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#360741 - 12/09/09 09:27 AM The Silent Invasion of Chiquibul
Marty Offline

With an area of 264,000 acres the Chiquibul National Park is more than twice the size of Barbados; more than twice the size. The hard part is that the Friends for Conservation and Development which co manages the park with the Forestry Department has only eight rangers to patrol the park. And, because it sits at the western edge of Belize’s territory – the park is under constant pressure from Guatemalans encroaching upon Belizean territory – and they go to Chiquibul because it is like any other reserve, a green forested area – rich with resources – a sharp contrast from the flat, brown empty lands on the other side of the border.

So while it is a Belizean reserve – when we went there on Saturday it seemed that it was reserved for Guatemalans! It is the first time any media house has trekked to this portion of Belizean territory and what we found shocked us. But before we get there, we begin, on the road.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
Our journey begins here on the Pine Ridge Road. Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development Rafael Manzanero is at the wheel briefing me – which I study the map in the back seat. The towering hills and dense, verdant foliage of the Chiquibul give way to the last wisps of the morning’s vapor clouds as we pull into the picturesque FCD base at the area known as D’Silva Camp.

A patrol of 10 BDF soldiers and one police man are waiting for us in a ten ton truck to be our escort on the journey. The officer in charge of the mission Lieutenant Justo Velez who goes over the routes on the map with rangers from the FCD because a strict level of planning and preparation is required because they will be escorting civilians and the media through the western edge of the Chiquibul forest – the Caracol Archaeological Park – an area constantly trafficked by Guatemalan, poachers, Xateros and hunters – all outlaws.

And more than just map-work –Velez also puts us through multiple drills for the very real possibility of coming under fire. He told us just dive for cover and his soldiers will do the rest.

Lt. Justo Velez, Commanding Officer
“You all whenever you are in mud, hole, or whatsoever, the faster you get down the better for you. And we have done this drill, in camp rehearsed it, and everybody knows what to do. You don’t need to be fearing for your lives, we will protect you, even if it costs us ours.”

And he wasn’t just giving us a pep talk, Lt. Velez went over multiple angles, multiple possibilities of attack.

Lt. Justo Velez,
“Quickly we close off the gap so the tubes will be now between the trek, the media, and the FCD. Any questions? Alright let’s move off now.”

Any thoughts we had of a light hike thru the jungle were thus dispelled and the fierce clatter of the ten ton truck set the tone adequately. We would be traveling in this banged up Hilux– it didn’t look like much but by the end of the day it would show its worth.

Our FCD driver plowed headlong through seemingly impenetrable jungle on old logging roads under towering forest cover where a branch in the car was like a bug on the windshield. The truck could only take us two kilometers in to a drop off point.

The rest would be on foot where we would follow this track to this point 500 meters east of the border – which is that shaded line on the left of your screen. The square is an illegal plantation within the adjacency zone. An area for close contact and Velez gave us another briefing.

Lt. Justo Velez,
“If the event we get under contact, we‘ve already rehearsed that part so just do as you were being told and don’t need panic. You don’t need to get jumpy. It is the worst things you should ever do when rounds start to fire.

The discipline then, the tactics, is to be silent but yet be very conscious and security wise. So when we are moving, we will move tactically at your speed. So the only noise we should hear is the heart beating by the side of your neck.”

He would hear plenty of that from me on this rugged, often uphill trek– through paths kept in use by Xateroas and their horses, everywhere the hoof-pocked trails told us that the area was much trafficked. Those horses were used for carrying Xate but also for lugging sawn wood, the product of illegal timber extraction.

Here, a mere 500 meters into our journey we find a site where Guatemalan poachers cut down a mahogany tree and portioned it off. Wayne Moore from the Institute Of Archaeology sizes up– what has happened in an archeological park. The poachers simply cut out the widest portion of the tree and left the rest to the forest as if to say, have it we don’t want it. What the group finds surprising is that these illegal, downright facy operation are moving east, deeper into Belize – 4 kilometers from the Guatemalan border.

Wayne Moore,
“4 kilometres inside of the national territory.”

