The El Pilar Archeological Reserve consists of 5,000 acres and on 120 acres, lies 25 plazas and hundreds of buildings. El Pilar translates into Water Basin, is a unique site that that sits near the Belize-Guatemala border. Its located 7.5 miles north of San Ignacio. Over the years, bandits from Guatemala have successfully evaded capture. In May, 2002 ten tourists were robbed while on tour in the area. In December, 2002 a Guatemalan National Alex Santos was arrested and charged with rape and robbery for the September 1st, 2002 assault of tourists on the road to El Pilar. There was another incident on Sunday afternoon but no one was injured. Four tourists were robbed at the El Pilar Maya Archaeological site. The visitors came from the USA and Canada, one of the biggest markets for overnight tourism in Belize. ACP Joseph Myvette, the Head of the National Crimes Investigation Branch said that there is usually a patrol by security forces in the area.

ACP Joseph Myvette: On yesterday’s date sometime around 12:30 PM San Ignacio Police received a call and proceeded to the El Pilar Mayan Archaeological site which is located some 7 miles SouthWest of Bullet Tree Village where upon arrival they met one Teddy Waite 39 years Tour Guide who at the time was accompanied by four tourists: two Americans and two Canadians. He reported to the Police that sometime during the course of him doing his story he then visited a shed which is on the compound of the archaeological site where two hispanic males were seen sitting. As a result they were approached by these two hispanic males: one of who was armed with what appears to be a shotgun while the other was armed with a handgun. Those persons demanded money and as a result the tourist were robbed of monies and other personal belongings thereafter the two hispanic male persons then made good their escape in a trail that leads towards the Belize Guatemala border. There has always been security in that area, a joint Police BDF composite patrol has always been in that vicinity on patrol.

Reporter: Sir were these patrols active at that precise moment when that incident happened?

ACP Joseph Myvette: I do not believe they were but I know that from time to time those partrols are based in that area.

Myvette said the bandits left in a direction leading towards Guatemala.

LOVEFM


Bandits Prey On El Pilar

El Pilar is a Maya site in the Cayo District that runs right along the Belize Guatemala border. And for years it has been a security risk - because bandits from Guatemala slip across to the Belize side - rob tourists and then escape to the other side. It looks like that's what happened on Sunday afternoon. The Head of National Crimes Investigation told us more:...

ACP Joseph Myvette, Head, NCIB
"On yesterday's date sometime around 12:20PM `San Ignacio police received a call and proceeded to the El Pilar Mayan Site which is located some 7 miles southwest of Bullet Tree Village. Where upon arrival they met one Teddy Waight, 39 years old tour guide who at the time was accompanied by 4 tourists; 2 Americans and 2 Canadians. He reported to the police that sometime during the course of him doing his tour, he then visited a shed which is on the compound of the Site where 2 hispanic males were seen sitting. As a result they were approached by these 2 hispanic males, one of whom was armed with appears to be a shotgun, whilst the other was armed with a handgun. Those persons demanded money and a result the tourists were robbed of monies and other personal belongings. Thereafter the 2 hispanic male persons then made good their escape in a trial that leads towards the Belize/Guatemalan border."

Reporter
"Is it believe that the perpetrators of this particular crime are from across the border in Guatemala?"

ACP Joseph Myvette, Head, NCIB
"I would not venture to say that, other to say that was the direction they left."

Now, this is not the first time this has happened at El Pilar - in fact, in 2014, tour guides begged us to visit so that they could bring attention to this flaring security risk. Here's what two of them said:..

Patrick Bradley, Cayo Tour Guide
"We are in one of the main temple in El Pilar, the site that have Belize right here. Right beyond the site across the building is Guatemala and we have the same situation when we come to do a tour in Belize without any security, without any kind of access without any help in the area. We are always on our won with the tourists and Guatemala is next door and at any time poachers could come in and have a way with us."

Joe Awe - President, Cayo Tour Guides Association
"We have conceded El Pilar to the banditos, nobody goes to El Pilar because we are very scared of going to El Pilar."

In recent years, a cross border peace park has been proposed for El Pilar.

The Problems At El Pilar

Earlier on in the news we told you about the Sunday afternoon robbery of some tourists at El Pilar. In 2014 Daniel Ortiz went there and found a web of security issues with bandits on both sides of the border:

The El Pilar Archeological Site, It's a Maya Ruin just about 11 miles outside of San Ignacio Town. The problem is that this Temple Site sits both in Belizean and Guatemalan Territory.You can climb on top of one of the ancient ruins, look out in the distance, and see Guatemala.

