The Chiquibul Forest, which includes the Chiquibul National Park, has continued to be the central focus of conservation efforts led by Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), and the FCD has been successful at getting their counterparts in Guatemala to pursue bi-national efforts to help stave off what FCD’s Executive Director Raphael Manzanero calls “a trans-boundary environmental crisis” facing the Chiquibul.
FCD met with Guatemala’s Division for the Protection of Nature (DIPRONA) on March 13 and 14 along with Ricardo Avila, municipal alcalde from Melchor de Mencos.
The six officers, who included the DIPRONA Head of Division from Guatemala City, met on March 13 with representatives of the Belize Forest Department, the Belize Defence Force, the Police Department, and the Immigration Department, who explained their work.
Meanwhile, FCD underscored the crisis facing the Chiquibul.
The next day, the visitors had a chance to see for themselves, when they went to the Chiquibul and Caracol Archaeological Reserve, to survey the evidence of illegal logging, xate trails and the farms along the western flank of the Chiquibul forest.
Coming out of the two days of meetings, DIPRONA officials have agreed on the importance of having a closer communication system among regulatory agencies from Belize; bi-national patrols and intelligence sharing to counter illegal activities by Guatemalans inside the Chiquibul.
FCD reciprocated and sent four of its staff to Poptun, Peten, on March 21, for a one-day workshop titled, “An Environmental Security Strategy with a bi-national focus: Chiquibul-Maya Mountains and South Peten.”
This entailed formulating a strategy, pursuing collaboration, and designing and implementing a short-term action plan which contributes to the strengthening of environmental governance in Southeast Peten.
Following the workshop, the parties identified two hotspot target areas: the Carrizal area near the Colombia River Forest Reserve, and La Rejoya near the Caracol Archaeological Reserve.
These were identified as the main trafficking routes for many illegal activities, ranging from illegal logging to poaching and extraction of non-timber forest products, according to Manzanero.
The workshop was led by Asociación Balam with support from the US Department of State and the US Department of the Interior.
Immediately following this meeting, a two-day workshop led by FCD was held at the Las Cuevas Research Station from March 22-23. The key objective was to consolidate cooperation efforts among institutions from Peten which could help reduce the pillaging of the Chiquibul forest.
According to the FCD, a total of 10 institutions were included: The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, Radio U Tan Kaj, Global Humanitaria, Asociación Balam, Naturaleza para la Vida, Asociacion Montanas Mayas, Derechos Humanos, CONAP, and Mesa de Tierras.
They agreed to three thematic areas of emphasis for the Chiquibul-Maya Mountains Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala: 1) Environmental Security, 2) Community Development (including sustainable livelihood), and 3) Education and Public Awareness.
Support for these bi-national activities came from the OAS Peace Fund and the British Embassy in Belize, while in Guatemala it came from the US Department of State and the US Department of the Interior.