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#506058 - 07/23/15 05:46 AM Conservation Post For Caracol
Marty Offline

Who can forget the terrible Thursday of September 24, 2015? That’s day when Belizean Special Constable Danny Conorquie was killed on duty at the Caracol Archaeological Park in Western Belize, a few meters from the border. It was suspected - but never confirmed - that his killers were Guatemalan cross-border bandits who may have fled into the Guatemalan village of La Rejoya.

His murder shocked the country and forced the National Security Ministry into activating strict security measures for the Caracol Site. This was an urgent situation which was exposed by a Police Internal Memo which identified the clear and present danger to the Special Constables who were forced to guard the site, but it apparently fell on deaf ears.

Well, 10 months after that tragic incident, the Government, through NICH, has completed a conservation outpost at the Caracol Archaeological Reserve. It was constructed in close collaboration of the Ministry of National Security, and it will be able to house a number of Belize Defense Force Soldiers, who will provide support and back-up for the Tourism Police Officers.

This new facility is scheduled to be inaugurated on Friday, and we’ll be there.

Channel 7

#506094 - 07/24/15 02:14 PM Re: Conservation Post For Caracol [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

“…don’t let Danny die in vain!”

Since Special Constable Danny Conorquie was heartlessly gunned down last September at the prestigious Caracol site in Cayo, Western Belize, the Government of Belize has beefed up security presence in the area—long targeted by Guatemalan looters and illegal loggers who have virtually been having a free-for-all, because there was not enough security presence to stave off the unrelenting incursions.

Tomorrow, the Institute of Archaeology (IA), under the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), will unveil a $100,000 conservation post, complete with 12 rooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, communication towers, and other facilities, to serve as a permanent base for 12 Belize Defence Force (BDF) officers who have been deployed to the area since Conorquie’s broad daylight murder.

The Caracol Conservation Post will be the largest in the area, according to Dr. John Morris, IA’s Director.

“We have to ensure we don’t let Danny die in vain. Something positive has come out of it,” Morris told us in an interview today.

Before Conorquie’s death, the closest military camp was 15 miles away from Caracol. Indeed, IA has been lobbying for stepped-up security presence in the area long before Danny’s killing; but the circumstances under which Danny’s life was taken underscored the vital need for urgent action to ensure proper security at the popular tourist site, which also holds great historical and archaeological value for the country of Belize.

“It’s a harsh lesson,” said Morris, who nonetheless expressed his gratitude for the establishment of the new conservation post.

He said that he is thankful for the efforts of Tourism Minister Manuel Heredia, Jr., and NICH president, Diane Haylock, as well as the support of National Security Minister John Saldivar, whose lobbying at the level of Cabinet was instrumental to secure funding from the Ministry of Finance for the initiative.

Morris said that the loss of Danny Conorquie underscores that there are mistakes that must never be repeated.

He told us that he has worked in the Caracol area for the past 30 years, and they have always had issues with Guatemalans encroaching onto Belizean land – looting, shooting birds and animals, taking Belize’s resources; and there had always been constant agitation for more security.

Morris said that when the British did training in the area, the incursions were not such a big problem, but since operations have ceased, the last 10 years have seen an escalation in illegal incursions. Since security was beefed up after Conorquie’s death, they have noticed a significant reduction in illegal activities, and even the noise of the chainsaws in the jungle, sounding an alarm about illegal logging, have quelled.

“We cleared around 1,000 square acres [around the new conservation post at Caracol], all around so the military can have a good view of anyone coming in the area,” Morris said.

He said that they had also built additional quarters for the 6 tourism police officers stationed there; but with the new conservation post, BDF soldiers will be on-site around-the-clock, with rotations of staff every few months. A police officer is also attached to the BDF team, he said.

“We have learnt our lesson,” said Morris, adding that it is unfortunate that we lost Conorquie. He emphasized that, “We can’t afford to make those mistakes any more…”

So, there will now be beefed-up patrols in the reserve area which spans roughly 10,000 acres of land with at least 5 dozen major archaeological sites which have been constantly looted by Guatemalans, Morris told us.

