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#413351 - 08/06/11 10:23 AM The Perils of Chiquibul
Marty Offline
Earlier on in the newscast we reported on the latest encounter in the Chiquibul between BDF soldiers and aggressive Guatemalan outlaws.

It's the third armed encounter in as many weeks - and underscores a persistent problem that the Guatemalans who live along the border see Belize's forest reserve to the east of their homes as a rich, untapped resource - with soil that's good for farming and trees that are lucrative for timber extraction.

We've been following this situation on the ground since 2009 - and indeed 7news is the only media house that has repeatedly gone deep into the Chiquibul.

To provide some context to these latest aggressive incursions - we take you back to 2009 - when we accompanied a BDF patrol at the border point where they found a Guatemalan freely hunting inside Belize's protected forest:

Benigno Garcia was found at the western edge of Belize within the Caracol Archaeological reserve; he had been hunting, and he carried weapons. He was intercepted by BDF Patrol and a Ranger team Friends of Conservation and Development. They were in the far reaches of Belizean territory, 600 meters from the Guatemalan border in what is called the adjacency zone and 7news was embedded with them.

Here's what happened.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
"He has a machete; he has a weapon" those were the words of the BDF as they chased down Benigno Garcia and captured him here - 600 metres from the Guatemalan border in the Caracol Archaeological Park.

Q: "What is he doing in Belize?"
A: "I am just taking a walk around."
Q: "And then they ask him - does he know if he is in Belize"
A "The truth is I don't know - I just came and I do not know these areas"

But what he knows to do is hunt gibnut as was amply demonstrated when he opened his sack.

Still it's crime, hunting in an archaeological park, and hunting in another country.

Lt. Justo Velez, Officer Commanding
"This is normal, the Guatemalans always coming into Belize to do either xate cutting, hunting, farming, and all these illegal things that they always do. For us whenever we go to the border, whenever we encounter somebody well, we just detain them as per procedures."

Since then, the logging incursions have moved across a wider area of the Chiquibul..

Channel 7

#413354 - 08/06/11 10:26 AM Re: The Perils of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Another Guatemalan incursion in the Chiquibul Area

David Jones

A third confrontation between Belize Defense Force Soldiers and Guatemalan loggers in the past fourteen days took place on Thursday making the unwelcome intrusions into the vast expanse of the Chiquibul National Park, commonplace. The frequency with which border patrols have been threatened by the illegal tree cutters in the area, is also sounding alarm bells. The three reported encounters with armed poachers have taken place deep within the forest reserve. In the most recent chance meeting on Thursday, a team of B.D.F. officers on a routine tour of the border came across a machete-wielding logger from the neighboring community of Las Flores. Upon interrogation, Santos Torres, advanced on members of the unit in a threatening motion. The B.D.F. fired a warning shot and claims that the man moved ahead to attack the soldiers before finally being subdued and detained. Unlike previous confrontations, B.D.F. Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel David Jones, told News Five today that the incident involved one individual who had not managed to clear a significant portion of forestry before being caught.

Lt. Col. David Jones, B.D.F. Chief of Staff

“Yesterday we had a patrol going close to the Guatemalan border. About two hundred meters away we were suppose to have a linkup patrol with the Guatemalan armed forces in the area of Xapote Two. We had a fifteen man patrol that went in there [and] when they arrived at about two hundred and seventy-two meters away from the border they heard chopping in the area. On investigation they heard someone running away and when they got to the area they found someone there with a machete chopping wood. They approached the person and they asked him what he was doing and he stated that he was just doing his job and they should leave him alone. But the person instead became aggressive and approached the patrol with his machete with the action to chop one of the soldiers. The soldiers retreated and the guy again came forward with the intention to chop the soldier again. Prior to that happening one of the members of the patrol picked up, sorry, the patrol commander actually fired a warning shot over the guy to warn him that he could probably get killed if he continued what he was doing. He didn’t take heed to the warning shot and one of the soldiers picked up one of the piece of sticks that he had chopped and when he approached another soldier that’s when the soldier used the stick to disarm him. He hit him with the stick a few times, took away the machete from him and after they subdued him, they brought him out of the Chiquibul area and took him to the police station in San Ignacio. I think they arrived probably sometime after ten or eleven last night and they handed him over to the police so he’s now in police custody and I believe he will probably be handed over to immigration authorities probably afterwards for other charges.”

