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Jul 14, 2016

Poverty is the Cause of Illegal Chiquibul Incursions

The Chiquibul National Park and the preservation of the bountiful resources within its boundaries are once more in the forefront.  The uphill struggle to monitor, manage and defend this huge protected area has long been the yoke of the Friends for Conservation and Development, FCD.  But this time the FCD has been joined in the unending battle by, interestingly enough, a Guatemalan N.G.O. called Balam.  Today, both agencies called a press conference to solicit the media’s assistance in telling their story, with the hope that it will reach the right ears in Belize and Guatemala.  Our News Five team was there and has the story.


Byron Castellanos, Executive Director, BALAM

“We don’t need money. We just need everybody to understand that the problem in the forest between Belize and Guatemala needs more attention by both governments. We need government agencies in Belize to work with us because this is the best that we can do for the conservation of the forest. There is no war. The war is on the ground. It’s a war against poverty. It’s a war against organized crime. It’s a war against misery.”


Mike Rudon, Reporting

Those are some of the primary forces at work in the Chiquibul National Park which physically joins Belize and Guatemala. Balam has been working in those communities for about twenty months, in concert with the FCD. It is a very hands on approach in which they provide technical and financial assistance in those impoverished communities.


Byron Castellanos

“We are working in the poor communities that are located in the Adjacency Zone between countries, with more than two hundred families benefitting from these programs. Our message in communities is very clear – do not enter Belize. Belize has very strict laws. We as Guatemala, and as Balam, are helping them and giving them financial support. This person here used to come in Belize to extract Xate. Now we help the community to cultivate Xate in Guatemala.”


Byron Castellanos

So why is this suddenly happening now? Why the push from Balam, which is a Guatemalan N.G.O.?


Byron Castellanos

“For many years the government has forgotten these populations. But we believe that this government has made a change and they are sincerely working now and that is why we are working with them. A fifty year problem cannot be easily solved, but we are on the right path. We are asking the Guatemalan government to give us much more support. Our Foreign Minister is the main proponent for his own government to solve the problems and help the poor communities in the Adjacency Zone.”


Both Balam and the FCD recognize that all hands will need to be on deck to solve what is essentially a decades-old problem. The FCD knows firsthand how difficult that is. They have been crying out for assistance for many years.


Rafael Manzanero

Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director, FCD

“It really is much to our interest to see how in a couple of years BALAM has been able to mobilize a lot of other counterparts and support systems in the Southern part of Peten. At this point in time for us here in Belize we felt that either we had to learn more about how they do their policy advocacy for one, or we are not really reaching to the right people on how to make the particular changes. I have been as how you will gather over the years trying to welcome people to go and see the true reality in the Chiquibul and that has not really happened. In fact the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala has been to the Chiquibul twice, and frankly it has only been a limited number of high-level personnel that have reached the Chiquibul from the Belize side.”


All the rhetoric from government is in place and every-high level government functionary would tell you immediately how important the Chiquibul is. But rhetoric has not translated into action.


Rafael Manzanero

“We have been speaking about conservation posts over the last three years. The Cebada CP for example – we have basically been requesting for that, and that still is not up. And that is the area where we knew that if we had basically put that CP since last year we would at least have been able to prevent over two hundred acres of forest to have disappeared from that area for this year. It has to be a joint effort. We have been saying that. We as N.G.O.s can only do so much, but we do require the support of the regulatory agencies.”


Byron Castellanos

“The communities only recognize territories. We have explained to them that there is a dispute between both countries, but the fact that the communities know it is not solving the problem. The issue that affects the communities is one of poverty. And whether there is a border issue or not, poverty will still be there.”


Castellanos maintains that the territorial dispute is irrelevant. What is relevant is poverty, and the riches of the Chiquibul so close by and so accessible. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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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1 Response for “Poverty is the Cause of Illegal Chiquibul Incursions”

  1. Mellow Belizean says:

    It’s amazing to me how suddenly everyone can rationalize and try to provide excuses for people coming over our border. The simple fact is it’s wrong. Belize has tons of poor people, and they don’t have that option of going over to the Guatemalan side.

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