Bird Watch – The Chiquibul Forest Reserve – Ours to Keep

In the last column, warnings were issued to all Belizeans about the dire situation in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, the incursion and theft of natural resources and the woeful lack of personnel and equipment to deal with the problem.

In September 2014, a Tourism Policeman was murdered at Caracol in the middle of the day, witnessed by horrified tourists, tour guides, and a fellow officer. Horses had been confiscated the previous day from illegal loggers who returned to issue their revenge on the unsuspecting young Danny Conorquie, who gave his life in the battle for sovereignty of this great nation, Belize.

The resulting outcry was immediate and agonizing. Finally, Belizeans woke up to the unpleasant fact that Belize has been invaded and, indeed, is at war for its very sovereignty.

Because of a continued lack of security efforts along the border by the Government of Belize for many years, the Guatemalans were emboldened to cross into Belize. It was just a matter of time before they would retaliate for Belizean authorities doing their job and disrupting their illegal activities. Unfortunately the victim was a 20-year-old Belizean who became the lightning rod of their anger and didn’t have a chance, being ambushed from behind in a tranquil plaza at Caracol, shot in the back and then executed by shots to his head. Because of the sequence of events, it is presumed that these were illegal Guatemalan loggers who tend to be some of the most dangerous of the “invaders” crossing into Belize. As we have seen in Belize, Peru, Brazil, Indonesia and in other mid-latitude countries, the illegal lumber cut and sold is prime old growth Cedar, Mahogany and rare sought after hardwoods, which many times end up being shipped to North America to satisfy those high priced markets. The incredible irony is that the US will fund countries to stop the growing and trafficking of drugs to North America but ignores the activity, which is destroying old growth, intact rain forests worldwide. It is like going into the Redwoods in California or Yellowstone National Park and logging them out. Nobody would stand for that. Granted, it is not the US responsibility to patrol our borders but they could be more instrumental in settling the Belize dispute with Guatemala and pressuring Guatemala to patrol their side as they are doing at the moment on Guatemala’s Northern border with Mexico.

It is important to note that the Caracol National Monument and Park is surrounded but not under the jurisdiction of the Chiquibul National Park and therefore is not patrolled by FCD. NICH, which is the Archeology Department in Belize, is the trustee of this area and are in charge of patrolling using the BDF. The Tourism Police of which Danny Conorquie was a member, are trained by the National Police, as Special Constables and in this case tasked to Caracol to protect and keep order at these remote ruins, which until this point has been a relatively safe assignment with only minor incidents of theft by Xateros from Guatemala.

It seems this sad and tragic incident finally shocked and galvanized the people of Belize and the Government of Belize to address head on, the issue of the critical status of the sovereignty of Belize and to secure our Western border.

Ministers and other officials visited the Chiquibul only to discover the stories were indeed true. Both parties realized the gravity and importance of the situation and resolved to implement change.

The first issue to be addressed was the issue of boots on the ground. FCD has had men patrolling the area, but there was too much ground to cover for too few men, now known as the “Magnificent Seven”. Other (measures) identified are the need for better communications and transportation. Money is needed to better equip and pay for the rangers who live away from their families for days, sometimes weeks at a time, watching, patrolling, and monitoring the situation.

Rafael Manzanero, FCD, and others organized a Saturday telethon on October 18th. and an astounding $320,000? Belize dollars was raised that day. Political concerns were filed away for another day and people came together as a nation to support this important cause.

This is a huge boost and will enable FCD to fund up to 24 rangers who will rotate in and out of the reserve. That and the addition of more BDF soldiers patrolling with FCD rangers the area will apply pressure and will surely minimize the incursion onto our beloved soil. Still the need for permanent sustainable protection is necessary. Thus, the need to designate the Chiquibul National Park a World Heritage Site. This would attract world-wide attention and additional funding opportunities for the future. Experts from around the world are already discussing and planning ways to make this area accessible to the few intrepid eco-adventurers willing to forgo luxury in exchange for adventure and a rugged but satisfying experience.

Protected, the rainforest will come back, the birds and animals will return and the Scarlet Macaws will flourish and multiply.