Features — 17 February 2015 — by Adele Ramos
Authorities must remain vigilant on Chiquibul

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Feb. 16, 2015–With the murder of Special Police Constable Danny Conorquie at Caracol in September 2014, there has been a strengthening of police and military presence in the Caracol zone of western Belize, and Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends of Conservation and Development (FCD), the organization which co-manages the Chiquibul National Park, said that this has dissuaded a lot of “incursionists” along that zone. However, he stresses that Belizean authorities still have to remain attentive.

“We have to maintain our boldness. We have to maintain our strength out there. We have to be as tactical and strategic, and we have to always be vigilant and demonstrate that we, as a country, are serious about our stability in that area,” Manzanero said.

“With all the eyes being put towards the border, the Chiquibul and Caracol zone, we feel that there was much more attention [paid] to [the] zone, and the public became much more responsive and wanted to become more aware of what is happening there,” he pointed out.

The Conorquie murder was a clear wake-up call for Belizean authorities, but Manzanero says that it ought not to require a fatal incident to keep the effort ongoing.

“The problem is very complex and the solutions have to be complex and they have to be ongoing. I hope we can maintain that effort,” he urged.

Manzanero said that they have increased the number of FCD rangers this year from 6 to 18; and those persons will help to man the new conservation posts in the protected area, as well as a bigger base at Tapir Camp, from where they will continue to launch patrols and effect improved surveillance. He feels more confident that they can cover more ground with the expanded team.

Chiquibul exploited for gold copy
For quite a few weeks, the forests have been silent, but a flurry of illegal activity could soon occur in the area with the progression of the dry season, he warned.

Currently, the FCD is engaged in the Nohoch Ch’en expedition with Mountain Equestrian Trails. This expedition features the exploration of the massive Chiquibul cave system and the sink hole, which Manzanero described as a very sensitive ecosystem – but one which he said has been the target of illegal activity. In fact, the FCD director notes that that there is a clear human footprint in that area, particularly near the Belize-Guatemala border, and some Maya monuments there have been looted extensively.

Over the wider Chiquibul forest, there has been a resurgence of illegal extraction of the xate palm, and Manzanero warns that it could get worse the closer we come to the Christian observance of Lent. He notes that this is part of the usual cycle of illegal activities in the area, and those activities also extend to illegal gold panning.

Manzanero is hopeful that a better framework for the protection of those resources will be put in place with the signing in 2014 of the 13 agreements between Belize and Guatemala, particularly the bi-national agreement on the protection of the environment and the sustainable use of resources.

“We hope that in reality, we can have that working mechanism in place as soon as possible,” said Manzanero, adding that he hopes to see the establishment of the bi-national commission to bolster the collaborative work which the FCD has been doing over the years with counterpart NGOs in Guatemala, such as Asociación Balam.

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