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#17228 - 10/01/03 08:09 AM Cayo cave prompts wonder and controversy
Marty Offline
Cayo cave prompts wonder and controversy
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

With the tourism boom showing no signs of letting up, there will be
increasing pressure to find new visitor attractions and bring more
formal organisation to existing ones. The result is that while the
natural wonder may retain its beauty, the socio-political fallout can
get downright ugly. The cave I visited yesterday is a good example.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Getting to Barton Creek Cave is itself an adventure, which includes more
than seven miles of bumpy road, and in the rainy season, at least two
river crossings.

Once on site, tour guide Gonzalo Pleitez gets our inflatable kayaks
ready for the river.

But before we hit the water, we hit a brick wall...or in this case, a
chain link fence.

"We need to have the serial numbers for all the tour guide license,
because they request that each person that is a tour guide supposed to
have their license to enter the cave."

The National Institute of Culture and History has stationed two
employees at Barton Creek to monitor activities at the site and submit
daily reports on the coming and goings. Visitors now need a permit to do
the tour, a permit we don't have.

"That is the rules they give us, we have it in paper."

Janelle Chanona
"Well I don't have anything in paper Sir, so...."

Security Guard
"Probably will give you the break to go in, but for the next time."

According to NICH, the new rules have become necessary because of the
increasing popularity of the cave, and we're about to find out why.

Armed with powerful spotlights, we embark on a one and a half mile
journey into the dark. Right off the bat, we glimpse the first
attractions of Barton Creek and minutes later meet our welcoming

Thousands of bats now call this cave home, evidenced by the guano or bat
droppings that appear in belts on the walls. But thousands of years ago,
the Mayas did use this cave, though their remains are hidden from view
in the high ridges above. Selected pieces have been relocated as proof
positive of human occupation. (Shots of skull and pots)

But the real attractions of Barton Creek Cave are the impressive stone
structures, millennia in the making. Twisted and gnarled, they rise from
the depths of the dark like jellyfish and shine like cut crystal.

Gonzalo "Gonzo" Pleitez, Tour Guide
"Really, Barton Creek, if you focus on it a lot, has to do with mostly
geology, cause it's very difficult to talk about the ancient Maya
beliefs inside Barton Creek unless you can convince the people that they
are going to see a lot of evidence. Otherwise in here you got to picture
it that at one time the Mayas came in."

In certain sections of the cave, the ceiling drops to just a few feet
above the water level and navigation becomes tricky.

But the tranquillity of the tour belies the turbulence that has been
boiling at the mouth of the cave.

Mike Bogaert, Landowner
"The Barton Creek cave experience is not just going into the cave, it's
coming into our community. It's coming into the community we live in and
respecting the community. The government has done none of that."

Until recently, forty-six year old Mike Bogaert and his wife Kristina
owned the land used to access the Barton Creek Cave, land he says was
wrongly taken away from them.

Mike Bogaert
"There's not a lot of trust among what's gonna happen with guys with
guns, and she's terrified. And so I backed off, they came, they took the
land. I've had guns pointed at me out here; I've had all kinds of
trouble with the government workers. They don't respect any private
land. They just took it, no compensation to me, no negotiations,
nothing. Come in at gunpoint, take the land and goodbye."

For the past seven years Bogaert has rented canoes, lights and batteries
to tour guides. But coming from a monopoly background, competition has
now become a tough pill to swallow.

Mike Bogaert
"They are now letting renegade tour guides-I call them renegade tour
guides--leave canoes and stuff and all kinds of things at the supposed
national park. Now I don't get any rental business, because they're
leaving the stuff over there. So the business I have is diminishing and
going away."

"What I fear is going to happen is this is taken over. They're gonna run
this, it makes profit because a lot of people are coming here, and it's
going to be turned over to a private organisation. It's going to be
overrun with cruise ship business; we are going to terrorize our
Mennonite community. I've already lost any privacy I've ever had back
here now with these people here, and we are going to destroy Barton
Creek Cave as a tourist destination."

But the government insists they are at Barton Creek to properly manage
and protect the sensitive remains at the site. According to the
Department of Archaeology's Jaime Awe, the Bogaerts have been
compensated and the appropriation of the land was only necessary because
the family refused to compromise with the government. G.O.B. says in the
end, they just want to ensure access to everyone, even those carrying

Mike Bogaert
"I want the government to move. They came in here. They put a house
right on my front yard, I've had my privacy disrupted, no privacy
whatsoever now. I've got government employees all over, I've got people
coming around my farm all times of night. If they want this, take my
whole farm or leave. I cannot live here with the way they treat. There's
no negotiations, there's no, "hi we're here to work with you together
with the cave. These are our employees, they're gonna help...." There's
none of that."

