San Pedro Columbia Dedicated to Their Natural Resources

The village of San Pedro Columbians of Toledo, called a meeting last Sunday, November 1st to seek answers to questions surrounding the recent permits granted to Belize Hydroelectric Development Management Company Limited (BHD) as well as Xatéros in Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve.  

Villagers from Columbia reported that Guatemalans have been extracting large amounts of  Xaté leaves from the Columbia River Forest Reserve.   It was learned at the meeting that these Guatemalans are legally employed by Belizeans who hold a permit from the Forest Department to extract Xaté.  The villagers were generally displeased that they had not been consulted on these permits and mentioned that if Xaté is to be extracted in the Reserve that buffers their communities should be the ones to benefit.

The larger focus of the meeting was on BHD’s recent permit granted despite BHD’s illegal damages they inflicted on Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve from bulldozing and clearing steep slopes.  Once again, villagers were displeased that they had not been consulted on the matter and were unified against any dam development in such a pristine area.  There were also concerns about BHD’s track record from the HydroMaya dam in San Miguel and their recent illegal development.

The meeting in San Pedro Columbia was very well attended with over 150 community members, the Department of Environment, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, the Police Department, the Belize Defence Force,  and Area Representative  Honorable Juan Coy. 

While Ya’axché is not anti-development or anti-dam, they do support transparent and open planning that will fairly weigh development and conservation needs of Belize and of course follow the due process of natural resource laws.  In fact, Ya’axché is leading an effort to develop a management plan for Columbia River Forest Reserve in order to systemically plan for environmentally-friendly development.   In order for this integrated planning to take place all parties need to be open to discussion and best practices should be utilized. 

Photos courtesy of Ya’axché Connservation Trust.

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