All the area on the map are protected under Belize Law – but for the Guatemalan poachers that is the same as no law at all and all along the path heading west we found similar sites, where trees have simply been cut up – with sharp chainsaws – which the rangers say you can hear snarling at night.

We encountered about half a dozen of these sites, all reasonably recent and all sad. This roughly shorn copper coloured trunk seemed almost to bleed its protest, and if that wasn’t affront enough, some poacher even etched his name Anibal in this tree – jungle graffiti– or telling other poachers it’s his, or just plain idleness. And so many appalling things happening with trees that in the end, we just shook our heads wearily and kept moving past – just like the garbage which just lies littering the forest floor.

And that trail of human waste is all over this so-called protected area. This is an open area in what should be Belize’s pristine forest but it is littered with Guatemalan garbage.

And then, and then, there’s the looting of Mayan sites. Caracol is an archeological reserve because it was once among the largest cities and political centers in Mayan world – and the entire area is covered with Maya mounds like this one, many of them haven’t even been mapped much less explored.

You see this depression? That’s where raiders tunnelled into this mound. It’s even more apparent here – the looters dug in past these cut stones to get into the middle – where they looked for burial sites with jade and pottery.

Overall it is an assault on the senses – an area that should be pristine, a protected area – an archeological reserve, has had its resources wantonly despoiled and exploited in every way – leaving a forest only in name. It’s left this Doctor of Ecology outraged.

Dr. Colin Young, Chairman Friends for Conservation and Development
“Mad, incredibly frustrated and upsetting to see that this level of destruction is happening well within our national borders, to see that the forest, as we walked to get here, is very much fragmented and the logs were being cut.”

Rafael Manzanero, Friends for Conservation and Development
“It basically verifies the fact of what we have already seen or reported in terms of the hacking of the forest that is occurring here along the periphery of the border. This thing is really a major issue and not only the in the context of environmentalism but it is really a context where our rules, our regulations, our laws are stating that any of this thing is illegal to do. So the question of Guatemalans shouldn’t being able to do it, certainly it prompts another series of questions of course.”

Dr. Colin Young,
“As an ecologist I think one of the things that is insidious is that we see a lot of forests and we think that the forest is filled with wildlife but when we have the kinds of threats that we are getting from the Guatemalans where they hunt everything; birds, mammals, the macaws, what you will find is a forest that only has trees and the animals, the peccaries, the jaguars, the antelopes, all of those animals – in fact we’ve been walking for a couple hours and I’ve yet to see a single track of some kind of a mammal. They are not here and I think the reason is why they are not here is that they have been hunted out. It is an empty forest in the sense that the animals that play an essential role in dispersal for example and pollination they are just not here.”

But what is here plentifully is danger. The soldiers and police are constantly on the defensive, alert and on edge because they don’t know around which bend in the path they will encounter a Guatemalan with a gun.

Tune in tomorrow night for the last instalment in our Chiquibul series when we’ll take you to the mission point, the discovery of a Guatemalan milpa plantation squarely and unapologetically in Belizean territory.

Channel 7

#360937 - 12/10/09 08:38 AM Re: The Silent Invasion of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Chiquibul: The Paradise At Risk

And while Toledo fisherfolk are worried about Jamaican boats plundering their fish stock – that is not so great a threat to Belizean sovereignty and resource husbandry as is the silent invasion that’s happening everyday in western Belize. As we’ve been showing you for the past tow nights, the Chiquibul Forest – a vast and mostly un-monitored area is under sustained pressure from Guatemalan hunters, xateros, loggers and farmers.

On Saturday, our 7News team went where no media had gone before to the western edge of the Chiquibul where it meets the Guatemala border – and we did it on foot. The purpose was to see the Chiquibul at ground level below the luxuriant forest cover – where the reality of this empty, depleted forest is laid painfully bare. But the mission was to visit a Guatemalan farm at the edge of Belizean territory and if possible arrest the farmers. As we’ve shown you Chiquibul is dangerous place – and this was the most dangerous part of the mission. Jules Vasquez picks up the story.

Lt. Justo Velez, Commanding Officer
“So we come down this track which will actually lead us to the farm.”

