By William Ysaguirre
The government of Belize needs to allocate more resources, human and material, to protect Belize’s natural resources in the Caracol Archaeological reserve and the Chiquibul forest reserve and nature preserve, Rafael Manzanero, the director of the Friends for Conservation and Development said last Friday.
Speaking to the Reporter in Santa Elena, Cayo district, Manzanero pointed out that the latest depredations on Belize’s gold and timber resources by Guatemalan interlopers have proven that these measures are necessary and long overdue.
Manzanero said the Chiquibul forest is the “golden goose” that lays the “golden eggs” of the millions earned from tourism, now Belize’s largest single earner of foreign exchange.
He said the Chiquibul yields further millions in sustainable logging, hydroelectric power generation, potable water resources, the entire watershed protects villages in the area and communities further downstream against flooding, as well as its global value as a source of oxygen.
Manzanero reported that FCD rangers from Tapir Camp, accompanied by a Belize Defense Force escort, had encountered entire tree trunks of cedar felled across the approach road to the Caracol Maya site, when they visited the area to confirm a report from a BDF patrol.
From the readings of their global positioning system, they could confirm they were about four miles from the Belize Guatemala border and just about a mile and half from the main visitors’ center at the Caracol site.
Two of the trees appeared to have been cut only the night before, and further reconnaissance of the area revealed a dozen more trees which appeared to have been cut down a fortnight ago.
The intruders are becoming more daring and penetrating further inland, he said, emboldened by the absence of Belizeans in the area, since the rainy season makes it difficult for anything except the most well-equipped 4×4 four-wheeled-traction vehicles to climb the slippery slopes of the road to Caracol.
The BDF patrols were also absent as they had focused their efforts further south in the southern Chiquibul to interdict the illegal Guatemalan gold panners, who have now been penetrating deeper upstream to the river’s head waters.
The solid waste from these intruders poses another concern, Manzanero said, as the waters of these creeks flow into the upper Macal and Mopan rivers which flow into Petén, before returning to Belize. Any human contamination of these waters will ultimately affect all those living further down stream.
The BDF will need to put more boots on the ground, Manzanero said and the BDF high command would need to assign more manpower to patrol the northern Chiquibul, as well as Caracol.
The National Institute of Culture and History controls Caracol, which, as an archaeological site, is not really under FCD’s purview. Night vision goggles will come in handy for these BDF patrols, as the xateros/loggers operated with impunity at night, in the absence of any Belizean presence.
Manzanero pointed to a map of Chiquibul and adjoining Petén province in Guatemala; back in 1970’s most of Petén was under as deep a forest cover as the Chiquibul, but over the last 40 years, the Guatemalans have logged and cleared land for farming.
Their side of the border has been laid bare, while the Belizean side still appears lush and verdant; they have depleted their natural resources, and now look to Belize’s forests for continued sustenance.
The situation is exacerbated by the extreme poverty of the Guatemalans living in the communities just adjacent to the border.
The FCD has established cordial working relations with their counterparts across the border, but their partnership reveals that while the Guatemalan government is implementing measures to provide means of income generation for the people of Petén, these initiatives have not yet helped some Guatemalans, whose dire poverty forces them to brave the consequences of arrest and prosecution, to pillage Belize’s gold and timber.