By Marion V. Ali
Forestry and immigration personnel have arrested and charged David Alvisures Cheche, a Guatemalan of La Rejoya community Peten, after a Friends for Conservation (FCD) patrol intercepted him with Xate leaves at around 5:00 p.m. on Sunday in the Cristina area of the Chiquibul Forest.
The patrol came across Cheche a little over nine miles inside Belizean territory, in possession of 720 fish tail xate leaves. Cheche was taken to Tapir Camp then to the San Ignacio Police Station where authorities charged him with unlawful possession of forest produce and for illegal entry into the country.
According to Executive Director of FCD, Rafael Manzanero, for the month of March, FCD has seen a considerable decrease on the human footprint/activity in the Chiquibul National Park, but “xateros, on the other hand are also operating but in much lower numbers and are more dispersed.”
Manzanero went on to explain to The Reporter that FCD rangers have also noted agricultural farming along the border. He said that they believe illegal gold panning may still be happening but at a lower pace, and that more patrols are necessary in order to fully assess the locations and scales of operations. He added that there were no reports of illegal logging since March. Manzanero said, however that spikes can suddenly occur and they will continue to remain vigilant.
Xate is exported from Guatemala to the United States and Europe for floral arrangements. In his response to questions from Belizean authorities, Cheche said he would have taken the date leaves to Santa Elena, Peten where an intermediary person would buy it for around 180 quetzales – the equivalent of Bz $53.
Manzanero revealed that while they don’t know if the person in Santa Elena has a permit from el Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas to buy and sale xate, they know that the practice is to engage in “xate laundering”, which means even if they have legitimate permits, they would include yields of illegally harvested xate along with the ones they legitimately harvested.
According to Manzanero, the village of La Rejoya is a target community for sustainable livelihood activity, by introducing xate plantations and other form of economic opportunities for the people there, with a view to reducing the incidences of incursions and illegal harvesting and logging in Belize.