Letters — 21 May 2016
“ … not a problem for brave leaders, and knowledgeable nationals.”

Sun. May 15, 2016

Dear Editor,

National parks should not extend to our international borders.

I’ve heard it said that, “Business is not the good thing or the bad thing. It’s the necessary thing”. To that saying I’ll add, business is the necessary thing, until it clashes with national security. That’s when border closures, boycotts and other economic tools are implemented, and business as usual is revised in exchange for a national good.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) and the National Alliance for Belizean Rights Party (NABR) coalition government 1993 to 1998, established the 65 square miles Sarstoon/Temash National Park in 1994, and redrew the Chiquibul National Park boundary in 1995, such that the Chiquibul National Park is now 414 square miles.

Security-minded individuals and agencies may likely have recommended that the boundary of these two national parks not extend to the international border with Guatemala. But, Belize politicians seem not to be very national security-minded. Belize is not a physical island. Were our politicians national security-minded, Belize’s road network would have been four lanes wide Corozal to Toledo at least twenty years ago; such that emergency services and commerce can get from one end of the nation to the other without much hindrance.

Returning to the national parks along the Belize and Guatemala border, I recommend that a one-mile strip of land between the national parks and the Belize border be de-reserved for Belizean habitation such that roads for commerce and emergency services can serve Belizeans living near the border. Belizeans living along the border are Belize’s ambassadors and our first line of defence, when faced with un-neighbourly external threats.

I’m a Toledo District native. And I remember hearing of the commercial scale plantain, banana, pineapple and rice production in the Sarstoon, Temash, Barranco and Moho River area, shipped via regular barge service from Sarstoon/Temash to Punta Gorda for forwarding to Belize City in the early to mid 20th century.

It was the business men and women who took over Belizean politics between 1993 and 1998 who made it illegal for Belizeans to live, work and defend Belize at the Sarstoon and Chiquibul.

The People’s United Party (PUP) (1998 to 2008) administration that followed, was apparently not willing to think national security first either. Remember the illegal Santa Rosa community and how long it took to remove it from Belizean soil?

Amandala assistant editor Adele Ramos wrote a story entitled “Why Santa Rosa is such a big deal “behind di fence” dated 28 Sep 2007. Adele writes “Amandala’s prominent coverage of the Santa Rosa issue has evidently angered some people in very high places, and instead of responding to our queries for nationally important information, they have instead responded through the ruling party’s political mouthpiece, The Belize Times.”

“For our part, we will stick to the issue and not play the game of ad hominem attacks. The issue here is the illegal incursion at Santa Rosa, a village of Guatemalans established in Belizean territory since the late 1990s.”

“To put things in context, we would like to refresh your memory of an incident that took place on February 24, 2000. On that fateful day—even while we had an entire village of Guatemalans knowingly squatting on Belizean soil—five Belizean security officers (four Belize Defence Force officers and a policeman) were utterly humiliated when a 25-man Guatemalan patrol detained them while they were on joint border patrol on what Government of Belize officials said was Belizean soil. In official uniform, these men were hauled off to Guatemalan army headquarters, where they were detained and subjected to charges of illegal entry and the possession of prohibited firearms. Their names and photos appeared widely in the Guatemalan press, and they were treated like common criminals.”

“The Government of Belize had reported that the officers had complied with the detention by the Guatemalan officials because they wanted to avoid the loss of life – clearly, the Belizean soldiers and police feared being killed.”

By Thurs. 27th Dec. 2007 there were four days remaining before illegal Santa Rosa would be no more.

Meanwhile, the now 414 square miles Chiquibul National Park was originally part of Chiquibul Forest Reserve, which was designated in 1956. In 1991, due to lobbying from conservationists, the three-quarters of the forest reserve that did not have active logging concessions was re-designated as a national park under Belize’s National Parks System Act. The park’s borders were re-defined in 1995. And Caracol Maya temple became surrounded by the national park.

Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in the Cayo District. The FCD Park Rangers do the day-to-day monitoring and research within this vast forest area (about 4x the size of Barbados)  and provide critical data to the regulatory agencies including the BDF, Police, Forest Department and other authorities about the state of the environment and extent of incursions and encroachments against our natural resources and our sovereignty.

In addition, the 65-square-mile Sarstoon/Temash national park is Belize’s southernmost park established in 1994. It is managed by the Sarstoon/Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), in partnership with the Forest Department. The park covers approximately 65 square miles of broadleaf, wetland and mangrove forest.

The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) is a community-based indigenous environmental organization working in the far south of Belize, in a region of the Toledo District that lies between the Sarstoon and Temash Rivers. SATIIM co-manages, with the Belizean Forestry Department, the Sarstoon Temash National Park. The national park was declared by government in 1994 on lands traditionally used by the Garifuna and Maya communities who live in the area. What is now SATIIM, began in 1997 as the Sarstoon/Temash National Park Steering Committee, which was formed after the communities around the park came together to stake a claim in the management of the land and natural resources in and around the park.

SATIIM’s Board of Directors is made up of five elected community representatives, one from each of the buffer zone communities: Barranco, Midway, Sunday Wood, Conejo and Crique Sarco. In addition, representatives from the Q’eqchi Council of Belize, the Toledo Alcaldes Association and the Garifuna National Council have seats on the Board, with representatives chosen and appointed by those organizations. The Forest Department represents the Belizean government on the Board of Directors. The elected Board members serve two-year periods and are elected at the General Gatherings, an event held every two years with all interested community members. This general assembly also decides overall policy and the strategic direction of the organization.

Check this out. The world’s two most populous countries, India and China, went to war in October 1967 over a Himalaya Mountains boundary dispute. India, the lesser populated of the two, won.

India and China will likely remind you of Belize and Guatemala in this sense: Reports are that China has since gone on to build highways, telecommunications, potable water and other life support systems on its side of the border for its citizens and residents, and India has not.

Many Guatemalans live along its borders. Belizeans are outlawed from living near our Southern and Southwestern borders. And doubly illegal to harvest resources extending to our Southern and Southwestern borders.

Redraw the Sarstoon/Temash and Chiquibul National Parks’ borders now, because stopping an existential threat, no matter the size of the enemy, is not a problem for brave leaders, and knowledgeable nationals.

(Sources: Http://amandala.com.bz; Http://fcdbelize.org; Http://satiim.org.bz; Http://Wikipedia.org.)

J. C. Arzu

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