While stumbling online I ran across this article by one of Belize’s top photographers and thought it is too important not to share. I fully agree with Tony here, we are fighting a silent and invisible war that most of us don’t know is happening. I was speaking to one of the military personnel recently and he was telling me about this exact issue. I find it horribly disgraceful that Guatemalans can come into Belize and do as they please, when our military does their jobs in defending our nation and either capture or kill these armed invaders they get reprimanded and we have to pay for their criminal behavior. Out Government has given up on our nation as far as I’m concerned and it’s just a slow death waiting to happen on the front and the OAS is smack in the middle doing diddle but pushing us to go to the ICJ over a ludicrous claim against our sovereignty.
The distant sound of gunfire in the rain forests of Belize is rare but not unheard of, usually a far off solitary hunter. But a 9mm unexpectedly going off close by in the middle of a jungle where there should only be bird calls and monkey howls is personal shock and awe.
A few seconds earlier myself, 2 fellow explorers and two rangers were climbing, single file on what should have been a small, almost imperceptible trail in what I believed was one of the most remote, pristine and wild regions of Belize. But instead the trail was a 12 foot wide highway of horse hoofs, boot prints and trash up a steep saddle between two huge elevated sinkholes in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve of the southern Cayo District. Without warning, the ranger behind shoved me aside, anxiously whispered “get down, Xateros!“ and in a single fluid motion slipped off his backpack, drew his 9 millimeter pistol and charged up the hill.
There is a tunneling of perception – the shrinking of peripheral vision, a quickening of heartbeat and breath, a general slowing of motion – when the moment takes an unexpected and sudden turn. As my mind struggled to make sense of the situation – the adrenaline-fueled sound of the ranger’s voice; his firm push; the kicked up stones and leaves from his boots as he flew uphill; angry shouting of “Alto! Manos Arriba!“ and then the gunfire – fear, anger and instinct kicked in. Holding my camera close to my body so it would not swing on the shoulder strap, I ran uphill in a crouched position a good 20 yards behind the ranger just now disappearing over the saddle.
The issue of the Chiquibul is not a complicated one, if you realize that it is not a border dispute between Guatemala and Belize. Guatemala does claim something, but it is an unfounded claim. Poverty reigns supreme on the Guatemalan side of the border, and Belize is an easy safety valve. As we witnessed first hand, logging in the Chiquibul is only one problem, one that has been going on for some time. The entire natural and cultural resource base in the Chiquibul is an easy target for poor Guatemalans when Belize does not enforce the border. Once the timber and xate and wildlife are gone, the forest will be cleared for milpa as it has on the Guatemalan side. And it is far safer to establish marijuana fields in Belize and transport it back than to grow it in the cleared land of Guatemala. Colonization can not be far behind. This is not conjecture, it is happening right now.
Shame on the Belizean Government if they do not delineate our western border. Shame on the Belizean Government if they do not defend our national sovereignty from incursion by foreigners. Shame on the Belizean Government if they do not protect and manage the Chiquibul as the natural wonder it is. And shame on the Belizean People if they do not demand this of their government.