BENQUE VIEJO DEL CARMEN

Gateway to Belize

Dear COBEC Participants,


I am most pleased to extend to each and every one of you a most hearty welcome to our municipality!


Formal education in Benque Viejo del Carmen dates to almost two centuries; Jesuit priests and Pallottine Sisters, and later lay persons have managed the primary schools. Over the last fifty years our town has gone from only one to three primary schools; there are also three secondary schools, and lately, John Paul II Junior College, the youngest kid on the block. The dedication of foreign and local teachers, and the capabilities and successes of our residents in many fields demonstrate that formal, and informal, education is critical to developing our town, and our nation.
 

I know that you will continue to positively impact the lives of those you teach and that they too will share their knowledge and skills across and beyond our beautiful landscapes. It is my strong belief that you will achieve your goals and objectives as you embark on “Finding What Matters” at the COBEC Winter Conference in Benque Viejo del Carmen, the westernmost municipality in Belize.
 

On behalf of our residents and as the man at the steering wheel of the Benque Viejo Town Council, I wish you every success at the COBEC Winter Conference 2022.

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Jorge Antonio Rosales,
Mayor, Benque Viejo del Carmen

Hotel Flores Villas

501-823-2195

850m | Starting at $55BZ per room

*not gold certified

Accommodations

The Trek Stop

501-660-7895

4km | Starting at $50BZ per person

*not gold certified

Rolson Cocina, Cantina, & Hotel

501-824-2730

12.2km  | Starting at $148BZ per room; use code "COBEC"

*gold certified

The Log Cab-Inn

501-824-3367 

11.3km  | Starting at $170BZ per room

*gold certified

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Benque Viejo del Carmen

Extract from Profile of the Cayo West Constituency – The Project Office Mount Carmel High School, 12 December 2009

1.1 LOCATION:

The Cayo West Electoral Division is a constituency situated between 18 degrees north and 27 degrees east in the Cayo District, to the west of Belize, covering an area of approximately 22.5 square miles (57.6 square kilometers).  It includes the village of San José Succotz and Benque Viejo del Carmen Town to the west, about 1.6 kilometers from the Guatemala border. To the north it embraces the village of Calla Creek and its growing hamlets along the border including Santa Rosa, on the western side of the Mopan River.  On the eastern side lie Clarissa Falls, and San Francisco and Windy Hills on the Western Highway.  The boundaries extend further east to Eden Resort, Chial, Chaa Creek, Duplooy’s, Black Rock and other farms along the Macal River.  The southern boundaries extend to Water Hole in Camp Six, along the Macal River westward to Arenal along the Mopan River.

Principal communities include the municipality of Benque Viejo del Carmen with a population of 8,200 inhabitants , San José Succotz with 2,174 inhabitants, Arenal with 536 inhabitants, Calla Creek & Santa Rosa with 280 inhabitants and Corozalito with about 150.  There are a few hamlets in the area which include eco-cultural lodges and farms.  Benque Viejo and Succotz  lie on the Western Highway and the rural settlements are linked by a road system.  Calla Creek has two principal routes of access to principal roads: via an all-weather road that links the village to Bullet Tree Falls and across the hammock bridge (that proves treacherous during the floods) to the road that leads to the Western Highway. Arenal has a 7-kilometer stretch of road that leads to Benque Viejo; on the Guatemalan side there is a hammock bridge which links the village to a dirt road, 4.4 kilometers away from the urban settlement of Melchor de Mencos along the border. Most of the communities are fairly accessible from the main highway and have some kind of transport.

 

2.0 PHYSICAL PROFILE:

The constituency of Cayo West lies at 500 feet above sea level and is cradled in the valley along the Mopan River – the western branch of the Belize River, at the edge of the Vaca Plateau and the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, next to the Maya Mountains.  Its surrounding secondary broad-leafed forests enable it to receive an average of 70 to 100 inches per year.   Most of the soil in the area contains calcium carbonate and is somewhat shallow and poor in nutrients, making the soil unsuited for most kinds of agriculture except production forestry, pastures, corn milpas and  permanent tree crops like citrus.  This has given rise to the practice of cattle ranching.  The communities in the constituency are fairly interconnected with adequate roads.  The Western highway links the communities of San José Succotz and Benque Viejo with Guatemala and the rest of Belize.  Calla Creek and Arenal both have roads that lead to the paved highway.  Though originally constructed as all weather roads, these have proven impassable during the heavy rainy season as the one experienced in 2008.   All communities lie on the western side of the Mopan River with the exception of Calla Creek which has a major portion of its community across the river accessed by a hammock bridge which proves treacherous during the floods. The Mopan River is a fairly young river fed by the Chiquibul River; both rivers originate in Guatemala.

 

3.0 ETHNOGRAPHY:

The modern period for the communities in western Cayo District goes back to mid 19th Century when the Caste War broke out in Yucatan resulting in thousands of Mestizo and Yucatecan Maya refugees coming to Belize.  Many migrated first into the Peten in Guatemala via Tabasco and gradually made their way into Benque Viejo and surrounding communities.  Benque Viejo and San José Succotz were resettled in 1867 as a site for mahogany camping, attracting Maya Indians, particularly Mopán and Itzá, from the Petén in subsequent years.  Arenal and Calla Creek are more recent communities having originated as chicle and logging camps, respectively, which led to farmland settlements at the turn of the 20th Century.

In a district with a majority of inhabitants professing the Catholic religion (Roman rite), the people are highly conservative and zealous of their faith tinted still with the syncretism of Maya practices and belief. Fundamental evangelicals, however, are steadily gaining grounds.  Close to 95% of the 11,500 inhabitants in these communities are of Hispanic descent or Mestizo, as people of Spanish and Maya ancestry are referred to in Belize.  Given their indigenous roots, Mestizo are people of extremes: taciturn and festive, withdrawn and spontaneous, loyal and ill-tempered. Spanish is the home language yet a majority of the younger population has a fair command of English Language in its oral and written forms. In the last decade, the area has seen the arrival of young Asian families, mostly from mainland China, who have been aggressively engaging in commerce (groceries & dry-goods) and restaurant services.  To date, they have established their families in Benque and Succotz.

Belize is unique in that it is a country of very young people.  This is evident, at first sight, in the age profile and the demographic growth experienced in these communities over the last 20 years with the coming of Central American migrants. In this respect, Benque Viejo del Carmen alone had a percentage growth in Intercensal Population (1990-2000) of 42.1 against 39.5% for the entire district.  The rural communities in the Cayo District experienced a growth of 20.8% . 

The presence of Central American families has accentuated the Hispanic fabric in the constituency. Migrant families have settled in areas in the periphery of these communities, giving rise to new “barrios”.  The process of integration of these families into the socio-cultural fabric has been facilitated with the growth of services into these “suburbs”.  This has been prompted also by young local families who have chosen to establish households there.  Benque Viejo del Carmen and San José Succotz have practically grown into each other and are only separated by a thinly forested area of private land that is fast disappearing, causing the communities to grow eastwards.  Calla Creek and Arenal, though growing stealthily, have experienced growth towards the principal roads of access.  

The development of tourism over the last 15 years is evident in the establishment of several resorts along the principal access roads next to the Mopan and Macal Rivers.