Isani Cayetano

“Contrary to what has been reported in other parts of the media there weren’t any armed face-off this time around?”

Lt. Col. David Jones

“Oh no, there were no armed face-offs. This guy just had a machete. It was just one person they met. The guy was disarmed and he was taken into custody [before being handed] over to the police at the moment.”

Isani Cayetano

“Have you been able to ascertain whether the area that this individual was clearing had been a significant portion of forestry?”

Lt. Col. David Jones

“No it wasn’t. It was just a small area. The guy wasn’t clearing large trees because he only had a machete. Unlike other portions where people had chainsaws before this was not an area where there was significant clearing.”

On July thirteenth, a team of B.D.F. personnel, forest rangers and conservationists were assaulted by an armed group of illegal loggers within the Chiquibul forest upon discovery that they were clearing a considerable amount of mature cedar trees. During that encounter Guatemalan national Orlando Motta was grazed by a bullet during the shootout. He was later detained and taken to the San Ignacio Police Station where he was charged with immigration and forestry offences.

Channel 5

Belize Ambassador to Guatemala talks border issues with Amandala

In separate incidents four days apart, bands of illegal Guatemalan loggers have reportedly fired at joint patrols including Belize security forces. The first incident was reported on Wednesday, July 13; the other happened on Sunday, July 17.

“It’s a worrying situation,” Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala Alfredo Martinez declared to Amandala Tuesday.

“I wish we had the money to send in more troops really, because this is something we need to control, but at the same time [I would hope] it is not interpreted the wrong way [by the Guatemalans],” Martinez expressed.

“It’s very worrying that these people [the security forces of Belize] are coming under live fire...,” head of Belize’s National Security Council, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, had told the media shortly after the incidents. ”It is very serious.”

Ambassador Martinez said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed the Organization of American States (OAS) about the recent incursions which have led to crossfire between illegal loggers and Belize security forces. The OAS is being asked to do an assessment/verification exercise.

Since there was gunplay, said Ambassador Martinez, they felt it was serious enough to get the OAS involved. “It is not frequent that we have crossfire,” he added.

Many of the persons coming over illegally to Belize, Ambassador Martinez said, come from the area of Dolores, Peten, as had been indicated by Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) last Thursday.

This is the problem area where Guatemalan authorities have to find alternative income generators for these people; some of whom may also have been employed to help illegally harvest the xate palm leaves, Martinez indicated.

“That [illegal logging] is their livelihood. They’ve lived on the Guatemalan side for many years... They have nothing else to do,” Martinez said.

“They look at the greenness on our side and begin moving in,” he added.

The Ambassador told us that he has been advised of the results of the study done through FCD, which details a $15 million loss—a conservative assessment that needs to be updated when more comprehensive surveys are done on the ground. He told us that the OAS also did a study on the effects of illegal logging in Belize, which would be released to the public, he said, after the officials of both governments get to digest and respond to its contents.

Ambassador Martinez said that invariably, he sees reports in Guatemala of police having confiscated lumber which have no stamping, which possibly may have been taken illegally from Belize. If they are caught by authorities, the lumber is taken away—but none of it is ever sent back to Belize, he indicated.

“It is a very difficult thing, [and] ...one of the solutions would be bigger patrols. What it boils down to is: how can two countries [Belize and Guatemala] cooperate?” Martinez elaborated.

The harsh crime realities in both Belize and Guatemala have meant that less attention is paid to the border, and more specifically to illegal activities perpetrated inside Belize by those coming over from Guatemala.

Belizean officials have said that there are not enough funds to have increased patrols out west, especially since some security personnel are sent to crime hotspots such as Belize City.

The Guatemalans are “stretched thin,” because of the drug situation, explained Ambassador Martinez.

