Bringing 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.” 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. Jointly, participants agreed to develop parallel management schemes for the administration of El Pilar, delegating management to include local communities.
The Encuentro El Pilar set the stage for the first Mesa Redonda El Pilar, held in Mexico City in 1997. The El Pilar Project organized the Mesa Redonda (meaning “Round Table”), 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.
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, Petén, 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. 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.