that the Office has been assigned, in compliance with the Agreement on Confidence Building Measures, are to:
  • Organize and foster community to community contacts across the Adjacency Line;
  • Monitor the implementation and execution of the Confidence Building Measures;
  • Develop and execute activities designed to improve relations, confidence and cooperation among the inhabitants of the Adjacency Zone;
  • Investigate, verify and report on any transgression of the Confidence Building Measures;
  • Provide information on the Territorial Dispute and on the Confidence Building measures to the residents of the Adjacency Zone and surrounding areas; and
  • Execute other Confidence Building Measures or projects in the adjacency Zone as requested.
OAS OAZ Staff carrying out a verification with the aid of GPS equipment together with military officials of Belize and Guatemala
The OAS/AZ Office conducts approximately 70 verifications yearly. The verifications basically consist of two types of actions: official verifications requested in writing by the respective governments, and ex officio verifications conducted through the Incident Early Warning System, which the Mission has designed to detect any trouble spot where an incident might occur so that tension may be deactivated before it escalates. This second type of verification does not require an official request. Rather, it is conducted ex officio by the OAS/AZ Mission. Most verifications take place in forest areas distant from densely populated areas. Often times, the Belize Defense Force (BDF) and the Guatemalan Army accompany the OAS officers on these verification missions.
Support to the Armed Forces of Belize and Guatemala
Coordination Meeting between Belize Defense Forces and Guatemalan Army Officials under OAS auspices
In the course of the year, operational coordination meetings between the Belize Defense Force (BDF) and the Guatemalan Army are held with the participation and support of the OAS/AZ Mission. Likewise, special meetings between the two armies are arranged at the headquarters of the OAS/AZ Mission to coordinate to standardize the geographic names used in the AZ, establish their place on maps, and identify sensitive areas. Technical support for use of the GPS devices previously given to the armed forces is also provided throughout the year.
Technical Coordination with the PAIGH (Pan American Institute of Geography and History)
The Office works in close coordination throughout the year with the PAIGH–a body of the inter-American system to seek cartographic support and precise localization on AZ maps based on information gathered in the field during verifications.

Social Work

Support for individuals, communities, and institutions in the AZ is also provided in the following areas: provision of fuel for transport, food, transportation tickets, donation of school supplies and toys, overnights shelters, etc., for schools, firemen, and needy families whose situation is directly linked to situations or incidents in the Adjacency Zone.
Promotion of a Culture of Peace

Support for children and youth is part of the Mission’s ongoing efforts in the Belize and Guatemala Adjacency Zone geared towards the promotion and development of a culture of peace. To this end, and in coordination with the Mayors of the communities on either side of the Adjacency Line, Melchor de Menco and Benque Viejo, the OAS/AZ Office will execute a culture of peace program that will run through the year. The program will consist of music (wind and string instruments), singing, painting and theater workshops and training programs for Belizean and Guatemalan students resident in the area.

Culture of Peace Project: Art Workshops 2009 Culture of Peace Project: Music Workshops 2009
Peace Fair at the Adjacency Zone 2008 Peace Fair at the Adjacency Zone 2007

Video Gallery

Culture of Peace Video

Belize–Guatemala Interagency Coordination
Activities are advanced in support of coordination between the agencies of the two countries through the provision of space and management services for meetings of NGOs, local governments, and various public agencies of Belize and Guatemala, which take place at the OAS/AZ Mission. Said meetings are held by natural disaster response bodies, institutions responsible for forest reserves, and the municipalities of the two countries, as targets for ongoing support.
Resettlement Projects
Another important task of the Office has been the execution of community resettlement projects, such as the Nueva Judá and the Santa Rosa Community Resettlements. These resettlement projects included the entire relocation of these communities from their former locations in the Belize Administered Adjacency Zone to the new sites in the Guatemalan Administered Adjacency Zone. The project involved the construction of houses and the installation of their basic services, as well as support to move their crops of corn and beans harvest. In addition, moving of household goods and possessions were carried out with all necessary logistical support in various stages. Finally, all the precarious houses and community infrastructure in the old settlements were completely demolished, and the new settlements included not only new housing with potable water for the communities but also new roads, new schools, multipurpose community halls and areas for sports and recreation for the children; and all the final administrative steps for titling in the trust for the parcels earmarked for agriculture and the green forest areas. In addition, support was sought from agencies of the central government of Guatemala and international cooperation sources for projects for agricultural diversification and sustainability for the families in their new settlements.

OAS Officials Speaking with Nueva Judá Settlers Construction of new housing in Nueva Judá
Old Housing of the Ramirez Family in Santa Rosa New Housing of the Ramirez Family in Santa Rosa
Old School in Santa Rosa New School in Santa Rosa
In conclusion, the Office of the OAS General Secretariat in the Adjacency Zone provides an alternative for mediation and easing of tensions in the area. Its presence ensures a trustworthy body to investigate any incident in the AZ and provides a go-between in the AZ for coordination and activities between the armed forces, police, and other government agencies in Belize and Guatemala.

Old Settlement in Santa Rosa New Santa Rosa Community
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