“The Peten is a very desolate area right now, and Guatemala does not have the troops out there themselves to deal with the drug trade,” said Martinez.

Peten continues in an extended state of emergency, he added.

The Guatemalans have also begun to train 300 forest patrollers, some of whom may be gradually deployed near the trouble spots south of Melchor; but most would be deployed north of that location, the Ambassador informed.

Some members of the Belizean public have accused the Government of Belize of lacking the political will to seriously address the border situation.

“There will be those accusations from certain people, and I can understand it,” said Martinez, “but I don’t think there is a lack of political will. There is tremendous concern from the [National] Security Council. I think the lack of ready financing [is the problem] and a new strategy that has to be devised.”

FCD has said that the cost of monitoring the Chiquibul Forest, where much of the illegal activities are concentrated, could run in the region of a million dollars annually.

Is the proposal realistic which was discussed at last Thursday’s forum by Friends for Conservation and Development, for Belize to tap into the UN REDD program, under which it can get money for the carbon stocks preserved in its forests?

“I think so,” said Ambassador Martinez, when we put this question to him.

He told us that Guatemala has already been successful in declaring an area deep inside the Peten to qualify for carbon funding; Belize is trying to do the same, he added.

Trying to combat incursions by setting alternative income generating projects for the Guatemalans, rather than simply enforcing the Laws of Belize, may be deemed by some to be the “softer approach.”

Donor countries don’t look at it that way, Martinez said; they would say, ‘How can we explain to our Congress that we want funds to pay for a military operation rather than for projects to address environmental impacts of the illegal incursions”, he explained.

Countries tend to donate, not for military activities, but for projects, although Belize has been pressing for the former, said Ambassador Martinez.

He informed our newspaper that a technical meeting between representatives of Belize and Guatemala is due either at the end of August or in early September to discuss these pressing cross-border concerns.

A routine military-to-military meeting between Belize and Guatemala is also pending, at which these security issues will be raised.


#413359 - 08/06/11 10:33 AM Re: The Perils of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
elbert Offline
It seems we're being to lenient...'Detained' are they kidding? He's got a fire arm, hunting in a protected area, crossed the boarder with out passport,shot Belizean animals.
any of this would get a person jailed.
if a Belizean gets caught with just one unlicensed bullet they get 5 years?????
The Dive Shops Daily Blog

#421395 - 11/09/11 08:19 AM Re: The Perils of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Guatemalan Logging In Chiquibul: "A Case For Urgent Action"

For years, we've been reporting on the situation in the Chiquibul Forest - where an increasing number of Guatemalan loggers are making deeper and deeper encroachments into Belizean territory.

Now the Friends For Conservation And Development - which co-manages the Chiquibul National Park has released a report and its findings are staggering.

The report, called the Chiquibul Forest, A Case For Urgent Action tracks the history and expansion of illegal logging operations by Guatemalans in the Chiquibul Forest.

The first discovery of a Guatemalan logging operation was in 2005, and since then, operations have grown immensely and the depth of penetration has reached an alarming 10 kilometers inside Belizean territory. According to the report, loggers are now just about one kilometer away from appearing by the main highway leading to the Caracol Archeological Reserve.

And the so called zone of influence these loggers exercise continues to grow, almost exponentially. In July 2011 it was mapped at 26,642 hectares, that's about sixty five thousand acres!

Like we said, truly staggering, and the FCD report warns that illegal logging activity has almost doubled in just six months. And, apart from the incursion and the increase in activity…want to know the most disturbing part? It's the loss in our hardwood resource.

The FCD quotes quote a preliminary study on illegal logging in the Chiquibul Forest in the area of Caracol which has shown the loss of over 1.5 million board feet of lumber. That's 730,792 board feet of mahogany, and 763,401 board feet of Cedar. Put a money value to that and the illegal logging activity in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve alone tallies $ 2,423,987.00 US dollars. Fittingly, the report calls it a time bomb and underscores the call for urgent action.

