Archive for December, 2009

Great News for Protected Areas

The following story was extracted from 7 News dated December 22nd 2009. This is great news for the protected areas system in Belize.  Ya’axché thanks to the Government of Belize  for taking action.

From the entire staff at Ya’axché Conservation Trust – Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

Major Change in Policy on Harvesting of Xate

As we come up on Christmas, Belize – Guatemala issues are at the forefront of the public discourse. And one year ago – it was about the same when Guatemalan Lionel Arellanos erected a storage container in Belizean territory. Remember that? Just west of Jalacte? It took months to get it off! But in February, the BDF did bulldoze it. And while that was 2008, in 2009 – the issues are the ongoing Chiquibul incursions and what the Foreign Minister calls our “artificial” border.

And somewhere beneath all this is the issue of Xate. It’s been a hot button territorial issue for years but tonight we can report that there are two important changes at the policy level in Belize and Guatemala. First, according to Ambassador Fred Martinez, the Guatemalans are changing the requirements for export market Xate – requiring that it be gathered from Xate farms and not forests; and second the government of Belize has put a freeze on all Xate concessions in Belizean territory. Ambassador Martinez discussed both developments with us yesterday.

Ambassador Fred Martinez,
“The xate problem is there, the collection of xate leaves. But we are very pleased to see a development in Guatemala where they have passed legislation to verify from where the xate comes from, that is certify that the xate will only come from farming, the artificial farming of xate, and will no longer be accepted for export if it comes from the picking of the xate in forest. We have pushed that cooperation with them, listen you need to help us because your forests are being decimated just the same as ours and we need to do something. A conscious effort has been taken by them very seriously and now they have introduced that.

The Ministry of Natural Resources recently decided to take a serious look at the licensing of xate picking in Belize as some licenses were issued by the previous administration and continued by this new administration with the argument that if the Guatemalans are coming in and picking it and taking it away, might as well you give the opportunity for a few Belizeans to do some money. But this was the argument by the negotiator, please look at this very seriously: for $60,000 of royalty to the Government of Belize, why do we expose ourselves because these three or four people that end up with a license don’t go and pick up the xate, they hire the same Guatemalan xateros to come into Belize and they are the ones we have to stop, they are the same ones who are creating problems; decimating our forest.

Whose controlling them and when you catch them and they holler that my boss has a license and I have a work permit and when they are caught with a gun, because you are not going to go into that forest with just a small machete, you go there with a gun to protect yourself, the gun is illegal so they are caught with an illegal firearm and so the problem is compounded and we’ve been hollering hey, listen let’s make a review and we are so glad to see that the Forest Department is taking a serious look and saying let’s put everything on freeze.

The next xatero that is caught in the forest of Belize that means it is an illegal xatero, there will be no such thing as someone with a license to collect xate because one xatero was passing the license to another one and subcontracting another one and the next thing you know you had hundreds of Guatemalans pouring in with copies of somebody’s license. So we’ve had to take stock, let us look at what’s there. We are under serious threat of these people moving in. It is not a threat orchestrated by Guatemalan government, they themselves have a serious problem. We therefore have to stop and help ourselves to ensure that we do not end up as the Peten has ended up.”

Hon. Sedi Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
“We have problems down south, Guatemalans come in but the problem is compounded by the fact that local Belizeans employ them so that when they are caught here with the xate and the like they put a permit and say they have a permit from somebody or when they catch them in here and they are doing wrong they say well I am employed by this Belizean, this Belizean hired me. So we are really in a catch 22 situation; Belizeans need the Guatemalans to do the work in their fields, they bring them in, and the process these people come and do their own thing; destroy the society, the land, the forest and everything.”

And while those changes are happening at the policy level – on the ground – the problem persists. When we were in the Chiquibul three weeks ago we saw multiple evidences of Xatero activities, and returning from the border about four kilometres into Belizean territory, the BDF were on the trail of a trio of Xateros but they scattered and ran before the BDF team could intercept them. We couldn’t capture it on tape because the BDF ordered us to get down because of the risk of live fire.


