The Cabinet and the National Security Council have both approved recommendations in an official paper submitted by the Ministry of Natural Resources in conjunction with Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), calling for more security presence—larger and more frequent joint patrols—in the region of Belize’s treasured Chiquibul Forest.
The move is in response to exacerbating incursions into Belize by Guatemalan civilians who have been illegally logging millions of dollars worth of mahogany and cedar and extracting millions of dollars more in xate palm, as well as decimating the threatened scarlet macaws who have this rich, tropical forest as one of their last havens.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow confirmed to Amandala this evening that Government has agreed to larger and more frequent patrols.
Rafael Manzanero, FCD’s executive director, had made a public call last month for “more boots on the ground,” inside the Chiquibul.
FCD is the co-manager of the 264,003-acre Chiquibul National Park, which has also been under siege for illegal incursions.
Manzanero told us today that there are three functional observation posts and the only roaming patrol is at Tapir Camp.
He said that the hope is that the Ceibo Chico post, more south of the existing ones, would be established shortly. There is also a plan to establish two more patrol stations to help conserve the forest and its valuable resources, which include gold and the watersheds that feed water supply much of the country of Belize.
Manzanero was upbeat about his recent meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega, who, he said, had expressed interest in a site visit; however, his visit had to be delayed because of his trip to Durban, South Africa for the climate change summit.
Manzanero said that Vega’s invitation remains open and he is also extending an invitation to Prime Minister Barrow to visit the area.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, December 1, FCD hosted a high-level delegation of US and European diplomats, joined by staff of the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Among them were US Ambassador Vinai Thummalapally, British High Commissioner Pat Ashworth, Cosimo Lamberti Fossati of the European Union Head of Office in Belize, along with Belize Foreign Service officers – Ardelle Sabido and Rafael Baptist.
The visit, said FCD, included observations of the xatéro trails and the illegal milpa farming activities from Caana temples in the Caracol area. They also had a chance to learn how the Chiquibul Forest Joint Enforcement Unit operates at Tapir Camp, FCD added.
The Chiquibul National Park Manager, Derric Chan, welcomed the guests at the Guacamallo Bridge at the park’s entrance.
The issues raised with the officials, FCD said, were “the need for further reinforcement with conservation posts along the western border as well as more personnel from the security agencies to improve the patrolling and enforcement program.”
They also talked about “the acquisition of appropriate equipment and field gear as well as joint training programs.”
Manzanero told us that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would explore the possibility of getting equipment assistance for the Belize Defence Force (BDF), which participates in joint patrols, through Belize’s arrangements with the Central American Integration System (SICA).