Channel 7

#421399 - 11/09/11 08:32 AM Re: The Perils of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Illegal logging devastating Chiquibul

The threat to the Chiquibul Forest has intensified; it is well documented that Guatemalan loggers trespass Belizean soil to carry out illegal logging. The B.D.F. has often surprised Guatemalans extracting our precious resources well within our borders, but that illegal activity has continued over the years. There is an alarming report tonight from Friends of Conservation and Development that the Guatemalans have advanced significantly into the Chiquibul where the illegal extraction of our precious woods is taking place without hindrance. FCD says that millions of dollars are being lost from the extraction.

Raphael Manzanero, Executive Director, Friends of Conservation and Development

Raphael Manzanero

“In terms of illegal logging what we’re referring to are primarily the extraction of mahogany and cedar trees from within that jungle and interms of our alarm that we have actually rang out there is because the extension of the activity is now reaching up to some ten kilometers inside of Belize particularly in the area of the Caracol Zone which is of course part of the Chiquibul Forest and so our main concern is that even though there have been efforts undertaken over the last few months, in reality our joint forces unit have not been able to contain that particularly matter on the ground. So what we are observing is that Guatemalans are still actively engaged and in reality they are not really demonstrating any fear of being arrested or being detained. So they are almost about now to reach on the highway now actually leading now to Caracol and that is really of a great concern to us who are operating in that forest.”

Andrea Polanco

“Okay, so can you discuss with us the impacts of the actions of these illegal loggers?”

Raphael Manzanero

“Yes, certainly. In terms of our assessments that was done just about four months in terms of a report we were able to understand that the are of impact would’ve been some fifty five thousand acres across the Chiquibul Forest, that basically means from the Caracol Area to the southern extreme point of the Chiquibul Forest which hits with the Toledo District and so what we are looking at is just basically an extension of an area where people have been operating for, we tried to document about one point five years ago in terms of illegal logging. What we have seen is that this thing is increasing quite rapidly and so our observations have been in a period of that time and based upon our assessments in the field we reckon that Belize would’ve lost about fifteen million dollars worth of Belizean currency in terms of timber extracted as a result of Guatemala operating in that forest. But yet as we reported that in time of four months ago when we conclude that report we are still seeing further increase of acreage being covered and so we need really desperately to look at other interventions that will be able to demonstrate a sound deterrence in terms of these illegal and environmental crimes occurring in the Chiquibul Forest.”

While a number of operations by the nation’s security forces have removed a number of Guatemalans from Belizean soil, Manzanero says that a lot more needs to be done. We will have more with Manzanero in Wednesday’s newscast.

Channel 5

#421756 - 11/12/11 08:06 AM Re: The Perils of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Guat illegal logging - “A time bomb in the Chiquibul!”

Information reaching our newspaper from conservationists in southern and western Belize confirms that Guatemalans are venturing further inland to illegally exploit the nation’s untold wealth, and particularly valuable hardwoods in Belize’s near pristine jungles, in multi-million dollar exploits that use peasant farmers and loggers, some armed with deadly offensive and high-caliber guns.

The lands in question have been placed under legal protective status in Belize, restraining even locals from freely using the area for hunting, harvesting, or settlements; conservationists have noted, however, that Guatemalans are feeling very much at home, living, farming, logging, poaching, and even swindling gold and archaeological artifacts from the country’s most important forests, especially the highly prized Chiquibul.

Amandala has been reporting on this phenomenon of expanding incursions since 2007. At that time, it was reported that 8,000 acres inside both the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and the Chiquibul National Park had been illegally cleared. In 2008, the estimated raping was increased to over 10,000 acres of once virgin forest. The affected area is now estimated to be larger than the nation’s commercial capital, Belize City.

A recent report released by Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) on Tuesday, November 8—detailing BZ$5 million in losses from illegal logging in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve alone—calls the situation “a time bomb.”

The acreages over which the Guatemalans continue illegal logging operations has been increasing exponentially, with the acreage nearly doubling for the first half of 2011, compared to the first half of 2010, according to the FCD report.

It explained that the area of influence was about 12,000 hectares by mid-2010 but grew to 18,167 hectares by December 2010, only 6 months later. That area of influence mushroomed to 26,642 hectares by July 2011. This is equivalent to 66,000 acres or 103 square miles.

