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Belize and Guatemala forge links to protect the Chiquibul Maya Mountains Print E-mail
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Thursday, 30 November 2017 00:00

A bi-national forum was held on Friday at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel to provide an update on the efforts to conserve the Chiquibul Maya Mountains. The Chiquibul forest encompasses 7.7% of Belize with some of the contiguous areas also extending into Guatemala where an encroaching agriculture frontier and other demographic pressures exist. The meeting on Friday was headed by the Friends for Conservation and Development, in the presence of members from its counterpart BALAM,  with the latter dedicated to the conservation of natural resources and culture in rural Guatemala.

Both Rafael Manzanero from FCD and Byron Castellanos from BALAM signed a document on Friday containing a series of recommendations for the way forward. Participants from both countries are now hoping that with this document the cross-fertilization of ideas will continue.

In his overview, Manzanero said that there had been an antecedent to the FCD-BALAM work in the form of a Watershed Alliance from 2010 to now, which had an impact on some 18 communities. Such cross-border work was possible thanks to the support of the British High Commission. (The Mopan River also passes through Guatemala and feeds into the Belize River.)

In his presentation to the gathering, Byron Castellanos summarized that the FCD-BALAM alliance had led to improved law enforcement. This has also led to a considerable reduction of illegal logging, decreased advances in the agriculture and livestock activities and a restoration of the forest landscape near Belize’s border on the Guatemalan side. Castellanos revealed that there is an existent organized crime in the border areas and he believes that those who pay others to extract timber illegally need to be imprisoned. With both the British High Commission and Guatemalan Embassy assisting the FCD-BALAM work, some 1,300 persons have benefited in the Guatemala side, further reducing the possibility of degradation on Belize’s protected areas.

Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala Alexis Rosado, who was present at the meeting, congratulated both FCD and BALAM for their excellent work, which has developed into a model partnership that has inspired other societies “down in Sarstoon” and Isabal. According to Rosado, FCD now has a partner from the NGO community in Guatemala to engage with. Rasado also expressed that he now anticipates that Government will embrace the FCD-BALAM recommendations.

In speaking with the Guardian Newspaper, Rafael Manzanero admits that in doing this cross border work, it required close partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Forest Department, which is responsible for the protection of the Chiquibul biosphere. But he also admits that challenges remain.

“We still basically have two main challenges in Chiquibul, and that’s assuming that the other ones --illegal logging and xate-- can still remain as such-- we still have to ensure that the interventions are there, gold panning has been a big issue and then of course the milpa farms, so those are the two main other areas that are of critical threats to the Chiquibul ecosystem.”

We were specifically concerned about the gold mining in the upper watersheds of the Macal River since they could lead to contaminants going into our water supply.

“In Chiquibul, none of the individuals are using any chemicals, so practically in panning and the removal of stones of course the earth’s, the soil and the sedimentation is quite a big problem. Our most recent study that was done earlier this year shows that the impacts are now just starting to be felt on those headwaters; in other words in fecal matter in the urine, the garbage all of that is and of course sedimentation is already starting to have beginning in process of impact on those head waters.”

Rafael Manzanero also revealed that there were 120 gold panners working in the Chiquibul at this time and their numbers will increase to 300 in December 2017. Such partnerships between FCD and BALAM as highlighted on Friday will  hopefully lead to an offer of economic alternatives to these gold miners; now trekking unto our  fragile fresh water drinking main.