On Friday we told you about a significant agreement signed in Guatemala between The Friends for Conservation and Development, which co-manages the Chiquibul National Park and Balam, a Guatemalan NGO That works in Peten. The agreement seeks to reduce illegal logging in both countries. And while that sounds simple enough, really, it’s not; behind every problem in the Chiquibul is a deeper one – in this case, it’s scarcity of resources and limited government involvement in Southern Peten. Those complex issues were thrashed out on Friday at a round table meeting on Friday morning in Poptun. 7news was there:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
Our journey took us from Belize City to Poptun, Guatemala, about a five hour drive southwest. There, at the Finca Ixobel, Rafael Manzanero of the Friends for Conservation and Development was the only Belizean face.

The meeting was the Intersectorial Roundtable On Lands And The Environment in South Peten. Government leaders, Alcaldes, community Representatives, Human Rights Officers, the military and government and non government conservation groups gathered to talk about what is known as the Commonwealth of South Peten which comprises 4 municipalities: Melchor de Mencos, Dolores, Poptun and San Luis.

That area is important because those four share a border with Belize.

Benjamin Cohuoj - Operative Secretariat - Intersectorial Round Table
"Throughout history, Both Guatemala and Belize have created protected areas throughout the border area. These protected areas complement each other, because the division is of countries only, however, ecosystems have no divisions."

But what they do have are shared problems. You might not know it, but the Guatemalan farmlands pushing up against the Chiqubul were cultivated on a reserve area in that country: the Montanas Mayas Chiquibul Forest Reserve.

Rafael Manzanero - Executive Director - FCD
"What we see here is practically what really can happen far into Belize. All of our data and all of our reports that we have provided is certainly bewildering to the population of Belize but it can get much worse."

Now the common issue is illegal logging, that was the focus of the agreement signed at Friday’s event -

Rafael Manzanero
"The significance of that plan really relates of having a joint effort of dealing with the matter of illegal logging in the Chquibul National Park."

FCD has formed an important partnership with BALAM, A Guatemalan NGO which is now looking to the long neglected Southern Peten:

Rafael Manzanero
"This is the very first time that they are practically getting involved in the Southern region of Peten with illegal logging. So for them it's really the first step in terms of putting interventions."

The first thing they will try to find out is where the timber, fell in reserves in both countries, is going:

Rafael Manzanero
"It's really more in terms of looking at a data base analysis in terms of generating data about routes, about who really are the communities involved - what extreme levels they are operating? Where is the logging or the timber actually ending?"

But the timber trade is facilitated in south Peten by what the Guatemalans call 'ingovernancia', meaning the absence of a strong central political authority, or, outlaw country:

Benjamin Cohuoj
"It's no secret that in the Maya Mountains Chiquibul protected areas what remains to be preserved is very little. It is no secret that the dead (Guatemalans) and (Guatemalan) prisoners in Belize is the result of the weak state presence in the region and that on the other side, there are resources. "

Carlos Rodas - South Peten Coord. - Secretariat on Agrarian Issues
"The Adjacency zone, there exists a clear lack of central political authority. We know of our compatriots who are killed on the other side of Belize. We know of many people who are raped, violated in their human rights in the border with this neighboring country. "

Rafael Manzanero
"Because there hasn't been any regulatory bodies or agencies and systems operating for many years - so people thought that this was really just an open break for them to really operate within their same area. As they finished with that resource they found themselves into Belize because we in Belize also had a lack of governance program in place. That also was able to support and encourage much more of the illegal activities."

Benjamin Cohuoj
"We believe that when we have more institutional presence, when we promote more development the entry of people looking for an opportunity to take advantage of natural resources will start decreasing, including non-timber resources whose extraction is not allowed at this time."

Not allowed, but illegal extraction is widespread on both sides of the border. And that’s because Peten is experiencing a population explosion: growth is estimated at 9% annually and that growth creates greater scarcity of resources in an area where the population is mostly Ketchi and Mopan indigenous people, long excluded from the decision making process:

Salvador Cutzal - Sits On Roundtable
"Where is the word of the Ketchi? Do we understand that or will we continue to make decisions at midnight three kilometers away from the village and in another language? Done. No man! That's not fair. Not fair."

And while there is a long history of neglect in south Peten, this agreement signed between NGO’s in both country signals a change, a common cause:

Rafael Manzanero
"In this case here we are able to feel confident in operating because we did an agreement with Asosacion Balan. You saw me sitting very closely to Asosacion Balan because we are partners in one common issue which is the Chiquibul Maya Mountains - only time will tell and I would hope in a period of two years we'll already be able to see some substantive level of actions that really are providing something positive where we as co-managers in Chiquibul can basically be able to evaluate and say we can see a reduction."

Jules Vasquez
"If Peace is to be made, eventually it should be made with the people of Guatemala and the people of Belize. It will happen at the civilian, it won't happen at the state level. How important is an initiative like this which is almost happening through a backdoor in terms of an NGO to an NGO?"

Rafael Manzanero
"There's a vibrant movement and I feel that it is one that it's important for us to really improve and promote and what really brought us together in terms of a functional interface as NGO's - one thing - it's the Chiquibul Forest. That is really our common denominator in this."

A common denominator in an often hostile area, where there are two countries but one Chiquibul.

Later on in the news we’ll tell you about another shared issue between Belize and Guatemala – and that is the illegal trade in Rosewood. We’ll tell you how they are dealing with it…

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