But G.O.B. is here to stay and everyone, including tour guides, will
have to get used to the idea. Although conservation is at the heart of
everyone's argument, the difficulty is to get all parties to agree on
the best means.

Gonzalo "Gonzo" Pleitez
"I would rather go to a place where I can get gear, or where I can
dialogue with the landowner and say, "can you allow me permission. I
will meet your expectations." And I'm not looking forward to going to
anybody's property and just bypassing their rights. Caves are tricky.
They are very tricky. We know that it's a national monument, I guess it
belongs to the country, but at the same time you have to be able to
respect landowners."

"I've been to many of the caves in Belize and I must say I'm very sad
that when you walk into some caves you find people's names written on
the walls. Well that's something that you are not going to see inside
Barton Creek."

#17229 - 10/01/03 08:16 AM Re: Cayo cave prompts wonder and controversy
NYgal Offline
OUCH eek
That stinks, something is totally wrong with this deal.

#17230 - 10/01/03 09:29 AM Re: Cayo cave prompts wonder and controversy
Imagine that, something ELSE for the cruise-shippers....
People, enjoy Belize now, for it's not going to be the same in a short time. The BZ government is making sure of that.

#17231 - 10/01/03 10:01 AM Re: Cayo cave prompts wonder and controversy
stevej Offline
one comment yours, funny

#17232 - 10/02/03 12:01 AM Re: Cayo cave prompts wonder and controversy
trina Offline
Bypassing all the controversy.....hmmm! The Barton Creek trip was a definite highlight of our recent trip. The Mayan mythology associated with the caves, and just the trip through, were extremely interesting. The physical dimensions (very tight at times!), the cliff drawings, the skeletons found there, were a cool historical trip down memory lane. I recommend to whomever has a chance!

#17233 - 10/02/03 07:42 AM Re: Cayo cave prompts wonder and controversy
dbdoberman Offline
definitely overkill, very sad. Hope the government rethinks some of their actions.

trina, Barton Creek is high on my "to do" list next trip - it sounds mighty cool

#17234 - 10/02/03 10:38 AM Re: Cayo cave prompts wonder and controversy
Marty Offline
In last night's newscast the
former landowner of the area
surrounding the Barton Creek
cave, Mike Bogaert, claimed
that his land was appropriated
by government without
compensation, and that
government workers had
threatened him with guns. Today, the Director for
the Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Jaime Awe, spoke
to News 5 about the attempts of both the Ministry
of Natural Resources, and now the Ministry of
Tourism and Culture, to work out a
co-management agreement with Bogaert. Awe
says for almost four years government tried
without success to arrive at an agreement that
would split the fees charged for access to the cave
with Bogaert and allow the government to protect
and monitor access to the cave, which contains
archaeological remains. He says the Ministry of
Tourism was forced to go to Cabinet and request
that the land be appropriated, and that the Ministry
of Natural Resources is attempting to work out
compensation, but there are still some legal issues
between Bogaert's attorney and the ministry. He
reminds the public that all archaeological sites,
including caves, ultimately belong to the people of
Belize and need protection.

Dr. Jaime Awe, Director, Institute of Archaeology
"Why are we doing this? Well, like I said, all caves,
archaeological sites are the property of the people of
It is our responsibility at the Institute of Archaeology
manage these sites, to manage them responsibly and for
the country. It is also under the laws of Belize, legal
provide access to everyone. We cannot be exclusive of
access. By us establishing a presence out there, and
we demarcated the land Mr. Bogart had a structure in the

area that we were going to claim, but in good faith we
decided, no we should not take that area with the
so we bypasses it to ensure, one, that we did not take
structure and also to allow him access to the stream and

hence, access to the cave. We are out there, we have a
small building for the caretakers to live in, we do
charge a
fee and the caretakers are in there, because Barton
Cave has had a long history of destructive activity.
are human remains in that cave that in my personal
surveyed, recorded and that were subsequently removed
from their original context and placed in areas so that
tourists could see them better. That is not the way to
about doing research or doing cave tourism. Our
are out there to ensure, one, that you don't have five
hundred people in the cave at the same time. Caves are
very fragile environments, and if we don't manage them
if we don't limit the number of people going in at any
time, we will destroy this resource. And if we destroy
resource, nobody will want to go visit Barton Creek cave

again. So our presence there is for conservation
and for the proper management of a natural, cultural
resource that belongs to the Belize."

Awe says that there was a time when police did
accompany Ministry of Natural Resource personnel
to the site after Bogaert illegally removed survey
markers posted on the land. He says that as far as
he knows, however, no guns were ever pointed at


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