Meanwhile, incursions continue to pose a threat in southern Belize, where conservationists last month came across a large 6-tarp camp set up by Guatemalans who made themselves at home inside the Bladen Nature Reserve, leaving behind their clothes and provisions, although such activities are expressly forbidden under Belizean law.

Lisel Alamilla, Executive Director of Ya’axché Conservation Trust, told our newspaper Tuesday that, “[What] we can state categorically is that we have found them further in than we have in previous times.”

She told us that the last incident involved an incursion 20 kilometers (or 12.5 miles) into Belize.

“They are as far in [as] from the Supreme Court [in Belize City] to the International Airport [in Ladyville],” she demonstrated.

Last week when KREM News’s Cecily Cambranes probed Prime Minister Barrow on what the government is doing to address the continued incursions that are moving more inland, Barrow responded: “I don’t know where you get that from!” claiming that the information supplied to him has not indicated incursions further into Belizean territory than before.

Barrow, the head of the National Security Council, responded that, “At the National Security Council meetings, which are held monthly, we keep a close eye ... there is a record made and presented so that we know exactly what is happening at the particular trouble spots, and if there have been any new incursions.” He said that they don’t have anything to suggest that the Guatemalans are coming further inland.

As a follow-up to that conversation, Amandala on Tuesday requested updates from both Ya’axché Conservation Trust, which co-manages Bladen Nature Reserve in Toledo, and Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), which co-manages the Chiquibul National Park in Cayo.

Both YCT and FCD confirmed that the Guatemalans are coming more and more inland. FCD went further to release its report to the press, dated November 3, 2011, and titled, “The Chiquibul Forest: Cross-border Illegal Logging - A Case for Urgent Action”, in which it described the situation in the Chiquibul as “a time bomb.”

The extent of the incursions appears to be far graver out west than in the south. FCD notes that there are Guatemalans living inside the Chiquibul National Park who serve as bases for illegal activities inside Belize. They have their plantations and farms inside this park, as well as other areas along Belize’s western border with Guatemala.

One especially troubling case that FCD pointed to is that of Rigoberto Gutierrez, who, FCD confirmed, “...continues to live inside the Chiquibul National Park.” They also said that he “is known to encourage loggers to operate in the area and is a dangerous person even to security forces.”

Belizean officials have said that the removal of Gutierrez—who has a plantation-style concrete home near to the border, but on the Belize side—would have to be done under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS). This is the same agency that has been asked to conduct a verification exercise into allegations in August that a Belizean security officer shot a Guatemalan on Guatemalan soil on the day that a search operation was conducted at Gutierrez’s residence.

Belize Defence Force sources had told our newspaper that one of the children at Gutierrez’s place went to a nearby Guatemalan village, San Jose Las Flores, which defends Gutierrez, to request help, and armed men came on motorcycles, one of them brandishing an offensive AK47.

Barrow told KREM News, “It is simply impossible to prevent people from coming across.”

He said that government moves to dismantle any structures that are put up; however, there is a protocol agreed to in the adjacency zone, as well as provisions for an OAS verification process.

Once the exercise has been exhausted, said Barrow, then Belize moves to dismantle the settlements or destroy the crops that are there.

FCD’s report points to a noteworthy enforcement problem in western Belize. The report also notes that illegal Guatemalan loggers are less than a mile away from the main highway leading to the Caracol Archaeological Reserve.

In August, the FCD reported a 42% rise in illegal logging activities inside the Chiquibul Forest and put a value of $15 million on illegally extracted mahogany and cedar leaving the country for next-door Guatemala.

Over a span of 55,000 acres and up to 10 kilometers or about 7 miles into Belize, they have observed the illegal harvest of mahogany, cedar and other woods, the organization has previously told us.

FCD said, “...the illegal logging has continued to increase dramatically and incessantly despite all efforts and arrests throughout 2011.”

They point to “improper documentation of the detention” as the primary reason why of the 30 people arrested and detained during the first year of surveillance, starting in 2010, 90% of them were not charged.

