Great News for Protected Areas

The following story was extracted from 7 News Belize.com 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
2009-12-22

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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