Belize has been suffering losses in its rainforest particularly along the southern border as there have been numerous reports of incursions taking place that have resulted in Guatemalans stripping the environment of its natural resources. Those resources range from xate leaves to gold and from rosewood trees to marine life. These are activities that have been reported time and time again and have seen outrage from the Belizean public as the perception is that our diplomats and Government are allowing Guatemalans to do as they feel fit on our side of the border. In an interview with Ambassador Stuart Leslie from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we queried about what is being done on the diplomatic front to taper the situation of the Guatemalan incursions.
“We have established, Renee, there is no negotiation going on at this time; negotiations ended at the signing of the Special Agreement. What we have is confidence building measures and we have set up what is called a joint commission and that joint commission produced what we saw in December, the 13 agreements on confidence building measures; one of them or the most important one is the one on the environment. That is the one you are more concerned about, encroachments into Belize one of them is contact between our security forces to try and ease the stress on the border. The reason why I believe and I am sure that many of us believe why the Guatemalans are coming across the border has absolutely nothing to do with a dispute, it has to do with the economic advantages on this side of the border that they have a forest there that they can come in and cut illegally and they can find our biodiversity and so they are looking to make life better so there is a humanitarian aspect to it. We have to educate, we have to work with our counterparts in Guatemala and we do it through wonderful organizations like FCD, Friends for Conservation who is co-managing with the Government, the Chiquibul National Forest … and we have to support FCD and you all support FCD when they had their telethon; thousands of Belizeans donated monies and so one of the positive things is that FCD has been able to do with that, is put more rangers in the park to manage the park. Whenever the BDF find Guatemalans illegally in the Chiquibull national forest we have a special protocol on how we deal with that problem and we take them back on their side of the border after they have completed their legal process here in Belize for illegal entry. So we have to continue to work and every time we find we inform the OAS office, we inform the Guatemalans and we have a process that we’ve set out in how to deal with those illegal incursions, the environmental problem is a real issue. All Belizeans should be concerned with what is happening there. I hope to share with you some satellite images of the amount of deforestation that has happened on the Guatemalan side of the border and how important it is for both sides to make sure that that doesn’t happen on our side of the border and so yes we continue to work closely with the Guatemalans to try and address the problems that are happening on the border.
Things had gotten volatile in early October last year when Belizean soldiers were confronted by an estimated twenty five Guatemalans, who subsequently threatened to burn down the outpost that was being constructed at the time at Camp Valentin. It reached a peak about a week before this confrontation, when Special Constable was shot and killed on September 25, 2014 by men believed to be Guatemalans who were trespassing in Belize.