The site sits on the Belize/Guatemala Border, and so, it is exposed to Guatemalan activity, especially armed bandits.Tour guides want to bring their international guests, but with danger lurking right across the border some 25 minutes away, they're slowly giving up on El Pilar as a viable destination.

Patrick Bradley - Cayo Tour Guide

"We are in one of the main temple in El Pilar, the site that have Belize right here. Right beyond the site across the building is Guatemala and we have the same situation when we come to do a tour in Belize without any security, without any kind of access without any help in the area. We are always on our won with the tourists and Guatemala is next door and at any time poachers could come in and have a way with us."

Jorge De Leon - Cayo Tour Guide

"Most tour operators over the past 5 years approximately have removed El Pilar from their packages."

Joe Awe - President, Cayo Tour Guide Association

"We have conceded El Pilar to the banditos, nobody goes to El Pilar because we are very scared of going to El Pilar."

Jorge De Leon

"When we come here we run the risk of being robbed. This year there's a gentleman that has a little farm not far from the site, his place was robbed. They workers, the cooks were all tied up. They had solar panels, they destroyed all that and when tourists come over here we also run the risk of being robbed. There's fellow guides, year and a half ago approximately that he was robbed, he lost is binoculars, he lost money, all the jewellery, all the cameras that the tourists had, all of that was taken from them."

That's unfortunate because the El Pilar is visually stunning and culturally rich. It has the ambience of a location which has many secrets left to be discovered, which is part of the package offered to tourists who've had the opportunity to visit:

Jorge De Leon

"When you come to a site like this you want to see building that are partly developed and here you can see where the roots and the trees are wrapping and holding everything together. This is a part of the experience the tourists want to see, they want to come to a site and experience that India Jones type of experience, you want to come to place and you want to feel like you're the first one there and this is what El Pilar offers you. It gives you from astronomy to palace complexes and then it gives you that adrenaline rush of being so close to the border thinking that something might happen. But you're wishing nothing happens and that's what we need to secure. Give these people that experience but make it safe for them. People are looking for that rush but we need to give them that rush without being endangered."

There are signs that the site has been looted – as evidenced by this trench.

Patrick Bradley

"That's a looter's trench, the looters come in and dig up the site and find what ever artefact they can find and take out anything from Belize without nobody knowing what they have. They can take maybe the best of the site would have, jewellery and jades and so forth. Nobody has access to it, but the people who come from Guatemala loot the place and mess up the site and destroy our temples in Belize."

Daniel Ortiz

"How do we know that it's Guatemalans? Can't it also be Belizeans that are doing this?"

Patrick Bradley

"Belizeans, have much to do on their little farm. The time that they have to come here and dig, they have to have food and time to waste. The little that they have, they try to make it on their little farm and get things going. People from over yonder have it worse than us, so they will take the time out to come in here because what they get from here, could be so much for them over yonder."

This entrance was also created by looters, who did not realise that they were venturing into an Ancient Mayan Palace room.

The archaeologists who excavated the site did their best to preserve its structural integrity.

And that's all part of the design of El Pilar, partial excavation to allow the natural protection of the overgrown forest to shield the Mayan site from the elements.

The protection that the tour guides are asking for is against the human elements, looters, border bandits and anyone venturing in the park for illegal activities.

But, currently, there are only 4 Park Rangers from NICH who stay and maintain the park. The rangers stick around in pairs and take 2 week shifts. They certainly aren't even as armed as the Tourism Police Unit's officers.

Longino Salam - Park Ranger, El Pilar

"Last year we did have immigrants coming here harvesting Chaya, that's the main thing that they do here, apart from illegal logging."

Jorge De Leon

"Coming to a site with security, that's not the way to secure the site. Because that just puts the tourists and puts the guide at risk because if i'm coming in a vehicle and my security, the police, is with me and if somebody wants to rob us, and they jump out of the woods with guns and if they see somebody with a gun, they're going to shoot. So I think the best thing to do is secure the site, so that when people come here, it's safe. So that is one of the things we're asking and I think part of us bring you guys here is just to show you the reality of what is going on in Belize. Our authorities need to focus on securing the sites, adequate security and training the rangers as well as the tourism police and people who are going to be here. As tour guides, we're the ones selling the site. When some comes and we bring them here, these people will go back and they will talk about this place, then they will send more people. But when it's not safe, not secure, the first that will happen is, hey Belize is beautiful but I will not take that risk to go there."

Longino Salam

"The difficulty out here is that we are by ourselves, that's a high risk for us. We don't have patrols coming in daily, they military do links up here twice a month. We are close to this border, like 25 minutes from the border."

Again, that story was from 2014, and, we gather, with this weekend's robbery, that the security issues have persisted.

Channel 7