General — 12 May 2018 — by Courtney Menzies
Guatemalan plantations found in the southern part of the Chiquibul National Park

CAYO DISTRICT, Thurs. May 10, 2018– On May 8, the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) had reported on some plantations belonging to Guatemalan farmers that were found in the South Cebada area of the Chiquibul National Forest. According to Rafael Manzanero, executive director of FCD, the plantations that were found mainly consisted of corn crops, but also included beans and bananas. There were also recent survey lines.

Manzanero stated that it was Guatemalan environmentalists who had alerted them about the illegal activity in the area. He said that they have received information that it is possible that there have been rogue Guatemalan leaders who have told farmers that they can own land in Belizean territory. Manzanero said that the Guatemalan environmentalists are trying to find more information on this, as it puts their local farmers at risk.

Belizean and Guatemalan environmentalists have been working together in order to protect the Chiquibul forest for a long time. Both of them recognize that if the Chiquibul, which forms part of the largest contiguous block of tropical forest north of the Amazon, is destroyed, it will lead to serious water- related problems for both countries.

According to Manzanero, the FCD has already begun taking action. They sent out radio announcements more than two months ago to inform the Guatemalans that if they were caught doing illegal activities, like cattle ranching and farming in the Chiquibul, they could be fined up to $20,000 or go to jail.

The FCD has also informed the leaders of the communities in the area, on the Guatemalan side of the border, to keep on the lookout for false propaganda being spread.

Manzanero said that his organization has been doing an area reconnaissance for some time, and they have observed that some of the areas have been active. He said that they would like to coordinate with the Belize Defence Force (BDF) as well as the police, to increase patrols in the area.

The FCD website states that it is a non-profit, non-governmental organization in the Cayo District, which manages the Chiquibul. It describes the Chiquibul as being a 423,000 expanse of tropical forest which, among its many fantastic resources, houses the largest cave system in Central America, the Caracol Mayan site, and the Chiquibul River which provides water to 40% of Belize’s population.

 It is a near constant battle for the organization to protect the Chiquibul from people who come across the border to slash and burn the forest to make milpas, hunt the wild animals, harvest xate, mine the many streams for gold, and raid the forest for valuable timber.

Funding is one of the FCD’s major problems. There is a lot for the organization to do, and only so much can be done within the constraints of its present budget. In 2014, media houses in Belize came together to raise funds to support the FCD’s initiative to increase the number of rangers who police the Chiquibul. The telethon raised over $300,000.

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