San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

President Colom to Protect Maya Culture

GUATEMALA CITY – New Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom built his reputation on helping the country’s marginalized Maya Indians.
And when he officially took office last month, he ordered that a new tourist park be created at the site of one of the world’s largest pyramids built by the country’s dominant indigenous group.
Colom vowed he would lift the Mirador archaeological site out of the hands of drug traffickers and poachers.
The ruins, located in the north of the country and some three times the size of the popular Tikal site, formed an integral part of Colom’s inauguration address to the nation, Jan. 14 (NT, Jan. 18).
He pledged to create a site more accessible to tourists and spur development in a region blighted by regional drug trade.
Due largely to Mirador’s remote location – it can be reached only by helicopter or by a two-day trek through thick jungle – the ruins have gradually been swallowed up by the Peten jungle and rendered inaccessible to most tourists.
“Among the structures is the world’s most massive pyramid and I think it even beats the Egyptian’s (pyramids) by about a meter,” Colom told a media gathering. “Two years ago it was discovered that (the site) has 42 kilometers of Maya pyramids, with which we could make a gigantic park that conserves the Petenera jungle.”
The Global Heritage Fund (GHF), an international conservation group, had been pushing for a sustainable park at the site in a bid to stem deforestation. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says the area has lost 70% of its forest cover in the past decade. GHF claims the establishment of a preserve at Mirador is the last chance to protect the last remaining forests from “total environmental catastrophe.”
Colom points to the success of Tikal as a model for the Mirador project. Tikal has attracted some 12 million visitors and generated around $200m in tourism revenue.
Mirador is said to be home to the earliest pre-classic Maya archaeological sites in Central America, including La Danta, said to be the world’s largest.
The Maya mysteriously abandoned their cities of elaborate structures around 900. Experts have proposed a series of theories for the demise in an attempt to explain why, including climate change, disease, drought and warfare.
The announcement of plans for the park on the first day of his presidency follows years of work by Colom to persuade thousands of the country’s civil war refugees, the majority of them Maya, to return home after the conflict ended in 1996. He was ordained as an honorary Maya priest in recognition of his work.
Colom has become the first leftist president of Guatemala in more than 50 years, spreading hope among the marginalized Maya they can lift themselves out of poverty.
The country’s recent history was marked by brutal U.S.-backed military dictatorships and a 35-year civil war, which claimed the lives of some 200,000 mostly indigenous people.
Colom has promised to govern for the poor, though just one member of his Cabinet is of Maya decent.

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