Towards formal protection

Title: BRASS/El Pilar - Management History : managing the continguous parks at El Pilar, Belize and Guatemala
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00083146/00001
 Material Information
Title: BRASS/El Pilar - Management History : managing the continguous parks at El Pilar, Belize and Guatemala
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: ISBER/MesoAmerican Research Center
Publisher: University of California, Santa Barbara
Publication Date: 2008
Subject: El Pilar
Spatial Coverage: North America -- Belize -- El Pilar
North America -- Guatemala -- El Pilar
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00083146
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Table of Contents
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    Towards formal protection
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        Page 5
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        Page 9
Full Text

The BRASS / d ilar Program

BRASS / El Pilar Management History



Beneath the lush canopy of the Maya forest, the Maya Center of El Pilar
prospered for 1,500 years, reaching its zenith around the year 900. Over the
course of centuries, since as early as 250 B.C., the flourishing center gradually
grew to become the primary administrative center in the Belize River area,
replete with sweeping plazas and temples.

As the Maya at El Pilar evolved, so did the forest that sustained them. To meet
the needs of their growing population, Maya households cultivated the forest's
abundance of plant life that is suited for human use. Indeed, current research
shows that today up to 90% of the forest's botanicals are useful to humans.
Cultivating these resources, the ancient Maya supported a population that
exceeded today's figures. Studies reveal that the population density 11 centuries
ago, during the Maya Classic Period, was from three to nine-times the region's
current level. Today, the Maya forest stands as an enduring monument to the
resourcefulness of the Maya.

While it withstood millennia of Maya occupation, today the Maya forest is at risk.
Contemporary agricultural strategies, population movements, and human
development schemes that lack environmental consideration now threaten the
rich, biodiverse forest that the Maya cultivated a millennium ago. Today, the
Maya forest is ranked second of 25 resources at risk by Population International
(2000). Contemporary lines cut the landscape. New roads slice through the
forest, paving the way for human migration into wilderness frontier, and political
boundaries overlay ancient monuments. The forest around El Pilar stretches
before the eye unbroken, yet the international border between Belize and
Guatemala invisibly divides El Pilar's monuments between the two nations.

Furthermore, the ancient Maya monuments themselves are at risk without formal
protection threatened by looters and destructive methods of exposure. In order
to formally protect the natural and cultural resources at El Pilar, a path of
conservation was embarked upon nearly ten years ago. The El Pilar Reserve for
Maya Flora and Fauna in Belize and the protected Monumento Cultual El Pilar in
Guatemala were established to protect the shared resources at El Pilar. Along
with research and education on ancient Maya land-use, the innovative, cross-
border, participatory management planning process designed by the El Pilar
Program promises to build a lasting and effective base for the conservation of the
Maya Forest.


In 1992, Anabel Ford, an archaeologist from the University of California Santa
Barbara (UCSB) began meeting with government officials in Belize to spread her
vision for the Maya forest: a protected reserve at the little-known Maya center of
El Pilar. Ford had a history at the site. She had made her first visit to El Pilar with
John Morris and Jaime Awe of the Belize Department of Archaeology (DoA) in
1982. By that time, the site had already been officially recorded in the DoA. But,
El Pilar's true size remained unknown and promised to be significant. As
director of UCSB's BRASS project (Belize River Archaeological Settlement
Survey), Ford was interested in investigating Maya settlement patterns. Ford
incorporated the El Pilar site into the BRASS project and began the initial survey
and map of the site in 1984. During the following years, visits to El Pilar became
more frequent as work at the site gained momentum. In 1992, Cayo Area
Representative Daniel Silva, along with Department of Archaeology, contracted a
team of local workers under the direction of Ford to clear El Pilar's main plazas,
opening them to the view of the general public for the first time. With the full
support of the Belize Government, Ford planned a full-scale investigation at El
Pilar during the 1993 field season. The BRASS/El Pilar Program was set in

During these initial years of investigation at El Pilar, it had become apparent that
the site needed formal protection. In Belize, lands were periodically cleared of
high bush for farming and in Guatemala trees were being illegally logged.
Furthermore, the DoA could do little to stop looters without establishing full-time
surveillance at the site. Numerous illegal excavations had damaged the ancient
monuments at El Pilar, threatening their structural integrity. As a protective
measure, the BRASS/El Pilar program provided funds for a local caretaker, Teo
Williams, at the site in 1992.

