GUATEMALA CITY – A new Guatemalan army contingent known as the “green battalion” has begun operations to protect a national park in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, a vast tropical forest area in the northern province of El Peten.
Guatemalan armed forces spokesman Rony Urizar told a local radio station Friday that the military contingent – created in late August by President Alvaro Colom to fully recover all the protected zones of El Peten – is made up of 250 specially trained soldiers.
Urizar said the contingent will protect the Laguna del Tigre National Park and work jointly with the National Civil Police and the Attorney General’s Office.
The operations in the southern part of El Peten, near the border with Mexico, are aimed at combating drug trafficking and the depredation of natural resources and archaeological sites of that region of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, he said.
Laguna del Tigre National Park, a protected area measuring more than 334,000 hectares (1,290 sq. miles) that is part of the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, is home to some 50 archaeological sites and more than 3,000 species of flora.
This summer, Colom defended his government’s decision to allow French oil company Perenco – which has operated since 1985 in Laguna del Tigre – to continue its oil drilling operations there for another 15 years.
Colom said oil drilling is not the cause of environmental damage in that region and instead put the blame on land invasions by small farmers and cattle raising.
Perenco, for its part, says on its Web site that its footprint in Laguna del Tigre amounts to just 0.3 percent of the park and that serious problems in that reserve, “such as those caused by migrant communities’ illegal slash and burn farming techniques ... are not related to Perenco’s activities.”
The company also says it is “committed to a reforestation program that will ensure that the small area used by Perenco is returned to its original condition.”