“For us, it’s a relief. In the jungle, anything can happen,” he said, noting that more constant military presence over the past 10 months or so has already yielded tangible results.

“Guatemalans used to come and harass our rangers. That has ceased,” he said.

In early 2014, they established another conservation post at Xunantunich, very close to the border, because there was an urgent need to fight problematic incursions in that area and there was constant robbing of tourists by Guatemalans who were coming freely across the border.

The next conservation post is to be established at El Pilar, which straddles the Belize-Guatemala border near Bullet Tree, Cayo. Morris said the design for the post there is complete, and if the weather permits, they will push to have it completed before year-end.

Conorquie’s death triggered a security review of the various archaeological sites within a few miles of the border.

Morris said that this review revealed that, “They were very, very lacking and so [authorities] decided to work with National Security and figure out the best way to deal with this issue.” Morris noted that two more conservation posts, to be manned by BDF, will be established in Chiquibul, at Cebada and Caballo, and IA will assist with building them.

Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), which co-manages the Chiquibul National Park, told Amandala today they have now found a good location for the conservation post at South Cebada, north of the Rio Blanco Conservation Post, which they hope to build by the end of the year, but they still have to find a location for the Caballo site.

Manzanero said that since the inauguration of the conservation post at Valentin some months ago—which Guatemalans attempted to torch while under construction—they have noticed a significant drop in illegal logging activities. He said that efforts by CONAP (the Spanish acronym for the National Council of Protected Areas of Guatemala), as well as the presence of more FCD rangers on the ground could have also contributed to the fall in illegal logging in the national park.

He noted, however, that the FAO, which has provided funding for surveillance and enforcement activities there, has warned that they should remain on the alert, since there could be a resurgence in illegal activities.

Manzanero told us that whereas illegal logging has declined, there is still a problem with illegal gold panning. He said that the Guatemalans have shifted their operations to more remote parts of the Ceibo Chico, and there is no indication how much gold is being stolen from Belize.

Whereas the economic losses caused by these activities can be significant, Manzanero is also concerned about the environmental and health hazards that could stem from gold panning in the area, which feeds other water systems in the country.

There is also the problem of illegal milpa farming by Guatemalans on the Belize side of the border, even inside the protected area zone. Manzanero said that within the next two weeks, they plan to conduct a surveillance exercise to determine to what extent the 92 clearings burned by Guatemalans for milpa farming on the Belize side of the border earlier this year have been cultivated.


Caracol’s Own Conservation Post Opened

When Special Constable Danny Conorquie was killed by Guatemalan border bandits at the Caracol Mayan Site in late 2014 - it left a wound on the national psyche: the first lawman in decades to be killed by Guatemalans while on duty.

A few weeks later, Government commenced construction of the Caracol Conservation Post inside the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, a facility where a regiment of BDF Soldiers could be posted as a rapid response to defend the site.

And now, today, almost 10 months after Danny's murder, the Government officially opened the frontier conservation post for operations. 7News was there for that ceremony, and we got the chance to see it for the first time. Daniel Ortiz has the story:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
The Caracol Conservation Post, it's a new facility that now makes up a part of the Caracol National Park.

It was built with the intention of increasing the security of the Tourism site, and to address the concerns raised by the Tourism Police Unit about the dangers posed by cross-border bandits.

The finished facility is as a result of a collaboration between government agencies under the Ministries of National Security and Tourism & Culture.

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. - Minister of Tourism and Culture
"The successful opening of this project is the result of a year of hard work and cooperation between partners, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation, the Ministry of National Security, NICH, the Ministry of Finance and the Forestry Department."

"It is hope that we placed more infrastructure and presence in this area that louting, pillaging and exploitation of national forest and heritage will seized. It is also very important to address the tourism aspect of this particular initiative. Safety of our visitors is also of utmost concern and this conservation post will go a long way in making our guest, our tour operators, our tours guides and our valued partners to feel much safer, knowing that our security forces are nearby to assist in any way possible."