Meanwhile, proposals for reserve boundaries had been submitted and circulated
within Belize Ministries. Two sets of boundaries were submitted for the
consideration of the government. One set of proposed boundaries delineated an
area a kilometer and 1/2 around the El Pilar site; another covered 3x3 kilometers,
or roughly 2000 hectares of land. The DoA moved ahead with the latter. As the El
Pilar program worked toward the official establishment of these boundaries, a
network of alliances and collaborators evolved that reflected the growth of the El
Pilar vision, now posed to touch two nations and upwards of 60,000 locals in
zones adjacent to the reserve.

An Expaning Network

From the outset, Ford was concerned that the development at El Pilar translates
into real opportunities for the local village of Bullet Tree Falls and surrounding
communities. Convinced that local stewardship is key to effective conservation
efforts in the Maya forest, Ford consulted the community regarding the creation
of a local organization related to the development of El Pilar as a protected
reserve. In 1993, a broad-based community organization called Amigos de El
Pilar (AdEP) formed to advocate the conservation efforts at El Pilar, sustainable
development in the community, and local education geared towards the
conservation of cultural and natural resources.

An expanding network of collaborators connected AdEP and the El Pilar Program
to the tourist world. In 1994, Godsman Ellis, president of the Cayo Belize
Tourism Industry Association, approached Ford about joining forces with AdEP
and BRASS/El Pilar in a collaborative project that would bring El Pilar into the
growing fold of eco-tourism with funds from the Natural Resource Protection
Program, under USAID. With the NARMAP resources and matching funds from
the BRASS/El Pilar Program, the Ford's research endeavor at El Pilar grew into a
much larger undertaking that required collaboration non-governmental agencies
NGO's within and outside of Belize and with government agencies such as the
Department of Lands, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and ultimately the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Guatemala was drawn into the El Pilar vision.

Funds were directed towards a number of initiatives that materialized over the
following years. In 1994, the Belize government guaranteed that permanent
funds be allotted for the maintenance of a caretaker at El Pilar. This was the first
official step toward the protection of the site, and came along with other
developments. The El Pilar Program continued to provide for two over caretakers
to maintain the grounds, and began the construction of a caretaker's facility that
would ensure full-time surveillance of the site. With the Amigos de El Pilar, the
BRASS/El Pilar Program created a network of trails that incorporated the site's
various ecological zones and Maya monuments, providing the infrastructure to
attract visitors to the region as tourists began to hear of El Pilar's charms and
make their way to the site.

At the start of 1994, an impressive delegation of government officials visited El
Pilar through the Ministry of Natural Resources in order to assess the lands
situation an the establishment of reserve boundaries. Now working more closely
with ministry officials such as Linsay Belinge, the Permanent Secretary of the
Ministry of natural Resources, and also Dr. Victor Gonzales, the PS of the
Ministry of Tourism and the Environment, it became clear that the government
strongly supported the establishment of a reserve. With ministry officials, it was
decided that the park should be an Archaeological Reserve, under the
administration of the DOA, to avoid the bureaucratic complexity of creating both
an archaeological and a natural reserve that would have spanned multiple
ministries. Though El Pilar would officially be an archaeological reserve, a name
was chosen that incorporated the environmental emphasis of the reserve the El
Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna. At the end of the 1994
field season, a lands survey was commenced to determine the official boundaries
of the reserve.

As it is presently known, the El Pilar site is divided into three primary sectors. In
Belize, Xaman Pilar (North) and Nohol Pilar (South) are connected to Pilar
Poniente (West) in the Peten of Guatemala via an ancient causeway that bisects
the international border between Belize and Guatemala. Though the two nations
have been historically divided by a contentious past, the BRASS/El Pilar Program
instigated a path of conservation and research that united the Belize and
Guatemala around the protection and management of El Pilar.