That square is the mission point, a Guatemalan farm in Belizean territory. Speaking in a barely audible whisper Lt. Velez outlined the plan to his soldiers for what’s known as a close target reconnaissance meaning these soldiers and the police officer will go ahead and scope out the area at close range to see if anyone is there and if they are armed.

The seven soldiers who stayed with us wait for word back from the reconnaissance group and finally we get the signal we can proceed the 50 meters to the site, a cleared area – no hostiles have been detected. What we find is literally a disgrace, a slice at the western edge of a Belizean protected area, the Caracol Archaeological Reserve burnt down and cleared slashed and burnt for Guatemalan milperos.

Rafael Manzanero, Friends for Conservation and Development
“What we’re seeing in terms of landscape here is within the Caracal Archaeological Reserve. Of course as a result then we can imagine that it would be a nice virgin forest with standing trees but what you can see here is certainly, they have already removed the forest cover, the trees have already been burnt and then they have already planted.

Our rules, our regulations, our laws are stating that any of this thing is really illegal to do. So then the question of Guatemalans shouldn’t being able to do it then certainly it prompts another series of questions of course.”

They grow all the milpa staples here pumpkin – these ones have been dried for pepitos while this one is still on the root. There’s also beans. But it’s Corn that dominates the field; it is everywhere – the cornstalks have been left to dry – dried corn is like currency in Peten Guatemala and this field is full of it. And there are also these sacks covered by a tarp ready to go to market. This corn will be used to make tortillas or as animal feed. And it is only dry corns, new shoots of corn have also been planted – those are everywhere too – and in an act of futile desperation the group from the FCD uproots some of the shoot.

Rafael Manzanero,
“So how much would it require to come in and destroy all of this, well it requires multiple days to be here on the spot and ensuring there is safety for the people who are doing it as well.”

Dr. Colin Young,
“This is a classic case where I think the instinct is certainly not the most practical and that is obviously to come in here and destroy all of them. But because of the sensitive nature of where this place is, so close to the border, within the adjacency zone, I think it requires the sort of multi-sectoral approach, sort of a task force. We kind of have them but the process, the wheels turn quite slowly and in the process we are losing the forest on this side of the border incredibly fast.”

Indeed, the area is immense – we are dwarfed by the size of it.

Rafael Manzanero,
“What I see there as well you saw is that the cornfield is measured 800 meters by 300 metres extending southward by the grid along the map. And presently the corn is not being extracted, yet they are already replanting the whole farm and in the farm as normal as what we always find, they have pumpkin, beans, and the corn that they just planted.”

Dr. Colin Young,
“You look at this place, this is a couple hectares of land cleared, active, fresh plants, incredibly frustrating Jules.”

And more so on this day because we had to leave it all behind – mostly intact – all we had to take was Beningo Garcia the hapless hunter caught with a pair of gibnut, a rifle and machete and live rounds. The truth is while he was caught red handed – he’s just another poor Guatemalan looking to the green resource rich lands of Belize for a means of survival. The symptom may be poaching but the problem is poverty:

Dr. Colin Young,
“When we look at the reality on the ground in like Guatemala, we have a population that is incredibly poor and as long as that remains the case, the pull for them to come into this side will be great and any solution will have to involve a kind of relationship with the Guatemalans on that so that they could create the kind of alternative livelihood opportunities for them on that side so as to not create the kind of push factor that brings them into Belize. If we don’t deal with the poverty there and the fact that they don’t have the green land then these looks like a garden of Eden to them.”

A garden of Eden or a paradise at risk of being lost to these silent invaders I’ll draw some conclusions about the future of this park in peril.

Channel 7

#361074 - 12/11/09 01:50 PM Re: The Silent Invasion of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
Short Offline
Chiquibul: The Final Chapter

For the past three nights, we’ve taken you inside the Chiquibul forest – to show you a place that cameras have never seen before. As we’ve shown you it is a protected area only in name as Guatemalans use it freely, chopping down trees, hunting animals, harvesting xate, littering and farming. It is a forest under formidable pressure – but what can be done? There are no easy answers in this massive 264 thousand acre expanse – but Jules Vasquez tried to come up with some.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,

A garden of Eden where I drank water from the vine, in this case from the plant known as the water vine, or is it a paradise at risk of being lost? As we trudged back the 6 kilometers to our drop off point between bouts of exhaustion I contemplated Chiquibul across the horizon those bald hills that’s Guatemala, and we watched form what is now a bald hill in Belize, and I wonder will it someday be that what is over there is over here.

