[acn-l] [nia-net] Mexico's Lacandon Forest (fwd)

PETER.UNMACK at asu.edu
Mon, 03 Jul 2000 16:39:21 -0700 (MST)

I thought this might be of interest to readers here....

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 03 Jul 2000 17:30:58 -0400
From: James Albert <albert at flmnh.ufl.edu>
To: nia-net at inpa.gov.br
Subject: [nia-net] Mexico's Lacandon Forest

The recent discovery of an entirely new catfish family from the Rio
Ucumicinta (Hernandez et al.; ASIH 2000, abstract 740) is more evidence
that our understanding of the Middle American ichthyofauna is far from
complete. The Lacandon forest, one of the remaning extents of unbroken
forest in the region, is currently being felled at the rate of 33,500
hectares (82,745 acres) per year. Two-thirds of the original forest cover
has already been removed and the entire region is expected to converted to
pasture land by 2015. The following report from Reuters discusses the
effects of the Zapatista movement on land use in the area. List members
with interest in the aquatic fauna of this area should contact:

Rocío Rodiles Hernández
El Colegio de al Frontera Sur
Carratera Panamericana y Pericirco Sur s/n
29290 San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
<rrodiles at sck.ecosur.mx>

>Title: FEATURE - Mexico's Mayan paradise on brink of extinction
>Source: c 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
>Date: June 16, 2000
>By: Monica Ballesca
>MEXICO: LACANJA - Its ancient residents, the Mayans, could have never
>imagined it, but the verdant paradise of Mexico's Lacandon forest is
>on the verge of extinction.
>As little as one-third of this pre-Columbian Eden - home to bubbling
>springs, monkeys, jaguars and towering trees supposedly imbued with
>spiritual powers - is still intact.
>After decades of crop burning, forest fires, insufficient
>environmental protection and a recent invasion by displaced indigenous
>people, the prognosis for this natural wonder in southern Chiapas
>state is alarming: 15 years of life.
>"In the last 14 years the forest area has diminished by 41 percent,"
>said Alejandro Lopez Portillo, head of a government programme that
>administers resources in the Montes Azules Reserve in the heart of the
>jungle. "That's equivalent to 33,500 hectares (82,745 acres) per year
>in the Lacandon jungle."
>The Lacandon region comprises some 1.9 million hectares, of which two-
>thirds is now pastureland or cultivated for crops.
>"Given this tendency, in 2015 the trees and jungle could disappear,"
>Lopez said, eyeing one of the gaping holes in the dense forest from
>the windows of a helicopter.
>During an aerial tour of the region, Martin Gonzalez of the Federal
>Prosecutor's environmental protection wing Profepa said deforestation
>has been a problem for decades but has accelerated in the last few
>years. In 1998 alone, an abnormally strong season of forest fires
>destroyed some 25,000 hectares.
>The government in 1978 declared about 600,000 hectares a "protected
>zone," giving the land to the Lacandon indigenous group, considered to
>be the purest descendants of the Mayas.
>The heart of the protected area is known as Montes Azules (Blue
>Woodlands) and is an ancient region of virgin forest. Even its abrupt
>ravines and inaccessible areas have not saved it from settlement by
>other indigenous groups.
>Montes Azules is home to 26 communities - 700 families with an average
>of seven members each - who invaded the forest illegally, a government
>report says. Many were fleeing violence between pro-government
>paramilitary groups and the armed rebel group Zapatista National
>Liberation Front (EZLN), which declared war against the government in
>1994 to demand improved rights for the Mayan Indians. Others came to
>escape poverty.
>Profepa estimates that the groups have devastated some 600 hectares
>(1,500 acres) within Montes Azules.
>"What worries us most is that the invasions are not being halted; on
>the contrary, in the last year they've increased," Lopez said as smoke
>rising from agricultural fires obscured the helicopter view of the
>Montes Azules, with just 0.16 percent of Mexico's land, shelters 28
>percent of its mammal species, 32 percent of its bird species, 14.4
>percent of fish and 12 percent of reptiles.
>Jose, one of the hundreds of Indians who have moved into the jungle,
>said the land in the village where he was born is no longer suitable
>for cultivation. So he and a friend decided to tap new land at the
>border of the Yanqui lagoon.
>Jose and his friend Pedro, with their wives and seven children each,
>formed the settlement of El Semental about two hours by foot from the
>interior of Montes Azules.
>After a tough negotiation to convince him the indigenous guides would
>not harm him, Jose - with machete in hand, his head covered with a
>hood - agreed to an interview by Reuters.

"This evil government wants to remove us ... but they will only remove
us dead! No way are we going to leave. The land belongs to those who
work it," an agitated Jose said, paraphrasing famed revolutionary
Emiliano Zapata who fought for social equality at the beginning of the

Fearful of the military and police who he says harass his people
ceaselessly, Jose said in halting Spanish that the jungle offers his
community all it needs.

"Here we have pineapple, papaya, beans, corn, coffee and even lemons
to flavor the water we give our children," he said, displaying his
crops proudly. He conceded they lack medications but added, "If you go
to the public hospitals, the government gives you the same pill
regardless of the pain."

Jose and Pedro, admitting they are Zapatista sympathisers, denied that
they are robbing the forest of its trees. "We know how to work the
earth, our grandparents taught us. Yes, we set fires but (other
Zapatistas) come and control them," Jose said, offering a journalist
fresh fruit from his homestead.

"We're not evil, we just want land for our children."

The Lacandon jungle is the stronghold of commanders and soldiers of
the EZLN army, which broke off peace talks in 1996, claiming the
government had failed to observe part of an accord on Indian rights.
The indigenous migration in impoverished Chiapas state has stemmed
largely from their repression by anti-Zapatista paramilitary groups.

Faced with growing migration to the natural reserve, the federal and
state governments last year launched a plan to relocate the
settlements in Lacandon territory.

Lopez said the government helps indigenous people who agree to
relocate from the jungle, including up to 12 acres (5 hectares) of
land per family, a prefabricated house and technical help on crop

So far, just seven of the 26 new settlements in Montes Azules have
agreed to the package; four have started to leave. But for Jose and
Pedro the offer holds little attraction.

"The worthless houses they give you collapse when it rains and the
land provided isn't suitable for planting and isn't enough," Jose
said, noting he had to pass his land on to seven children.

"Here, meanwhile, we have everything we want."



James Albert / Ichthyology
Florida Museum of Natural History
University of Florida <'}}})><
Gainesville FL 32611-7800 USA
Tel: 352 392 6572
Fax: 352 846 0287


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