BELIZE CITY, Fri. May 22, 2015–Today, we asked head of Belize’s National Security Council, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, what the Government is doing to address the unrelenting encroachments inside the Chiquibul, which have reportedly peaked this year, according to the latest report to our newspaper from Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), which identified 92 clearings for milpa farming on May 8.
Barrow told us that the Government is “not asleep at the wheel.” He did concede that the battle to check the incursions is a battle that Belize has been losing, but added that the country has to keep doing better.
“I would be lying to say that we can stop [the incursions] completely,” he added.
He said that at each monthly Council meeting, the matter of the incursions remains on the table and an update is provided on the situation. He told us that whenever there is a spike in incursions, the Belize Defence Force (BDF) is tasked to do even more, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is tasked to raise the issue with Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within the high ranks of the Belize Defence Force, said Barrow, there is also dialogue with their counterparts on the Guatemala side of the border.
He said that in a recent meeting with the EU Ambassador to Belize, Paola Amadei, the issue did come up and they discussed funding for a sustainable livelihoods project that would help to remove the incentive for Guatemalans to venture into Belize to do illegal farming, hunting, etc.
In its recommendations issued last week, the FCD is urging that more conservation posts be established on the Belize side of the border, particularly where there are hotspots. Barrow said that the Government has committed to having as many of these constructed as possible, but he pointed to the difficult terrain as being one of the impeding factors.
When we reported on the escalation in agricultural incursions in the last edition of Amandala, we also pointed to the difficulty that FCD and the BDF have been facing to find a spot with a good water source for a new conservation post in the Cebada area, where a concentration of incursions have been reported.
We asked Barrow about plans to acquire a helicopter for the BDF, and he told us that the paperwork to allow for the importation of the helicopters, which will be funded by Taiwan but purchased on the US market, has been finalized and a contingent is due to come to Belize in July to train locals. This means that the chopper, which would boost the military’s surveillance and response capacity, should be in-country within a few months, he indicated.