To make sure it doesn’t happen, The BDF and the FCD park rangers walk the line right past Xate leaves that fell off some Xateros’ horse – which brings into focus how difficult this really all is – they are Belizean soldiers on Belizean territory – but the terms of engagement are determined by armed Guatemalan outlaws who use this archaeological park as a free range area – forcing the BDF to tiptoe through their own forest – and not just in the adjacency zone as much as 6 kilomteres in.

Lt. Justo Velez,

“Well really these encroachments have been happening and there is no military solution to it. It is more of a civilian and a diplomatic one.”

Rafael Manzanero, FCD

“Normally it would take really a ground verification, people to come and do it. It would seem as though it is automatic that we can just come and do whatever we think we can do or traditionally what we can do. Really there is an aspect where in the context of the adjacency zone, there are certain things that it just requires other institutions to come in and verify.”

Jules Vasquez,

“But as a Belizean you can’t help but be filled with a kind of rage because we can’t come here, if I came here I would be arrested the next day because I am a Belizean and this is a national park but these people have come here.

Is this frustrating for you and your team, you all encounter these things and you these crops are going to extracted, they are going to be sold in Guatemala, it is exploiting a Belizean archeological park and you know also that you didn’t find anyone there because they heard us or they left early. Is it frustrating for you all?”

Lt. Justo Velez,

“Well really and truly I would say we follow orders and this is our and we abide by it.”

Rafael Manzanero,

“Being able to document this, what you can see is only one of the area because this is not like a singular activity, there are multiple other or similar camps like this.”

Jules Vasquez,

“Moving south along the border?”

Rafael Manzanero,

“South of this location.”

Jules Vasquez,

“So you have bald, denuded, milpa-ed areas like this all along our borderline.”

Rafael Manzanero,

“That’s correct yes.”

Jules Vasquez,

“How do we fix this or reverse this, I mean look at this, this is a major area of cultivation, the BDF doesn’t have the manpower to uproot and destroy all this corn, all the new shoots of corn, how do we fix it?”

Rafael Manzanero,

“Well certainly I think one of the key things is certainly for the public to understand the magnitude of the problem.”

And therein lies the intractability of this problem – because its not just this milpa – the problem stretches along a very border punctured by multiple pressure points.

Rafael Manzanero,

“What it would take like for example right now with those young corns, if you could come in and destroy all of this, people would get the message but that not would not mean that they would not open another swathe either north or south.”

Jules Vasquez,

“Is it still salvageable?”

Dr. Colin Young,

“Well I am a pessimist in some cases and I think this problem is not new. It has been ongoing for a very long time and I don’t see the kind of urgency being given to this situation and the funding because this face is incredibly expense to manage. In fact this park is probably the most dangerous park to manage in all of Belize and that requires a tremendous amount of personnel and financial resources and without those two things in place and the political will and diplomatic negotiations, it is very difficult to say to stop.”

A problem with no simple, short term solution and on this day, mine was just getting out – a total of 12 kilometers – 7 miles hiked in a day and I was just grateful to be protected by the capable and professional men of BDF Alpha Company and the FCD park rangers.

All told, our team hike about 12 kilometers thorough the jungle, that’s about 7 miles – in a day...our thanks to the Friends for Conservation and Development for facilitating our visit.

Live and let live

#396681 - 01/07/11 10:56 PM Re: The Silent Invasion of Chiquibul [Re: Short]
Steve & Nancy Offline
This is very disturbing !!!
So much water - so little time !!!

#396690 - 01/08/11 08:37 AM Re: The Silent Invasion of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
elbert Offline
Hes right about it have been going on a long time. Its hard to draw lines in the jungle and the boarder between Guat. and Belize its in deep jungle.
I've been up there and you run into Guat. loggers on the Belize side. They know what there doing and they have automatic weapons to prevent interference with their looting logs from Belize territory.
No law or order in that area at all!
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