Conservation efforts in Guatemala began in May 1994 at a Mayafor USAID
meeting on community development. Archie Carr III arranged for the participation
of Ford, who made a presentation on the initial progress of the fledgling
community organization, AdEP. The presentation introduced Guatemala circles
to The BRASS/El Pilar Program's vision for community inclusive management of
shared resources at El Pilar. During that trip, Ford also met with the head of
Prehispanic Monuments at IDAEH (Instituto de Anthropologia e Historia), Erik
Ponsiano, to introduce him to the work at El Pilar and to ask permission to map
Pilar Poniente. Ponsiano agreed to the mapping and was enthusiastic about the
possibility of a contiguous reserve.

No time was lost in the mapping of Pilar Poniente. Guatemalan archaeologist
Miguel Orrego and Jose Sanchez of CONAP spent a week mapping the area and
submitted an initial report to IDAEH and Consejo Technico de Arqueologia by
July. In September 1994, Ford was invited to meet with the Guatemalan Ministry
of Culture to present her vision of a contiguous reserve at El Pilar. By 1995, El
Pilar was established as a paper park in Guatemala and the official boundaries of
the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna were established
in Belize.

Parallel Paths of Conservation in the Maya Forest

Connecting Communities to Conservation

To bring together representatives from Belize and Guatemala to discuss the
future of the El Pilar and outline preliminary and strategic plans for the reserve in
Belize and Guatemala, the BRASS/ El Pilar Program organized a binational
workshop called the "Encuentro El Pilar." Sponsored by the Comission
Centroamericana de Ambiente y Dessarollo (CCAD), directed by Jorge Cabrerra,
representatives from Guatemala included Juan Antonio Valdes, director of
IDAEH, and Erik Ponciano of Monumentos Prehispanicos. Jose Anotonio Montes
from the Institute for Environmental Rights and Sustainable Development also
attended. Montes would later become an important component of the EL Pilar
Program. Represetnatives form Belize included the Commissioner of
Archaeology, Brian Woodeye, representatives from Forestry, and the Minitsry of
Tourism and the Environment, Natural Resources, and the Amigos de El Pilar. All
participants had the opportunity to visit El Pilar to assess its possibilities.

The Encuentro El Pilar led to solid commitments on the part of Belize and
Guatemala. Participants outlined short and long-term steps towards formal
protection of El Pilar. Representatives from Guatemala developed a strict
timetable for the establishment of a Cultural Monument at Pilar Poniente, which
falls in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala's Peten. The Government of
Belize committed sign into law the Statutory Instrument making El Pilar a legal
national reserve and pledged continuing support to the El Pilar Program, directed
by Ford. Jointly, participants agreed to develop parallel management schemes
for the administration of El Pilar, delegating management to include local

The Encuentro El Pilar set the stage for the Mesa Redonda El Pilar, held in
Mexico City in 1997. With funds from the Ford and the Macarthur Foundations,
the El Pilar Project organized the Mesa Redonda, bringing together 28
professionals from Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States
representing archaeology, ecology, law, and the government to develop a vision
for the future management of the contiguous reserves at El Pilar. The Mesa
Redonda's end result was a comprehensive set of values and guidelines to
shape the focus of development at El Pilar. The innovative plan devised by
experts at the Mesa Redonda recognizes that a critical component for the
preservation of cultural and natural resources is the incorporation of local
communities in management design and implementation.

Indeed, local communities represent the ultimate stewards of natural and cultural
resources. The Maya Forest will not be effectively protected until communities
are incorporated in conservation efforts. At El Pilar, communities have shown
that they play an important role as guardians of the forest. When a group of
displaced farmers threatened to burn land in the reserve in 1996, AdEP gathered

the signatures of over 100 community members who sought the protection of El
Pilar. AdEP then went to the capitol to meet with government leaders and vent
their concerns. Through this effort, and the subsequent action of the DoA, the
government acted to stop the destruction of the reserve. In this case, the
community acted as a watchdog and government advocate to ensure that
national regulations be enforced at El Pilar.

