A group of ten concerned Belizeans going by the name Belize Territorial Volunteers made their way on their first border monitoring expedition on Thursday, April 19, and returned on Saturday, April 21, reporting a range of illegal incursions inside the Columbia River Forest Reserve by persons believed to be Guatemalans.
Speaking with Amandala from the Toledo village of San Jose, today, Monday, Maya farmer Valentino Tzub, who is also a former tour guide, said that the garbage left behind told the tale – that Guatemalans have been coming very deep inside Belize’s forests to log rosewood, cedar and mahogany; but what was more alarming, Tzub indicated, was evidence of survey lines marking out plots of Belizean territory in an area not traversed by Belizeans.
Wil Maheia, leader of the expedition, told Amandala likewise. He recounted that, after their overnight camp near Edwards Central, they went towards the Garcia farm, near to the BDF outpost of Machaquilha, and surprisingly close to that location they saw several trails that appear to have been used by xatéros.
These were fresh tracks, said Maheia. He said that they also saw refuse such as Guatemalan beer cans and lumber cuttings, which, according to the map and GPS readings, were found 6 to 8 kilometers (4 to 5 miles) from the border, inside Belizean territory.
Back in June 2010, our newspaper had reported on community concerns about Guatemalans who had gone as far as Tzub’s village, where horses were reported stolen amid a wave of illegal incursions to extract lumber, poach wildlife, and even pillage archaeological artifacts. They had also reported illegal clearings and burnings inside the forest reserve.
An appeal was made to Belize Defence Force authorities to boost presence in the area, but the BDF told our newspaper in July 2010 that, “An intense search of the area was conducted and no one was found... To date, the BDF have not encountered any illegal activity as claimed.”
Almost two years later today, the 10-member volunteer patrol is reporting a fresh array of illegal activities – apparently both incursions and encroachments well inside the border.
Maheia told us that they saw survey lines, probably for future farming activities, a development which, he said, definitely needs some urgent attention.
The BDF patrols have to pass these areas to get to their outpost, said Maheia. “I don’t see how they could miss it.”
He told us that over their 3-day venture, they didn’t see any security presence.
Maheia told us that his report is directed to the general public and security personnel.
“It is important that security and forestry personnel pay attention,” he urged.
KREM’s Ras Pitter, who went on the expedition with his colleague YaYa Marin-Coleman, said the Toledo jungle is an impressive, beautiful landscape. He, too, told us he saw signs of illegal activities.
“It was all over,” he said, adding that he saw huge cuts of lumber “spoiling” on the ground.
Tzub said the journey was 22 kilometers (14 miles) away from his home village.
He told us that whereas he expected to find evidence of illegal activities, he finds the extent of it surprising.
Especially lamenting the illegal logging, he said: “If I start cutting lumber around my village, the Forest Department and the Police Department will chase me and I will have to pay royalty. Aliens [inside the reserve] are doing it and pay nothing to government.”
The human and horse footprints, said Tzub, point to unchecked daily activities, and he questioned why the Belize security forces have not been reporting on these illegal activities, as he pondered the possibility of some sort of collusion.
He said that the Coke bottles, cans from beer and biscuit plastic that litter deep inside that portion of Belize’s forest say “made in Guatemala”.
With no Belizean civilian presence in the area, Tzub said, the aliens keep coming. Amandala