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Apr 10, 2019

Inside the Chiquibul: A Deeper Look at Illegal Cattle Ranching

The vast Chiquibul Forest in the south-western region of Belize stretches across more than four hundred and twenty-three acres of land. The tropical rainforest includes the largest cave system in Central America, the Caracol Mayan Site, and the Chiquibul River. It is an invaluable natural resource, but the Chiquibul continues to be raped by Guatemalans who illegally enter from across the border.  Today, FCD Park Rangers are battling the latest threat, illegal cattle ranching. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo and Darrel Moguel recently trekked more than four kilometers into the Chiquibul, within the adjacency zone to document the illegal activities as part of our series on border communities. Here is the story.


This is the Chiquibul Forest; a dense jungle teaming with unparalleled wildlife. The sheer biological diversity is breathtaking.

The great expanse of this tropical rainforest accounts for seven point seven percent of Belize’s terrestrial sovereignty. An ecosystem like no other, it stretches across more than four hundred thousand acres of land. But the forest is under constant threat- threats originating from the Guatemalan side of the border.


Rafael Manzanero

Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director, Friends for Conservation and Development

“Cattle ranching has been the prominent activity that is now occurring some of the lands that originally had been used for agriculture farming.”


News Five’s videographer Darrel Moguel and I trekked deep into the Chiquibul to witness firsthand the evidence left behind by encroaching Guatemalans.

Our six-hour journey began at Tapir Camp where Park Manager Derrick Chan provided a brief of the route which would lead us a kilometer away from the borderline, within the adjacency zone. That is where most of the illegal activities have been recorded.


Derrick Chan

Derrick Chan, Park Manager, Chiquibul National Park

This is our border. This is Guatemala. This is Belize so you can see the green; that’s the forest.”


The intimate connections between wildlife are being continuously disturbed.

Accompanied by armed BDF soldiers and FCD rangers and with the support of FCD’s Executive Director Rafael Manzanero, News Five documented the continued presence of Guatemalans in the area. We trekked for hours, cutting our way through the thick forest.

With the assistance of a GPS device and the Rangers’ knowledge of the area, the trek led us to six key points where Guatemalan peasants who live along their side of the border, have cleared large parcels of land for agriculture and cattle ranching. The devastation is evident.

The area looks as though the forest has been plucked from the earth- leaving cattle to roam and graze in the Chiquibul. Manmade pools to keep the cattle hydrated and erected barb wire fence to keep the cows from roaming too far and horses are all found within Belize’s Chiquibul Forest.

Friends for Conservation and Development along with the Forest Department, supported by the Belize Defence Force, have been battling illegal cattle ranching for quite some time.


Rafael Manzanero

“Cattle ranching has been one that we have been studying more recently. Thankfully the Ministry of National Security has now highlighted that as one of the major threats and challenges along the western border.”


Over the years, FCD has been monitoring the area, collecting evidence of encroachment and illegal activities. This side by side satellite time map shows the devastating ecological effect over time. In 1989, the map shows vegetation on both sides. Fast forward twenty-eight years later, a satellite snapshot of the same area shows the absence of vegetation on the Guatemalan side- what was once a biologically diverse forest is now barren land. Over on Belize’s side, much of the forest remains intact but along the edges, the forest is disappearing along with its inhabitants.


Rafael Manzanero

“We basically project that if left then alone without doing any patrols or so, those would be the areas that practically converted into pasture lands.”


Frequently, Guatemalans who have crossed to this side of the border to carry out illegal activities within the Chiquibul have been arrested and charged. The threat, however, persists as more Guatemalans continue the illegal practice.


Hipolito Novelo

Hipolito Novelo

“We didn’t see any Guatemalans in the area when trekked by but what we saw is their evidence in the area. Illegal cattle ranching dotted across the Chiquibul is what we saw. And what the FCD has been doing for quite some time, since they were formed, is to address this in partnership with the Belize Defence Force and the Government but what it needs is more attention, more money, more human resources, to be able to not only patrol and monitor these far areas but actually conduct enforcement.”


And enforcement is crucial; especially to protect one of Belize’s most priceless natural resources.

FCD is operating on a seven hundred thousand dollar budget annually- forty percent of what is actually needed in order to carry out its mandate. FCD requires an annual budget of one point five million dollars.

The Chiquibul Forest represents the largest catchment area of rainfall, not only providing over forty percent of the population with water but acting as a critical source of energy production.


Rafael Manzanero

“We are looking at over four hundred thirty thousand acres of forest with beautiful things, wonderful things yet to be discovered. But if anything that is critical, at least tangible that Belizeans can understand is the water resources. Mountains like these are the main headwaters that reach down way to Belize City and we have been saying for quite some time. Of course like any other environment thing you only start to feel when it is really already gone which by then it’s too late. We have documented over fourteen environment good and services that come out of this forest which includes even tourism today.”


With the push to the International Court of Justice, we asked Manzanero if an I.C.J. ruling would assist them in their fight.


Rafael Manzanero

“We believe that we need the presence so even though if the line is basically outlined very clearly, the boundary, I think it will help a lot. But still we would have, because this place is rich. Once you have a nice mango in your tree there will be kids who will stone it down to eat it. That is the reality. We spoke of the price, the value of this and we have to protect it.”


The cultural and economic value of the Chiquibul has not been determined but it’s safe to say that it is priceless. Our exhausting trek ended at the Caballo Conservation Post, one point five kilometers from the borderline. Poised on a hilltop, the CP overlooks this area of the Chiquibul. The journey getting there is a story in and of itself.  Hipolito Novelo, 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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