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Mar 21, 2001

Conflict with resort closes popular caves

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The lush resort and its nearby caves is among the closest natural attractions to Belize City. As a result, Jaguar Paw is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. That popularity proved its undoing, however, as conflict over rights of access has resulted in a closing of the caves.

Jose Sanchez

“Along the foothills of the Maya Mountains is the Caves Branch river system which boasts many miles of magnificent stalactite and stalagmite formations. And though they have been hidden for thousands of years, a growing tourism industry has exposed the caves to a large amount of visitors as well as a controversy that has shut down two of the entrances in the vicinity of the Jaguar Paw Resort.”

Tracy Taegar, Director, BTB

“The current access is on Jaguar Paw Resort’s private property. They have decided that they do not wish for the general public to using their premises. The Tourism Board can not encourage illegal activity and going onto private land is illegal activity. Based on discussions prior to the closure of the cave and a co-management agreement we tried to reach with Mr. Young… For some reason the negotiations broke down, it was our recommendation to the Department of Archaeology that the cave be closed until we can ensure access.”

The recent increase in cruise ship tourism to Belize has created increased in cave tubing and competition for the business has been aggressive. Jaguar Paw Manager, Jaime Avilez, says that hunt for dollars has hurt the resort.

Jaime Avilez, Gen. Manager, Jaguar Paw Jungle Resort

“We have had tour operators that have been using my road and property to do cave tubing. And the harassment by these people has grown magnificently within the past years. Even at this present time we are not allowed to come out. That’s the main thing harassment to me and my staff you know, guns being pointed out although no shots or anything like that. The owners have been threatened and some of the workers have been threatened and left because of that.”

The situation at the resort has been brewing for at least eight years and there have been attempts between BTB, the Archaeology Department and Jaguar Paw to reach an amicable agreement.

Tracy Taegar

“We were hoping to have a co-management agreement with Jaguar Paw where we would provide the infrastructure for the parking and access. There would be a nominal fee charged, and Jaguar Paw would get a percentage of those fees to provide the maintenance et cetera, to be the caretakers so to speak of the cave system. That did not work out initially.”

Jaime Avilez

“The proposal itself wasn’t an agreement to me. What happened that is the parking and all these things they have proposed was magnificent, but it was on the other side of the hill. And passing though someone’s property and going into my facilities…where I had the problem is I have to open my facilities even to tour operators, something that I need to make money from. Well they also claimed that they were going to charge ten dollars per person to visit the cave and twenty percent of that would have been mine. So that’s two dollars per person would be mine. But if you realize it, even at this present time, I am already doing all the investment into the cleaning of the trails, into the garbage, into facilities, so it wouldn’t have been a gain for me.”

“As you notice the facilities down below are pretty new, I have six bathrooms now or six rest rooms. A big sitting area that can hold at least one hundred and fifty to one hundred and sixty people. All that is open to the public free of cost.”

Jaguar Paw’s owners have invested fifty thousand dollars on a two-mile access road and believe that guides can reach the cave without trespassing through their property.

Jaime Avilez

“I have mentioned before there is a government road or government pillars leading to the river, maybe a mile and a half down. And that will lead you to the river. We have bicycle trail that is really nice, it’ll take you about twenty minutes walk from that point up to this cave system we were walking a little while ago. From there on they can begin their tour not inflicting any problems on us and stuff like that, it’s away from us.”

In the meantime as long as the cave remains closed, tourism suffers.

Leah Silverman, Tourist

“We came to Jaguar Paw because we were essentially interested in two attractions, one being the ruins the other being cave tubing. We’re on our honeymoon right now and we’re really disappointed. One of the things as I said before we were really attracted to is cave tubing and it’s very upsetting we weren’t able to engage in that. We are here for seven days and many times during our stay we thought about leaving.”

Len Silverman, Tourist

“It’s definitely a big disappointment when you come so far. And the worst part of it is that we found out literally all of this happened the day before we got down and it’s very disappointing because that was as Leah said the main attraction, the main reason why we came down here.”

Katie O’Neill, Tourist

“When we’re here to do the activities we expected to do and couldn’t, it’s stressful and that’s not what we’re looking for. Going down the tubes and have to get off and walk around certain areas, because there are people that are armed, they have guns and that’s a little bit intimidating.”

While tourists are passing on Jaguar Paw as a destination, the resort’s management has laid off four of its thirty-seven workers. They say more will follow if the problem is not solved. Reporting for News 5, Jose Sanchez.

Local tour guides report that the resort’s owners have a long history of antagonism toward Belizeans who seek to use the caves and nearby river.

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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