Apart from recognizing the need for local stewards, participants of the Mesa
Redonda also noted that the development of El Pilar as an archaeological
reserve would undoubtedly draw tourists to the area, noting that although Belize
had a successful track-record with tourism, it is still dominated by large hotels,
cruise packages, and tour packages that bypass local villages. John Morris of the
DoA emphatically stated that, "the development of infrastructure for tourism
needs to take priority. Emphasis on small scale enterprises, local arts and crafts,
village and community cooperation can help" [Ford, 1998 #833].

The El Pilar Program and the community organization Amigos de El Pilar are
committed to develop the type of tourist venture that does not overlook local
residents. While participants of the Mesa Redonda stressed that community-
based ecotourism is the most appropriate path of development for El Pilar, AdEP
President Marcos Garcia described the work ahead for AdEP and the local
community in a statement to fellow participants: "People of the village do not
have a clear idea of what ecotourism is all about...we need to be trained so that
the impact of ecotourism will be positive and not negative. This is one of the
alternatives we think should work in conjunction with Amigos de El Pilar,
reaffirming that we have a future with ecotourism." (Ford, 1998 #833) To offset
these obstacles, the participants of the Mesa Redonda urged the governments of
Belize, Guatemala, and national and international organizations to work with local
communities to forge a model for cooperative cultural and natural resource

Through the initiative of the BRASS/El Pilar Program and AdEP, local
communities are gaining awareness of El Pilar and the opportunities it presents
for local development. AdEP sponsored events such as local workshops, BBQ's,
an essay contest, and community outreach has effectively integrated locals into
efforts surrounding El Pilar. This significant document recognizes the importance
of surrounding communities as local stewards and those most impacted by
development at El Pilar. The BRASS/El Pilar Program inaugurated an annual
Fiesta El Pilar that highlights local culture, and Maya history, and draws
thousands of visitors to the site every year.

To increase the effectiveness of the El Pilar Program and advance its goals
within the community, Help for Progress (HfP), a Belizean NGO committed to
improving rural life in the Maya Forest, was enlisted by the BRASS/ El Pilar
Program to work with AdEP in 1997. In respect to reserve management, regional
program advocates were formally incorporated into the El Pilar Program. In

Belize, Anselmo Castaneda focuses on local and regional environmental issues.
In Guatemala, Jose Antonio Montes concentrates on legal and political
The official development of contiguous reserves at El Pilar was the highlight of
the 1998. In Belize, Statutory Instrument #54 of 1998 was signed into law by the
Minister Henry Young of the Ministry of Tourism and the Environment, officially
protecting the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora. In Guatemala, the
Monumento Cultural El Pilar was declared as a protected area within the
Reserva de la Biosfera Maya by Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas
(CONAP), the government agency that oversees the Maya Biosphere Reserve
and El Pilar. The cross-border aspect of the El Pilar archaeological reserves site
is unique in the region. With both the governments of Belize and Guatemala
recognizing El Pilar as two contiguous reserves protecting one cultural resource
in two countries, the next step would to develop a strategy for managing the

To work out this point, The BRASS/ El Pilar Program organized a second Mesa
Redonda El Pilar (MRII). Held in Placencia in 1998, the Mesa Redonda II brought
together the a growing network to further the unique program of research and
development at El Pilar. With reserves officially established on both sides of the
border, the El Pilar Program was now in a position to bring broad goals
introduced by the first Mesa Redonda into a design for concrete action.
Participants drafted a management plan for El Pilar that included short and long-
term goals related to law, community participation, and tourism.

A gratifying number of locals from villages in Belize and Guatemala participated
in the proceedings of the MRII. The clear accord between AdEP and the
government representatives at the MRII was underscored by the latter's approval
of the community's role in reserve management planning, a role that they
suggested would be enhanced by university level training aimed at building local
management capacity. Not only was AdEP an effective participant in the MRII,
endorsing the drafted management plan, they relayed the results of the
proceedings to the residents of surrounding communities. The inclusion of the
community the group that has the greatest stake in the future of the El Pilar
Archaeological Reserve -in the MRII augmented the viability and the credibility
management planning process. The work done at the MRII continued into 1999.

