Several miles inside Belize

Incessant illegal encroachments by farmers from Guatemala into the Chiquibul Forest, and particularly the Chiquibul National Park and the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, could be exacerbated by the worsening drought in the neighboring country, which has forced the declaration of a state of emergency, amid reports that Guatemalan farmers are not just expanding slash-and-burn clearings in the verdant lands of western Belize, but are actually marking survey lines several miles into Belize and setting up illegal dwellings inside the national park.

Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), warns that, “The drought period in Guatemala affecting over 1 million, two hundred thousand people in 16 departments, have created a condition of food insecurity. This has prompted the Guatemalan Government to declare a state of calamity on the 25th of August among the 16 departments. In many of these departments, up to 80% of the corn product has been lost and it will take some 8 months to recover. The search for new lands for cultivations will become more incessant.”

In February, the team observed 14 new clearings in the Chiquibul Forest, and by March, that number had increased by 32, for a total of 46 new clearings both inside the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and the Chiquibul National Park.

“Joint forces targeted several plantations, but the effort to destroy them was overwhelming, even to the point of frustration, due to the sheer size of them and the inability to have much effect on the large fields with mere machetes,” said Manzanero.

The majority of these clearings were substantially inside Belize, spanning 44 kilometers (or about 27 miles) from north to south and more than 7 kilometers (and 4 to 5 miles) inland.