CHIQUIBUL FOREST RESERVE, Cayo District, Wed. Apr. 20, 2016–Guatemala illegally claims the entire Sarstoon River, in direct contravention of the 1859 Treaty that clearly defines the border between the two countries as being in the mid-channel of the Sarstoon and a direct line out to sea, and now, Guatemala farmers and poachers continue to impact the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, in the Cayo District, by clearing plots for farming as far as 45 kilometers into Belizean territory.
The Guatemalans are boldly pushing forward in activities involving illegal logging and wildlife depletion, as well as the looting of cultural artifacts, all of which are negatively impacting the Chiquibul.
Persistent reports to us are that presently, large areas of the forests are cleared for milpa farming, by fire, and that the practice is destroying the habitats of many plants and animals, and thus threatening the ecosystem within the forest. About 27 milpa farms were located in the Chiquibul in 2015, and about 3,126 hectares of tropical forest have disappeared. The financial loss for Belize as a result of this, is estimated at about $1 million annually.
Amandala visited the Chiquibul today to see what was happening and saw extensive destruction of the forest reserve. Huge acres of land were cleared and burnt, and smoke was still rising from some of the burnt areas. Cows and horses were also seen in some areas, brought in by Guatemala farmers to graze in Chiquibul.
Also, families are growing food crops in the Chiquibul illegally.
Director of the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), which performs the role of caretaker of the Chiquibul National Park, told Amandala in an interview that the trend of the incursions is increasing and is of great concern, since the farmers are changing the landscape of the Chiquibul, and left unchecked, the reserve will become an agricultural belt for the benefit of Guatemalan farmers. Also, since the forest is being impacted, leaving large areas exposed to the elements, erosions will begin to take its toll.
Manzanero said that although the BDF is conducting long range patrols in Chiquibul, they need additional manpower on the ground to stop some of the activities, such as illegal logging, before they occur. Manzanero said that they are given limited assistance by PACT (Protected Areas Conservation Trust), but they still face many challenges which call for additional resources, such as when their vehicles break down and require repairs.
Manzanero expressed the hope that the Government and other agencies would look at the work they are doing and finance the effort for the betterment of the country.
Amandala asked if lands in the Chiquibul will be given out to Belizeans for farming, and to live on, but Manzanero replied that that would never be considered, because the Chiquibul is too important and it is the source of water that meets the needs of a large amount of the population in the Cayo District and in other areas.
Chiquibul is home to many endangered species of birds, such as the Scarlet Macaw. It is estimated that only about 200 birds are still living in the wild in Belize. The birds are captured at a young age to be sold as pets in the illegal pet trade market. Poaching accounts for 27% of the breeding failures in the Scarlet Macaw population.
On the black market, the price of a Scarlet macaw is about US$2,000. There are also gold deposits in the Ceibo Chico area, where the Guatemalans pan for gold illegally.
Rafael Manzanero said that since Valentine Camp has been built and is overseeing the northern part of Chiquibul, there is now a shift, and the Guatemalans are now moving south ,where they continue their invasion of the Chiquibul.
He said that a base needs to be built at Sebada in the Chiquibul to control the southern area of the Forest Reserve. He said that the base should have been built already, because now, there are major problems with the incursions..
Manzanero further explained that there are great difficulties in taking building material to Sebada to build the camp because of the unforgiving terrain. He has expressed hopes that the US Embassy would assist by providing one of the Chinook helicopters that can transport heavy loads to the Sebada site.