January 27, 1999
I arrived in San Cristóbal de Las Casas late Monday morning after a long and uncomfortable bus ride from Mexico City. The rest of the team had gone off to Palenque on Friday while I stayed for a few extra days to say goodbye to my friends and catch a little extra rest. I was having such a great time there that it was really difficult to leave. But now that I am finally here in Chiapas I feel like the World Trek has really begun!
Chiapas is the most southern state in Mexico and also the most geographically
diverse. There are five distinct geographical regions here ranging from coastal
rainforest to fertile river valleys and semi-arid mountains. Although the land
is rich with an abundance of natural resources, it is also one of the poorest
states in the country. While the land is rapidly being stripped of its value,
the profits from these enterprises have been distributed only among a small
elite minority. The majority of the population is left with increasingly
useless land and without means for subsistence. This maldistribution of natural
resources is the primary grievance of the indigenous people of this area, and
the foremost cause of the infamous Zapatista uprising which began in 1994 with
siege of this very town, San Cristóbal. Check out Kavitha's dispatch for more details on the
Chiapas produces 5 percent of the nation's oil, 12 percent of its natural gas, 46 percent of its coffee, and 48 percent of its hydroelectric power, yet only a tiny portion of the wealth generated from these resources is returned to the state. This problem is compounded by the fact that the population of Chiapas has more than doubled in the past 20 years due to a high birth rate and an insurgence of refugees from war-torn Guatemala. This, of course, has increased the demand for food and forest products while at the same time the size of the forests and arable lands dwindle as they are occupied by the growing human and animal populations.
Much of the farmland in Chiapas has been lost to development and the numerous hydroelectric projects here over the past 20 years. Many of the river valleys here have been dammed to create electricity, displacing tens of thousands of people and covering thousands of acres of farmland. This has been a major source of outrage for groups like the Zapatistas since less than half the population of the state has electrical power. This increased demand for farm and grazing land has led to rapid deforestation of the Lancandon Forest, Mexico's last tropical rain forest. Deforestation, in turn, leads to soil erosion and destroys fish populations, making food even more scarce.
The implications of these problems become all too clear as we get set to wander among the lonely ruins of the once great Mayan cities of this area such as Tikal and Copán, which were deserted more than 500 years before the Spanish Conquest. Look for photos and more information about Tikal and Copán in future updates. Environmental scarcity, particularly due to overpopulation of farmland, was undoubtedly the primary factor in the collapse of this great society. For the sake of the colorful, abundant culture which thrives here today, we can only hope that the Mexican government can learn from the mistakes of the past and that it is not too late.
Jamila - Mayan Mummies were Calling Me
Team - Heading Back in Time
Abeja - From Riches to Rags
Kavitha - Kids at Work
Kavitha - Pro-Zapatista Grafitti and More!
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