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Ya’axché’s Annual Stakeholder Meeting

Annual Stakeholders Meeting 2009

Last week Saturday 12th of December 2009 Ya’axché celebrated the closing of its 11th year by holding its Annual Stakeholder  Meeting. The meeting offers another opportunity for Ya’axché   to communicate with its most important stakeholders – the communities that buffer the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve and Bladen Nature Reserve. Representatives from Medina Bank, Trio, Tambran, Golden Stream, Indian Creek, Big Falls, San Miguel, Silver Creek, Punta Gorda, Jacintoville and Elridge Village all attended the event making for a great mix of people and personalities.  The general purpose of the meeting was to present to stakeholders the work that Ya’axché has done for the year of 2009 and get feedback for improvement in 2010.

Children playing Musical Chairs

Ya’axché first introduced its program areas: Sustainable Land-use Management, Community Outreach and Livelihoods, Advocacy, Institutional Governance and Management. Accomplishments   in protected area management and research and monitoring were the focus of the Sustainable Land-use discussion. The Community Outreach and Livelihoods discussion brought up the fact that Ya’axché is now working with over 90 farmers in organic, forest-friendly agriculture, in addition to assisting students with high school. The Advocacy program has had a busy year working  with the Toledo Healthy Forest Initiative (THFI), APAMO and BAPPA. The Institutional Governance and Management Program was introduced with a discussion about the Board of Directors- those present were introduced: Alphonso Cal, Barbara Locke, Victor Ical, and President Valentino Shal. The Board is now open to community representatives in Trio and Bladen villages. Trio will have a representative in 2010.

Ya'axché Rangers

The entire Ya’axché staff was introduced to the public as well. There was good discussion on the pressing issues of our time including the Hydro Dam, Illegal Xatéros, water pollution and ways to improve relationship with communities.

Lastly the Financial Statement of 2009 was presented.

After the meeting Ya’axché invited the guests for a traditional Mayan lunch. It was a joyous time of the year and Ya’axché sure did spread a Christmas spirit. The kids also had fun games organized by Ya’axché Volunteers.

It has been a very successful year for Ya’axché Conservation Trust and Ya’axché thanks everyone who have been instrumental in the success of our work. Thanks to All.

Representatives having Lunch

To download Ya’axché’s 2009 Annual Report Click on the following link:

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December 13th 2009 Hydro Dam Meeting

The following are extracts from the meeting at San Pedro Columbia regarding the Potential Hydro Dam in Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve.

Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve Committee
San Pedro Columbia Village
Toledo District
Belize, C.A
December 14, 2009
San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo District

Addressed to the Prime Minister of Belize Hon. Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Barrow Is Called To Stand In Solidarity With Belizeans And Ensure That Our Laws Are Respected.

Over 300 Belizeans from several communities in Toledo in attendance of a public meeting held on December 13, 2009 in San Pedro Columbia call upon the Prime Minister to act in the interest of Belizeans and our protected areas. Despite a number of requests to our area representative, Hon. Juan Coy and the Chief Forest Officer, Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Ltd. (BHD) none has dialogued with us.  As a result of the many unanswered questions in regards to unsustainable development specifically the proposed construction of a hydroelectric facility in our most pristine areas we formed the Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve Committee which sent a team to see firsthand what the development company was doing. The concerns, findings and recommendation generated from this Educational Field Visit and from community members were presented at this community meeting which started at 1:30 pm and concluded at 6:15 pm.  We found numerous violations reference BHD’s permit and the National Park System Act, which has resulted in the following resolution:

We hereby call upon the Government of Belize to REVOKE the concession agreement granted to Belize Hydro-electric Development and Management Ltd (BHD) on December 5, 2008 signed by the Prime Minister Hon. Dean O Barrow. This development activity, in one of Belize’s most pristine areas, threatens the ecological integrity of Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve along with the social well being of several communities in the Toledo District.  We will no longer accept the unsustainable use of our natural resources that are the lifeline of our society.

