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Message-Id: <v02140b01aee096ed9724@[]>
Date: Fri, 20 Dec 1996 11:31:28 -0800
From: saiic@igc.apc.org (SAIIC)
Subject: ALERT: Help Maya Itza of Guatemala
Sender: owner-taino-l@corso.ccsu.ctstateu.edu Precedence: bulk

Letter of appeal

From the Bio Itza Committee, 19 November 1996


The Committee of the Biósfera Itzá reserve wish to make known, both nationally and internationally, the following. Since 1991, when the reserve was founded, this organization has pioneered the conservation of the environment in the Department of Petén, Guatemala in Central America. As the last indigenous inhabitants of the Petén's forest, the Maya Itzá have fought to maintain the forest, culture and language of their great civilization. The reserve protects 6 km2 of threatened primary forest under the guidance of a Management Plan; we also have a Forest Inventory, a map of the area, archaeological studies of the sites within the reserve, and currently have five on-going projects that are compatible with the environment. Furthermore, we have received technical and/or financial assistance from the following institutions: the University of Michigan, Cultural Survival, IIZ- Austrian Embassy, ProPetén/CI, TNC, CONAP, CATIE/RENAR, CCAD, EcoLogic Development Fund, and SEGEPLAN.

Unfortunately, for the past three years the Biósfera Itzá Committee has suffered at the hands of the current municipal leader, Julian Tesucún y Tesucún, who together with members of the immigrant population, want to extract the forest resources protected within the reserve. With this purpose in mind, the municipality held a meeting Saturday, November 16, 1996 in which Mr. Tesucún y Tesucún inappropriately permitted the election of a new Committee to manage the Biósfera Itzá. Those in attendance represent the immigrant population and other persons with personal agendas. Their interests are not the well-being and development of the Maya Itzá community, rather their primary goal is to log the reserve and divide it up for the extraction of forest resources--thereby converting it into a desert.

As such, we urgently protest before you, asking for your moral support to exert pressure on the authorities and institutions whose role it is to protect the rights of the indigenous communities and the environment. We want this situation to be resolved through the appropriate legal channels so that we can live and work in peace for the good of the environment and future generations. We are the first indigenous organization to worry about our natural environment in the northern forested region of the Petén, which has suffered deforestation and destruction due to the increasing number of immigrants from other parts of the country.

With the hope of receiving your words of support, we thank you for your consideration. For more information, please communicate with us by means of the community telephone in San José ([502] 928-8135).






December 16, 1996

Dr. Edgar Armando Aragón González, Gobernador
Gobernación Departamental del Petén
Ciudad Flores, Petén, Guatemala
Tel/Fax: 011-502-926-1383

Dear Dr. Aragón González,

I am writing on behalf of the EcoLogic Development Fund, an international charitable organization, to bring your attention to a problem of great concern to us regarding San José, Petén.

Both my organization and many other international agencies have recently received reports concerning the questionable dissolution on November 16, 1996 of the Committee of the Biosfera Itzá Reserve in San José by Mayor Julian Tesucún y Tesucún. If this is true, I am confident that you will join us in supporting the valiant efforts of the Bio Itzá Committee to protect their natural resources, promote the sustainable use of these resources, and preserve of their language and culture.

The Bio Itzá Committee was formally established in September 1991 in San José when Itzá community members established their general assembly. The area in which their development has been centered is located in the buffer zone of the Mayan Biosphere along the perimeter of El Zotz-San Miguel-La Pelotada Biotope. This 36-square kilometer area was conceded by the Honorable Corporation of the Municipality of San José as a municipal forest reserve (in the 34-91 session, of the folio 312-317 of the Act No. 37). The Bio Itzá Committee, under the leadership of Reginaldo Chayax Huex and Feliciano Tzul Colli, developed a management plan and established projects to protect this fragile area. These projects include the protection of San José's threatened forests, the reforestation of degraded areas, the promotion of ecotourism and most importantly, the education of Maya Itzá youth in their nearly lost traditions and language. They have been effective not only in their conservation work, but also in promoting the economic development and cultural well-being of the Maya Itzá people.

Because of its important work, many national and international organizations have supported and are willing to continue supporting the Bio Itzá Committee. Institutions that have joined forces with the Bio Itzá Committee by donating their financial, technological, and human resources include: Secretaría de Planificación Económica (SEGEPLAN); Dirección General de Bosques y Vida Silvestre (DIGEBOS); Plan de Acción Forestral Maya (PAF-MAYA); Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala; Comisión Centroamericana de Ambiente y Desarollo (CCAD); Asociación del Rescate y Conservación de la Vida Silvestre (ARCAS); Centro Argonómico Tropical de Investigación Enseñanza (CATIE); Consejo Nacional para un Bosque Sostenible (PROPETEN); OEW, Austria; Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France; Cultural Survival, USA; The Nature Conservancy, USA; UNESCO, UNICEF, the EcoLogic Development Fund, USA; University of Michigan, USA; Instituto para la Cooperación Internacional, Austria; US Agency for International Development (US AID).

We support the leaders of the Bio Itzá Committee, elected by the Itzá themselves, in their claim to their rights as indigenous people under United Nations Convention ILO 169, Article 15, ratified by the Government of Guatemala, which states that indigenous people have the right to participate in the use, management and conservation of their natural resources. The removal of the Bio Itzá Committee's leadership and their replacement by three of the Mayor's relatives and recent immigrants with little understanding of the local culture and intent on converting the forest into agricultural lands is in clear violation of this Convention.

Please join us by helping to resolve this conflict in San José. We believe that the Bio Itzá Committee should be rewarded for its valiant efforts rather than punished. This is the second time that Mayor Tesucún y Tesucún has tried to take land away from a community organization. The first involved the Ixchel group, under the leadership of Brenda Mayol. Please join with us to stop this second attempt.

Both the EcoLogic Development Fund and many other international agencies would be most grateful to you for any action taken by your office to settle the conflict in San José for the well being of the Maya Itzá and all of Petén. We, in turn, are committed to investing financial and technical assistance to promote economic development and conservation in San José.

The Bio Itzá Committee has realized projects that serve not only as a model to other Guatemalans, but to the international community as well. I am sure that they would welcome you if you visited them to see first- hand the results of their efforts at reforestation and ecosystem preservation. We believe that this fragile parcel of land should remain with the Bio Itzá Committee, who has shown the desire and ability to improve and preserve it.

Knowing of your dedication to environmental and cultural conservation, I kindly ask you, Mr. Governor, to help ensure that the Bio Itzá Committee's vital environmental and cultural work continues. On behalf of the government you represent and in the interest of preserving the environment and upholding the human rights of the Maya Itzá, we await your assistance in resolving this urgent matter.

Thank you again for your attention.


Shaun Paul, President
EcoLogic Development Fund