Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) in Belize has teamed up with Balam Association of Guatemala in combating the territory war that is currently ongoing in the Chiquibul Forest. The Chiquibul Forest Reserve landscapes goes beyond Belize’s boarder into Guatemala which then becomes Montas Mayas Biosphere Reserve. Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development spoke about some of the agreements made with Balam in order to promote conservation and protection of the two reserves.
“The first one being Associacion Balam that we have here today, Byron Castellanos; he is the Executive Director of this NGO that has been operating in Peten for quite some years but the difference about Balam now is that instead of just working in the northern part of Peten they basically have moved their efforts over the last four years into the southern part of Peten which is technically our main area of target and what we call ground zero of incursions into Belize. The second agreement that we have is Balam, FCD and the Commonwealth of Communities of South Peten that includes five of the municipal Alcaldes and the municipalities across on what we would determine as the southern region of Peten. It is started from Melchor De Mencos all the way down to Halacte. Under that agreement basically there are two objectives that are very much important. The first one is that we believe that there is on ecosystem and two flags, Belize and Guatemala and in order to maintain this ecosystem we have to combine our efforts together in terms of looking at that landscape from a more regional level and the second objective was basically to look at the reduction of conflict in the communities along the adjacency zone. So those are basically the two main objectives of such an agreement. The third one is two of the research stations which is Las Cuevas Research Station in Belize that we manage and then Balam also has a research station across in Guatemala. The fourth one , a very important one; we have forged a binational alliance over the last four years with Alcaldes from both Belize and Guatemala for one main purpose; protection of the watersheds that we also share. In the Chiquibul and the Chiquibul water starts from the mountains of Belize, goes into Guatemala. The force wants to observe and protect the liquid that is coming out of the Chiquibul and basically Guatemalan Communities.
There have been numerous reports of apprehension of illegal Guatemalans who extract xate leaves and gold from Belizean Soil. Bryon Castellanos, Executive Director of Balam, through translator, Claudia Orants spoke on some of the reasons there are so many incursions into the Chiquibul Forest.
CLAUDIA ORANTS (Translator for Byron Castellanos)
“Abandoned by the Government of Guatemala for over 50 years now the forest in this part of Guatemala is significantly disappearing. By now populations are mainly indigenous, the population has a direct influence in the Belizean territory, the main causes that promote the flux of people coming into Belize are poverty and organized crime. This organized finances, these poor communities to trespass the border and come into Belizean territory to extract the natural resources.”
FCD and Balam have been working on an environmental strategy which is a more tactical force. Orants translated.
CLAUDIA ORANTS (Translator for Byron Castellanos)
“We are working on a environmental security strategy focused in protecting the forest in Guatemala and to reduce the illegal trafficking of resources from Belizean territory into Guatemala. We do joint patrolling with the government, we work with judges, we work with the government and this graphic shows the different wood products that we have confiscated.”
Other than tactical combats there are projects that been created mostly for the Guatemalan to decrease incursions. These projects have benefited over two hundred families. They are not funded by the Guatemala Government but international counterparts such as the UK, European Union and US Government.
“Presently we are working in the promotion of productive projects in Guatemalan communities, this person here used to come in Belize to extract Xate, now we are helping them to produce Xate in Guatemala. Guatemalan community people come in Belize to extract gold and fauna to produce sell and eat because they are poor. We are working with community people now to plan different products so they can reinforce their food security, we call them agroforest systems.”
And while some may have the impression that Belizeans do not go into Guatemala illegally, Castellanos says, we do but with interest other than gold and xate leaves.
“Of course it happens but different interests motivate them, commerce for example bringing products and not paying taxes for example that happens every day and it has been happening for over 50 years. That is why one of the agreements signed by Guatemala and the Belizean governments has to do with commerce that is why we need to organize the commercial activity between the both countries for those who make the exportations and importations illegally pay their taxes because that contraband is what one of the sources that finances other kinds of illegal activities that have to do with the forest too. There are simply illegal economies, we need to promote the legal commerce between both countries that would be the best of both worlds for Belize and Guatemala.”
Both organizations have signed an extended Agreement of Cooperation for the period 2016-2021.