Furthermore, the Toledo Alcaldes Association convened an emergency meeting with all its Alcaldes on December 14th, 2009 and unanimously stood in solidarity with the resolution tabled at the San Pedro Columbia meeting held on December 13, 2009.

We request that the Government of Belize adhere and publicly respond to the December 13th 2009 public resolution. In the event that this is not addressed in its entirety we will have no other option but to engage in a peaceful protest to demand that our rights and the rights of our protected areas be fully respected and ask for the December 5th 2008 Concession Agreement to be REVOKED.

For more information please contact:
Nicanor Requena, Committee Chairman, San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo District
Belize, C.A, Cell number: 628-4252, email:

Central River in Bladen Nature Reserve


Good Afternoon Village Committee, Honourable Juan Coy,  Mr. Jeff, Villagers of Columbia and other invited guests.

Season Greetings to All

Ms Ash making her speech

I am a villager of San Pedro Columbia with concern about this hydro dam that they are planning to build between Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserves. These two places are reserves and it can be sold however a Nature Reserve  needs to be de-reserved if so be the case more so this is yet another process for BHD to undertake. In such cases the government should ask the people in the south, especially the villages of Columbia but instead taking the authority to do whatever they want is not right. This dam, if built, might not be beneficial to everyone but will affect many adversely, for sure. What are the consequences of this? Honourable Coy do you think you should listen to the people and do what they want? Yes people want jobs like you’ve said in the previous meeting but not in this form of development by the way, I should not say development but rather “destruction” because it will destroy our beautiful rivers and our environment. There are other means that we can help in getting jobs for people; for example getting funding for people to do farming, raising chickens, doing business like how Plenty Belize and SHI are doing.

Also I know this dam will produce electricity but ­let me tell you electricity is not that important like water which is the essential one for living and land which God made for everyone to enjoy. Let’s look at the past, our ancestors didn’t use electricity but they survive; also, an alternative way of getting electricity is through solar power which does not damage anything but it can also create jobs because someone can be trained to install and maintain it.

By the way I did a survey on the views of the people in my village about hydro dam, which they are planning to build. It resulted to 90% against the dam so this show us that the people don’t want it because of its negative impacts and we use the river for washing, drinking, bathing, recreational purposes, travelling also not only the villagers use it but people from PG and other areas within the country or outside come to enjoy the relaxation given by this river and bathe in the nice, cool, crystal water of this Columbia River.

I am asking you, Mr. Jeff, to please leave this village with its beauty, leave the two reserves alone. What else do you want? You have already built a dam in San Miguel, which is enough. This Esperanza river is the Central River so do you see what we don’t want to happen to us and the rest of the villages? Honourable Coy, can you please do what you think the people deserve? Remember when you wanted their support, they were there with you always and now that you are in position you wouldn’t even bother to look at us. Let me tell you something before you make a mistake, listen to your people do what they want and you will see what they will do in return. Think about your governance because I know you want it to last for 5 years perhaps more. So pass on this concern to the rest of the branch of government. I am asking for the people of Columbia to voice up your concerns; don’t be afraid everyone has rights. As for the future generation like myself let us help the villagers to get what we all want because we are the future of our family, village, and country so let us cooperate and stop this destruction from this dam and let us stop the xateros from the  illegal harvesting of xate. Come on we need to achieve our goals by stopping this.

As for the organization and other individuals strongly supporting this concern with the people of Columbia, I encourage you to continue because your assistance is needed and appreciated.

My name is Aliana Ash. I am a high-school student at TCC and I am 16 years old and if I, at the age of 16, can see that it is a mistake then it is should be clear to adults that this dam is a mistake, with this I say, THANK YOU!!!

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