The Sunday, July 18 edition of the New York Times ran an article on page A6 that begins, “Great sweeps of Guatemalan rain forest, once the cradle of one of the world’s great civilizations, are being razed to clear land for cattle-ranching drug barons.”
The article goes on to state, “Other parts of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Central America’s largest protected area, have been burned down by small cities of squatters.” The article describes the squatters as “mainly peasants who come in search of farmland.” However, “willingly or not, they often become the pawns of the drug lords.”
The Maya Biosphere Reserve is located in the Petén region, which borders Mexico on the north and Belize on the east. The reserve includes four national parks and is home to a diverse ecosystem that supports jaguars, spider monkeys, and scarlet macaws. The spectacular ruins at Tikal are located within the reserve’s borders.
The president of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, has expressed plans to turn the region into a center for eco-tourism. Officials wonder if this possible, noting Colom “will have to bring the law here first.”
The Times quotes a recent report by the State Department which states that drug traffickers control large swaths of Guatemala and operate with impunity. The situation in the north is dire. Not only is the government “hopelessly outgunned” but officials tasked to police the region are “isolated and underpaid … susceptible to corruption.”
The rain forest in Guatemala is a national treasure. Time will tell how the story will unfold.