Government responds to Illegal Gold Panning in Ceibo Chico Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 26 July 2012 00:00

Belizeans are once again frustrated from news of the pillaging of natural resources by Guatemalan nationals in the Chiquibul Jungle. Unlike when it was news of xate or hardwood extraction, news of illegal gold panning by trespassing Guatemalans has hit home nationally. Gold is one of few objects that are recognized as something of great value to people all over the world. It is a personified object. Almost everyone has thought about what they would do if they had a great quantity of gold. When news spread that illegal Guatemalan immigrants have established a systematic operation to extract gold from the Chiquibul area, Belizeans countrywide were shocked and disgusted.

Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), released a report saying that as many as 300 Guatemalans are operating in Ceibo Chico drainage system. That number also includes a large amount of women and children. The Ceibo Chico Conservation Post and the South Chiquibul Joint Enforcement Unit was inaugurated just a couple weeks ago to monitor and enforce the protection in South Chiquibul. That unit is in need of additional man power. Patrols by that unit have led to encounters with multiple groups of illegal gold panners. Their shortage in resources and man power does not allow them to push the immigrants back across the border with any serious effect.

Manzanero believes that the situation is still controllable but Belizean authorities must act immediately. He suggests the deployment of additional troops to the area and collaboration with counterpart Guatemalan authorities. Manzanero says that if action is not taken soon, it may get out of control because the operation is becoming “a highly lucrative venture” for them. According to reports, the Guatemalan immigrants receive up to 250 quetzales per ounce of gold or about $70, which is way below market value but plenty of money for a poor Guatemalan. 

The company that has legal rights to extract gold from the area is Boiton Minerals. Every ounce of gold extracted illegally is one less ounce that Boiton Minerals extracts legally. It is a loss to Boiton Minerals and a loss of revenue for the Government of Belize. However, the real cost from the extraction is much greater than gold.  The Ceibo Chico Drainage System is very important to the hydrology of both Belize and Guatemala. It is a source of water for the well known Chiquibul River that joins the Mopan River and runs through numerous communities in Guatemala and Belize. A report from the Friends for Conservation and Development says that the damage to the ecosystem is “incredible”. It continues to say, “The recovery of this ecosystem will take hundreds of years since the stones have been removed, trees fallen and the streams have been altered from its original course."
The Government of Belize is getting ready to execute an effective response to this latest border crisis.