The development of the contiguous reserve, the remarkable achievement the
marked the BRASS/El Pilar program in 1998, was topped in 1999 by the
endorsement of parallel management plans that were developed at the MRII. The
Protected Areas Technical Evaluation Committee El Pilar (PATEC-EP) was
formed and held six meeting to finalize the draft management plan for El Pilar.
The committee reaffirmed the importance of ensuring that local communities
receive direct and long-term benefits from El Pilar, describing for, "in order to
promote the advantages that can be derived from El Pilar's location, an alliance
has been formed between the Amigos de El Pilar and the site, the El Pilar

Program, and internationally." The PATEC committee finalized and endorsed the
innovative management plan, which is the first of its kind for the DoA and which,
"will serve as an example for the many management plans in archaeology yet to
be developed in the region as well as those within the DoA," wrote Hon. Mark
Espat, Minister of Tourism and Youth." [Ford, 2001 #52].

A similar finalization process was undertaken in Mexico that led to CONAP's
endorsement of the management plan. These proceedings culminated in
November 1999 at the "Dia del Sombrero Verde" workshop in Yaxha. There,
governmental and non-governmental agencies from both Belize and Guatemala
drafted a letter of intent for cooperative management of EL Pilar. This significant
document recognizes the importance of surrounding communities as local
stewards and those most impacted by development at El Pilar.

The first two Mesa Redondas produced a comprehensive plan to guide the
management of El Pilar. A third Mesa Redonda El Pilar (MRIII) was held in June
2000 in Remate, Peten, Guatemala. The objective of the MRIII was to formalize
the institutional arrangements for the administration of El Pilar in Belize and
Guatemala in legal terms. Initiated by the legal research of Montes and Thomas
Ankerson of UF, the MRIII resulted in the creation of a technical advisory group
called the Consultative Council for El Pilar (CoCEP) to support management
entities in both countries and coordinate research and tourism development and
El Pilar.. In June of the 2001, the first formal meetings of CoCEP convened, and
a strategic plan for El Pilar that unifies the interests enshrined in drafts of both
Belize's and Guatemala's management plans was approved (Appendix I).
CoCEP membership is made up of representatives from all key management
structures: AdEP Belize, AdEP Guatemala, Help for Progress, Canaan Kaax, the
DoA, IDEAH, The Belize Department of Forestry, CONAP, Mesoamerican
Biological Corridors, BRASS/El Pilar, INGUAT, and the Belize Tourism Bureau.
The Council promises to secure cooperative management, prepare delegation
agreements and statutory instruments, and to develop a sustainable, long-term
funding base for the operation of the contiguous reserves. CoCEP will strengthen
the participation of communities adjacent to EPAR in their efforts to promote
conservation and responsible management of resources.

CoCEP is the final result of a management process that began in 1992 with
Anabel Ford's initial consultations with the Government of Belize. The Mesa
Redonda process provided El Pilar with a visionary management plan.
Organizational structures have emerged from the process. Now, with CoCEP's
establishment, the organizational infrastructure for the contiguous reserves at El
Pilar is operational.

This threshold has arrived at a critical moment. Visitation to El Pilar has
increased from 20 to 30 tourists to 3,000 tourists a year, and a considerable
increase in tourist visitations is expected in the near future. We are rapidly
approaching the moment that John Morris warned of at the first Mesa Redonda

nearly 5 years ago when large hotels, and arranged tours threaten to overpass
local communities.
Fortunately, at El Pilar the foresight of the government of Belize, non-
governmental organizations, and the BRASS/ El Pilar Program, a true path of
community led conservation has been embraced. To predict the success of the
El Pilar Program design in the future, it is useful look at how far the program has
come in the past 10 years.

With the support of many institutions we have rescued the archaeological site,
and little by little, we have created an awareness of it potentials. The Fiesta El
Pilar has been institutionalized, now attracting thousands of visitors from around
the world. Four important trails have been established for visiting tourists along
with comfort stations, picnic area, and look-out point. Trail guides are available to
inform tourists of the important work being done at the site. The development of
contiguous parks and parallel management have been applauded by world-wide
and hailed as a major accomplishment. Most importantly, the local community
has been involved in the process.

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