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    Repiglican Roast

    A spirited discussion of public policy and current issues

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    I'm furious about my squandered nation.

    Monday, September 29, 2008

    GUATEMALA: Lachuá, a Corner of the Jungle Resists

    The Q’eqchies are entrusted with preserving 1,994 hectares of forest, and for their work they received 82,000 dollars from INAB in 2006-07. In the same period, forest production from 1,290 hectares brought in more than 617,000 dollars, said López.

    Tourism routes were developed in El Peyán Canyon, Rocjá Postila, the Salinas Nueve Cerros estate, and the lake, Laguna Lachuá. Furthermore, the community members have planted 9.6 hectares of pineapple. The goal is to reach about 50 hectares, with harvests providing a livelihood for 110 families.

    In addition, some 200 people manage 2,000 beehives that produce honey, with plans to expand to 5,000 hives that would provide income for 300 families.

    Also planted in the area are avocados, lemons, oranges, chilli peppers and cacao. In 2006, 70,000 cacao seeds were imported and planted on 98 hectares, providing a marketable crop but also increasing the absorption of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

    In the Chixoy River, the residents raise tilapia fish, with the aim of harvesting 60,000 adults every six months.

    In 2005, the indigenous communities created two Community Development Councils (COCODES) responsible for improving access to the eco-region, building eight schools, administering a scholarship fund and providing electricity to three communities.

    The following year the Lachuá Park was declared a Ramsar wetlands site by the United Nations, due to its important role as habitat for animal species, especially migratory birds.

    But this is no Garden of Eden. There is heavy pressure in the area to expand farmland, drill for oil and build highways.

    Destruction in the area began in the 1970s, according to Luis Solan, in his study "Northern Transversal Strip: Neo-Colonisation On the March", when high-ranking military officers and business executives "dedicated themselves… to the accumulation of land in order to open the way for livestock and the exploitation of lumber resources."

    Encroachments on the land have not disappeared, although López said that there have been no problems so far in the protected area itself.

    In the park’s buffer zone, where the project is being carried out, 90 percent of the indigenous people are landowners. If more rural settlers establish themselves there it would amount to illegal seizure of land.

    There are six communities facing possible relocation from the buffer zone and the park itself, according to Raúl López, from the Agrarian Affairs Secretariat.

    Two communities, which only work in the buffer zone, will be relocated. The other four occupied the land after it was declared a protected area, so "there is a possibility that they will be expelled" as well, he told Tierramérica.

    According to Solano, oil palm -- to produce biodiesel -- is grown on 55,000 hectares in Guatemala, but there are plans to expand to 150,000 hectares by 2012. Monoculture is advancing with the purchase of communal lands. The peasant farmers who sell off their property then move elsewhere to settle other land.

    Green Earth Fuels, property of the Carlyle Group, Riverstone Holdings and Goldman Sachs investment funds, acquired more than 25,000 hectares this year in La Soledad, Rubelsanto, Playitas and Ixcan -- the latter three located near Lachuá.

    Furthermore, the Truestar Petroleum Corporation holds the licence for exploiting crude oil in Tortugas and Atzam, 20 kilometres west of the Rubelsanto oil fields, also located near Lachuá.

    In September 2005, PetroLatina Energy also obtained a licence to operate in Tortugas and Atzam, in an area of 31,000 hectares that includes parts of the buffer zone around the park.

    Meanwhile, the plan to build a highway through the Northern Transversal Strip has been postponed. For now it is a gravel road that would be turned into a 330-km highway as part of the plans for connecting Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

    The project, granted by the government to the Solel Boneh company, does not include considerations for preserving the environment, nor does it question the planned road that would run through the heart of Lachuá park.

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