They also caution of reports to them that indicate that “drug cartels operating in Peten, Guatemala, are moving closer to the western border, particularly in the southern region of the Chiquibul/Maya Mountains Biosphere Reserve, Peten, Guatemala.”

FCD comments that, “...more and more illegal Guatemalans feel ownership of the Chiquibul Forest.”

The incursions pose an especially difficult problem for Belize in light of the fact that Guatemala continues to claim that at least half of Belize from the Sibun to the Sarstoon belongs to that country but was stolen by Britain. The incursions are increasingly common in that part of Belize which Guatemala has alleged is its original territory—a claim that Belizean authorities flatly deny as unfounded.


#422500 - 11/18/11 08:56 AM Re: The Perils of Chiquibul [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Guat raping of Belize’s protected areas continue unabated

At last count, there were 32 Guatemalans living illegally inside Belizean protected areas—particularly the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and the Chiquibul National Park—according to information released to the media today, Wednesday, by Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), a Cayo-based NGO which co-manages the Chiquibul National Park.

Rigoberto Gutierrez, who FCD’s Park Ranger Derric Chan said has expanded his ranch inside Belize almost 25 acres, may be linked with further illegal encroachments and incursions into Belizean territory, FCD’s executive director Rafael Manzanero indicated.

Those incursions include the increased clearing of Belizean forests, which have escalated from a reported 113 hectares in 1987, 692 hectares in 1994, 4,680 hectares in 2009, and almost 5,000 hectares in April 2011, are a major threat to Belize’s territorial integrity, the NGO points out.

“We need more boots on the ground,” said Manzanero, calling for an increase in observation posts inside the protected areas in question.

It’s not just the illegal clearings for farming and pasturing nearly three miles into Belize that pose a serious problem for Belize; there is a multi-million-dollar interest involved, spanning the illegal logging trade, clandestine xate harvesting, and stealthy scarlet macaw poaching expeditions deep into Belize’s Maya Mountain Massif, and particularly across the majestic and expansive Chiquibul, which makes up a sizeable chunk of the Cayo District.

FCD notes that 13 detainees were held in 2010, but 11 were caught in 2010 up to 22 kilometers, or nearly 13 miles into Belize.

In addition, 46 horses brought by encroaching Guatemalans were confiscated over the past two years, 32 of them in 2011.

As for the poaching of the scarlet macaw—a bird under international trade restrictions—Guatemalans have come as far as 20 miles into Belize to steal them, the NGO indicates.

Illegal xate harvesting has perhaps been the most rampant, but according to Boris Arevella, FCD’s wildlife manager and research coordinator, a comprehensive study to examine the economic impact won’t be pursued until 2012. What they do know, he said, is that between 2000-2005, 37.8 million of leaves have been extracted illegally at a value of roughly BZ$ 1 million.

FCD’s executive director said that there is a need for urgent action, the main ones being the establishment of two new conservation posts along the border, specifically at Ceibo Chico and Valentin in Cayo, to be manned by Belize Defence Force (BDF) and police, who would be patrolling in the area with rangers.

FCD also calls for “reinforcements in hotspot areas through activation of joint conservation posts.”

Belize Defence Force Commander Dario Tapia agrees with Manzanero that putting up the new observation posts would increase border security—but, Tapia told Amandala, when we contacted him via phone for his comments, what the BDF needs is more manpower.

“As long as I get more manpower, no problem!” he said. “Government would have to give more manpower. [The new observation posts] would alleviate some of the pressure there [on the border.]”

FCD also calls on Belizean authorities to strengthen joint forces units with personnel, equipment and training to demonstrate a credible deterrence; to articulate a clear policy and mandate on how to deal with cross-border environmental crimes; to synchronize roles among regulatory agencies and other stakeholders; and to build up of cooperation programs with Guatemala such as Peace Park concepts.

Manzanero said that he is due to meet next week Minister of Natural Resources and Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega to discuss the issues and the hope is that a Cabinet paper can be submitted for consideration as early as next week.

Manzanero underscored that the real issue is territorial integrity and security for the country of Belize, which, he said, is way above the environmental concerns.



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