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Jul 21, 2009

Minister says NGO land is safe

Story PictureA Minister of Government has denied an allegation that land was being taken away from a non-governmental organization in the village of San Antonio, Cayo District. And the name being called is the Minister of Agriculture and Cayo Central Area Representative, Rene Montero. News Five got wind of the details a few weeks ago and today we visited that remote village. And while the chairperson of the NGO is making her allegations, Montero says this is not so. Marion Ali reports.

Marion Ali, Reporting
Maria Garcia is the Chairperson of the Itzamna Society, a group that has been co-managing the Don Elijio Panti National Park since 2001. But Garcia is concerned that the park will be de-reserved and parcelled out for farming; something she had dreaded for a long time. Garcia says Itzamna’s co-managing agreement expired in 2008 along with several other co-managers in the country. And since then she says the group’s efforts to get an extension from the Forest Department have been unsuccessful.

Maria Garcia, Chairperson Itzamna Society
“Just after the seventh of February of last year, after elections there was big rumour in my community that Mr. Rene Montero and Mr. Rene Canto, did a meeting and they told publicly that they will take over the park and subdivide the park for farming. That’s what they told the farmers, but we know that that’s only to get the farmers support and then after that the land will be sold. If we lose this reserve, it’s not our people that will benefit, but people that have money who will come up there and buy this land and make their tourism up there.”

But so far Garcia says the thirteen thousand acre park remains in tact and when we caught up with Minister and Cayo Central Area Representative, Rene Montero, following Cabinet meeting this evening, he denied knowledge of or involvement in it.

Rene Montero, Area Rep., Cayo Central
“There’s no way on this earth that my Government or me would recommend for that national park to be subdivided or given to anybody, be it Belizeans or foreigners because that’s the natural reserve and we will keep it as that. In fact we are looking for other lands to put it under reserve. Right now we are looking in the area at Yalbac and where they call the Cara Blanco Lagoon, we’re looking at about five thousand acres in the upper Running Creek to put it in the reserve. So why would we de-reserve and then reserve? It doesn’t make sense.”

Marion Ali
“So what is she saying—what she’s saying is not true?”

Rene Montero
“I cannot speak for her. She can say whatever she wants. I am telling you the truth and I’m giving you the facts.”

The Elijio Panti National Park is located behind San Antonio Village in Cayo and is a tourist attraction which features, medicinal trails, waterfalls, caves. And Garcia says keeping it a protected area is important for the people of San Antonio.

Maria Garcia
“This is the area where Don Elijio Panti used to make his ceremonies. This is the area where he use to go and collect his herbs and it is a living area for us. If you go up there you still feel the spirits, the guardians of the mountains, the guardians of the creek, the guardians of the animals. So it’s a very sacred area. We have lot of caves down there that needs to be protected and we have a lot of wildlife up there that needs to be protected like the jaguar, the monkeys, tapirs, birds. So you know in honour of him, the park got it’s name.”

But Montero says the National Park remains as is and there is no intention to parcel it off.

Rene Montero
“It is for the villagers and for generations to come.”

Marion Ali
“But has any of it, maybe just a portion of it been given out as farmland or for development?”

Rene Montero
“As far as I’m concerned, not even a square inch has been given to anybody to my knowledge, the facts that I have. And I don’t intend—because that is under my constituency and I would have to recommend and I have no intention to recommend any reserve to be taken away and given as farmland.”

Garcia says the Itzamna Society will meet with Chief Forest Officer, Wilbur Sabido this Thursday to clarify the group’s authority over the park. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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