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Sep 16, 2022

Cattle Ranching Persist along Belize’s Western Border, Despite Belize- Guatemala Agreements

Illegal cattle ranching along Belize’s western border persists, five years after the first reports were made. This illicit activity is taking place within Belize’s forest reserves and has become a huge concern for members of the conservation community, as it is leading to the clearing of large portions of land. The main culprits are purportedly neighboring Guatemalan ranchers.  Recently, Friends for Conservation and Development (F.C.D.) and the Belize Defense Force agreed to partner in improving the strategies being employed to deter these activities along the western border. F.C.D. is now calling on the Guatemalan Armed Forces to do its part within Guatemala’s territory to prevent these acts of incursion. News Five’s Paul Lopez takes a closer look at the situation.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

Since 2017, a marked increase of illegal cattle ranching has been observed along the Belize’s western border. Over two thousand acres of land are occupied by cattle. Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director at Friends for Conservation and Developments, has concluded that neighboring Guatemalans illegally placed them there to graze.


Rafael Manzanero

Rafael Manzanero, Director, F.C.D.

“The discussions about cattle ranching have been going on for the last five years.  I can say at this stage that it has been advancing activity that covers two thousand three hundred acres at this point, that we have measured in terms of the advancement of this activity in the Vaca, Caracol, and Chiquibul areas.”


Most of the land within these reserves is considered to be harsh terrain. But, this has not stopped encroachers from utilizing the land to rear cattle. This practice is distinct, because it is the only illegal activity along the border where a domestic animal is brought into Belize’s territory.


Rafael Manzanero

“What we have been able to do over the years and in more recent days is really of cutting the fences and removing the post. But, that has had some deterrents. But, certainly that has not been able to halt the activity. Many of these areas are also remote, for the context of Belize, which is also one of the mobilizations of forces of units in there is not really that simple. I think people want to believe that you can reach there on a vehicle. But, that is not really the case. The discussions of bringing out the animals from there are really something that a cowboy with the experience on the ground that it is not so simple to just drag an animal out from there.”


Wandering cattle are taken away from the area by nearby residents on the Guatemala side. The cattle that remainare left to freely roam the reserve. F.C.D. Rangers partner with the Ministry of Defense and Border Security, the government arm that is tasked with the responsibility of securing Belize’s borders. Together, they carry out joint patrols along the frontier.


Oscar Mira

Oscar Mira, Minister of State, Ministry of Defense

“Belize Defense Force doesn’t work by itself. We have different agencies working together with us. We have in that area we have the archeology department, the forest department. We also have NGOs that work in that area and they work with the communities on the other side of the borders as well. It is an effort that is not just being left by the Belize Defense Force. We do provide the security and as you rightly said, we do have strategically placed along the border, many of those conservation posts that patrol and ensure that we are safe.”


In 2014, the Joint Belize- Guatemala Commission held a meeting in Guatemala City. There, it was agreed that both countries would increase their collaborative efforts in combating illegal activities along the shared border. At the time, the primary infractions were, illegal logging, and clearing of lands for agricultural purposes. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred ‘Sedi” Elrington is on record speaking about the outcome of that meeting.


(File: October, 16th 2014)

Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington

Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs

“At the meeting it was agreed as follows: to include existing patrols and include joint coordinated military patrols. So there have been ongoing military patrols on both sides of the border. The Guatemalans patrol on their side, B.D.F. patrol on our side and then they meet up periodically.  This agreement now was to improve those patrols and then to conduct joint coordinated patrols so that they work closely together in patrolling the border.”

With the emergence of illegal cattle ranching almost a decade after the agreement, Manzanero says Guatemalan Armed Forces have not held up their end of the commitment.


Rafael Manzanero

“The Guatemalan Armed Forces have been advised through the Belize Defense Force that there is cattle. The Guatemalan Armed Force knows about the cattle ranches and the pastures inside of Belizean territory. Of course, the question is what they are going to do. Frankly I don’t think they are at that level where we see the impact of a deterrent. So, that is certainly not the best option at this stage. I hope that the government is also having open discussions with their counterparts in Guatemala of that level of diplomatic relations where it needs to be known also that Guatemalan energy and support will be required to handle something like this.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez

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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