BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Jan. 18, 2018– The lands in the sprawling Chiquibul forest reserves continue to attract Guatemalans who continue to plunder the resources of this sensitive area of Belize by harvesting xaté leaves, panning for gold, hunting protected game, and logging, but now, wealthy Guatemalans have been systematically introducing cattle ranching in the area.
According to the Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) Raphael Manzanero, cattle ranching has been going on in the southern Chiquibul for almost two years now.
Amandala spoke to Idelso Leslie, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would go about dealing with this problem.
Leslie told us that it would be safer if we directed our questions to the CEO of the ministry. However, he advised us that it was better for us to direct our questions to the executive members of the government.
Leslie said that we would first have to verify if the cattle are indeed in Belize. In that case, the Belize Defence Force would have to go out to make that verification. If that is the case and they are within one kilometer of the border, we would ask the Organization of American States (OAS) to do verification for us, because we have an agreement with the OAS and Guatemala.
Leslie explained that anything that is within one kilometer of the border has to be verified by the OAS adjacency zone office. If it is outside the one-kilometer zone, then the government, through its authorities, would have to make a determination if those cattle are to be slaughtered or taken back to Guatemala.
From a foreign affairs perspective, we would have to determine if the cattle are in Belize and what we would do with them, Leslie explained.
“Cattle are a very important resource for the other side, so we would have to inform the relevant authorities in Belize, because they might want to retaliate violently. Sometimes it might have to go to Cabinet for a decision, because of the possible fallout,” said Leslie.
Leslie said that the BDF is the authority that would have to inform the rest of the government, because FCD is not an arm of the government, although it plays a support role for the Forestry Department.
Amandala spoke to Manzanero today, Thursday, in a telephone interview, and he told us that they have been monitoring the situation with the ranches that have cropped up in the Chiquibul for over a year.
We asked Manzanero what have the authorities done since he has been highlighting this development to them.
“Nothing has been done, but there have been discussions in terms of formulating a policy for dealing with the problem and engaging with the OAS,” he said.
“Can you say more or less how many acres of land are being used to raise cattle?”, we asked Manzanero, who said that they have still not been able to go down to the ground to make an assessment.
Manzanero said that it would be the national security agencies of the state that would be responsible for addressing this situation, particularly the BDF and the police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
We made several attempts to speak to someone from the BDF, but our efforts were unsuccessful and at one point, the BDF operator told us we were being transferred to the adjutant, but the call was never connected, and when we tried calling back, the call was not answered.