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"It's in deed a pleasure for me to be here this morning, joining with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation and NICH in the opening of this very important conservation post."

"The Ministry of National Security is happy to be a part of this collaborative effort, that will see us provide more security for the Caracol site, its visitors and staff and employees."

But, while it will better secure the Caracol Park, slain Lawman Danny Conorquie will not enjoy that benefit. The Government freely acknowledges that, and the fact that his murder fast tracked this facility.

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. - Minister of Tourism and Culture
"It is very difficult to not mention the unfortunate loss of one of our own Tourism Police Special Constable Danny Conorquie last year. I would like to humbly ask all of us to stand and take a moment of silence to honor and pay respect to the life of Mr. Danny Conorquie and to all those men and women whom have served and continue to serve our country with honor."

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"It is timely and perhaps certainly a little too late, in terms of what the Minister had said earlier about the death of Danny Conorquie. But it is a step in the right direction to protect those that now come to this facility."

So, What are the capabilities of the building?

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. - Minister of Tourism and Culture
"The facility includes sleeping quarters, showers, bathrooms, radio and other amenities."

Dr. John Morris - Director, Institute of Archaeology
"It is design to house the members of the Belize Defence Force, so that they can patrol the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, the site core and also the surrounding areas, because remember that we are very close to the Guatemalan border and we have always had people coming across interfering with our operations here at the reserve or looting and damaging some of the sites in the reserve. And so with the BDF out here and with the Tourism Police and other Police constables, we have beefed up the security measures here to prevent all of those kinds of things and we have seen a very sizeable decreased in movement of people from across the border within this area."

"It's a living quarters, but it also have a radio room and so the BDF are able to communicate back and forth with their base and also too for us, to be able to communicate with our rangers via radio and telephone. So it's designed for that. You can see the antenna on top of the building there."

36 soldiers will make tours out at this conservation post. They will be able to make an immediate and rapid response to any incidents of national security. Back up can be quickly called in, if that is necessary

Lt. Col. Luis - Acting Deputy Commander, BDF
"We've forecasted the amount of personnel, the amount of soldiers that will be used to man this. So, it shouldn't be a problem, because currently we have enough man power to provide three proper rotations."

Daniel Ortiz
"In each rotation, how many soldiers at one time?"

Lt. Col. Luis - Acting Deputy Commander, BDF
"At any one time we will have 12 soldiers and these 12 soldiers will be complimented with 4 personnel from the special patrol unit of the police department, as well as one person from the tourism police unit."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir, talk to us about the abilities to respond when situations arises if they ever do?"

Lt. Col. Luis - Acting Deputy Commander, BDF
"We again, a part from the personnel who will be manning this CP, we have personnel on standby at 30 minutes to move and also at 1 hour notice to move."

That will be important because Caracol gets an average of 15,000 to 20,000 visitors annually.

Dr. Allan Moore - Associate Director, Institute of Archaeology
"Statistics has it that in 2014 we had approximately 10,787 visitors - paying visitors. Belizeans alike foreigners. Of those 7,731 were foreign visitors, paying visitors."

NICH staff built the conservation post for a total cost of 100 thousand dollars.

Apart from providing security for the Caracol National Park, this facility serves another strategic purpose. It will assist the police, soldiers and the Friends for Conservation and Development to protect the larger Caracol area.

Here's how that will work:

Lt. Col. Luis - Acting Deputy Commander, BDF
"This CP, it will enhanced our operational capabilities. As the Minister stated, it will provide comfort to the soldier and I use the word comfort very cautiously, because not too comfort to be relaxed. We will be comfortable. The physical structure, the building will provide protection from the elements, it will give the soldier the environment to have adequate rest. We all can appreciate if we don't have enough rest, you will be unable to performed effectively, so certainly this building that we received earlier, it will enhanced our operational capability. It will provide an atmosphere for the soldiers and an environment that they can rest and in so doing, they will be able to react much better as we have done in the past."

Channel 7


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