FCD Executive Director Rafael Manzanero also gave us an update on what trends they have been noticing recently in the Chiquibul and some of the improvements they have seen. Manzaenro also discussed the illegal activities in the Vaca Forest reserve that haven't been properly addressed.
Rafael Manzanero - Executive Director, FCD
"The Chiquibul is always a dynamic situation. Chateros, illegal logging is no longer a problem in the Chiquibul, the terminology of chater is just remaining on the minds of Belizeans now and in the vocab of Belizeans but in reality we do not really have any major significant problems with chateros today. We have still have a problem with gold panning however, the minister was able to outline clearly which we are grateful he made that note that cattle ranching is also a problem. We just made an overflight yesterday over the Western border way down by tree tops and what we can see very clearly is that yes there are cattle ranches occurring on the ground. So we hope that it can be addressed, we have it can be contained as soon as possible because this really will be a dramatic problem for Belize. We have been seeing this over the last 2 years and so cattle ranching is still an issue out there. In terms of agricultural farming, as a result of the conservation posts, there have been a reclamation of the territory by some 25% at this point. We still a lot much more work to do but certainly you consider recovery of the the forest, the reclamation of the forest that are returning back again by some 25%. The VACA is exactly 17 kilometer of the Western border, that's around Benque Veijo, all of that area there. What happens there is really one that pretty much has not been documented well but we can tell you clearly that human trafficking, contraband, drugs is occurring there, cattle ranching, a whole handful of things that are taking place there. So this protocol also orients for the joint forces unit to be able to start also doing work in that zone."
Manzanero says they hope to reduce these encroachments by 15 percent in the next 3 years.
Finally A Protocol For Long-Standing Practice
The Ministries of National Security and Forestry along with the Friends for Conservation and Development signed the first ever Chiquibul And Vaca Forests protocol today. The document outlines key details on how to operate in these areas. Now, obviously, operations and patrols have been conducted in these areas that is nothing new, but according to the team, this protocol officially presents a more organized and collaborative approach to protecting these areas. Courtney Weatherburne has more:
Finally, after about a decade, the Chiquibul and Vaca Forests Joint Enforcement Protocol was drafted and signed today.
Rafael Manzanero - Executive Director, FCD
"It has certainly been a big relief now for us to be able to have a signed document that gives us the onus on us and how best to operate as a unit out there in the Chiquibul and now by extension, the Vaca Forest Reserve."
Now, the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) and the BDF along with their partners have done and continue to do intense patrolling and monitoring of these areas specifically the Chiquibul where the Guatemalan encroachments are most rampant. But there have been some shortfalls.
Felix Enriquez - CEO, Defence
"This joint forces protocol has been deemed necessary and the conversation has ensued at the national security council on various occasions when standard operational procedures were not followed or not in place. In many occasions again when we have noticed that perhaps we could have been more prudent in the way we follow procedures and the way we work with each other."
Now all of those procedures are clearly outlined in writing.
Hon. John Saldivar - Minster of National Security
"What this protocol does now is describe all the lines of communication and who is in charge of what and clearly specifies so that these operations can really go on much smoothly and once we have more effective patrolling and working in the area then we believe that will translate into more effective enforcement. People know exactly who is to report to who, what are we supposed to do under what circumstances, depending on what we find out there if it something that has to do with forestry, if it is an immigration matter, if it is a customs matter, all of that is clearly now defined."
"As an NGO, for us it is critical, you know just give it one example, if the police or forestry is not there, this enables us to do that kind of work so we have done it in the past but in reality only internal to that system but now as an official document basically it gives us more the due diligence on how best we can do that kind of work."