Chiquibul Forest Shootout Between BDF & Guatemalan Loggers

[Linked Image] [Linked Image] For a one and half years now we've been telling you about the increasing encroachments in the Chiquibul forest by Guatemalan loggers. Years ago, Xate used to be the main thing Guatemalans went into the Chiquibul for - but that trade has died down - and now Guatemalan loggers are making incursions as deep as 12 kilometers into Belizean territory for precious Mahogany and Cedar trees.

And yesterday it came to a head when there was an exchange of gunfire between illegal loggers and the Belizean armed forces in the Chiquibul Forest. The end result is that - according to the BDF Commander General Dario Tapia, - one Guatemalan was grazed by gunfire - and he is now in the custody of San Ignacio police.

Here's what happened. Yesterday afternoon at 4:00 a patrol known as the Chiquibul Forest Joint Enforcement Unit which combines Forestry/BDF/Police and Friends for Conservation and Development Rangers conducted an Anti-Illegal Logging Operation about 1mile from the Caracol Mayan Site.

They came upon a pair of illegal Guatemalan Loggers, who were using chainsaws to cut mahogany trees and had already set 56 pieces of mahogany and cedar to take back to Guatemala.

Whilst the Belize law enforcement team was speaking to two illegal loggers, they heard the voice of a young person shouting "NEGRITO" - which is a derogatory term common in Latin countries for a black person - sometimes used by Guatemalans to refer to Belizeans.

And just as they heard that voice, gun shots were fired towards the law enforcement team form the bushes. As the team scrambled for cover, the two loggers and a child then dashed towards some other men that were in the bushes and escaped into the dense forest. According to the BDF Commander, the security team returned fire.

When they checked in the bushes, they came across a 20 year old Guatemalan who identified himself as Jairo Orlando Ariel Motta of La Rejoya Village, -which is one of the border communities in Guatemala. Also found in the immediate area were eight horses, machetes, gasoline and other items. Jairo Orlando Ariel Motta was detained and escorted to the San Ignacio Police Station. Again, The BDF Commander says he was grazed - but it is not confirmed that he was injured by a BDF bullet - it may have been a case of friendly fire form his own crew.

Now the incident is a flashpoint on what has long been a troubling issue in the area for some time. Rafael Manzanero of Friends For conservation and Development today told us the incursions by illegal loggers are really getting, quote "out of hand." He calls it a massacre of the forest and notes with dread that they are now operating with impunity 11 or 12 kilometers within Belize - when we visited two years ago - the loggers were at the 3 kilometer mark.

He says the extraction of mahogany and cedar causes a far greater impact than Xate and likens it to "a massacre of the Chiquibul Forest." The logging operations are far more well financed and operated than the Xatero operations - but usually the enforcement teams get there after the logwood is extracted - this time they found them on the scene and a firefight ensued.

Live and let live