Guatemala: A Tale of 2 Lakes, Macaws and a Queen

The Laguna del Tigre National Park - a critical reservoir of wetlands and tropical dry forest habitats – is currently threatened by human encroachment, out-of-control fires, and oil exploitation. While the 25-year contract expired, the company Perenco Guatemala LTD is seeking its renewal, but environmentalists and activists are opposing to it strongly, organizing campaigns on Facebook [es] and other websites. On behalf of Guatemala, the The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) for Guatemala with the representation of the Environmental and Social Legal Action Center [es](CALAS for its initials in Spanish), filed an Environmental Submission before the Secretariat for Environmental Matters stating that the country is failing in the implementation of its protected areas and not respecting the laws with the extension of the 2-85 contract for oil operations in the Laguna del Tigre National Park in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve.

Photo by MikeMurga and used under a CC license.

Photo by MikeMurga and used under a CC license.

In other words, many are concerned about the destruction of the homes of many living creatures, as explained by the blog Guatemalan Birdwatching :

Guatemala has like 19 ecosystems, 300 microclimates, more than 37 volcanoes, rivers, lakes and beaches that are united in our ethnic diversity forming a destination of mystical magic and adventure. Biological diversity has enabled Guatemala to stand among the 25 countries with the most variety of natural resources in the world. Millions of species living in its varied ecosystems, more than 700 species of birds, mammals like the jaguar, tapir and a variety of reptiles and insects.

Savia, a school for learning how to respect and protect the planet created a video, where the story of the Laguna del Tigre is told and why they feel it is important to protect it (with English subtitles).

Laguna del Tigre appeal

The campaigns and pressure from environmental groups has been effective — delaying President Colom decision. It is still uncertain whether he will extend the contract to the oil company, which may go against the will of members of his own Cabinet, as is the case with Luis Ferraté, the Minister of the Environment who is not in favor of extending the contract.

The park is considered a Scarlet Macaw Sanctuary for birdwatchers, and is one of the reasons why Guatemalan birding School blog expresses its concerns. It is estimated that there are only 300 Scarlet Macaw families left in the Mayan Biosphere.

Dayamn shares the sad story of Poc Duck, now extinct:

Maybe it is a name most of the people in the world haven’t and will never get to hear. This beautiful kind of duck became extinct a long time before a lot of us were even born. It inhabited one of the biggest lakes in Guatemala. n 1966, the Ecologist Anne LaBastille started a campaign to save the duck from extinction but her efforts were in vain. Her natural reserve wasn’t enough to counteract the damage we did to their environment and finally in the year 2004 after a study made by the UICN with the sponsorship of BirdLife International, the bird was officially considered extinct.

For the lake in Atitlan, the place where Poc duck disappeared the story is different.  Alan Mills points out that the lake did not collapsed overnight but it was the result of the irresponsible hippie-chic tourism development that took place there, and all the empty beer bottles and rubbish left behind by wild parties, neither improving the living conditions of the extremely poor people from the villages around, which did not increase the environmental friendly tourism. For Guatemala Solidarity Network, the Lake is crying, too:

The writer, Aldous Huxley, famously wrote wrote of Lake Atitlán,”Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.” While, I’ve never been to Lake Como I have been to Lake Atitlán and it is stunning. However, there is a fear that the lake is dying and will become marshland through man-made interventions. These interventions include, for example, farming, tourism, and the lack and/or breakdown of public services to manage human waste.

While there are opinions saying that there is nothing left at the Laguna del Tigre National Park, archaeologists working in the region with communities clarified that a substantial amount of forest canopy remains intact within the enclave zone.

The governor of Petén regrets [es]that they did not act before to protect our jungle. However, it is not only about preserving the environment. One of Laguna del Tigre's greatest treasures is a 2,500-year-old city of the ancient Maya world, called Waka´(500 BC) or El Peru. It host among other treasures, the tomb of a Mayan Queen.

¿Que te pasa Guatemala? [es] reported that CALAS filled a claim against the Ministry of Energy, who is in favor of extending the oil exploration contract in the middle of the rain forest. The blogger Tokoloshte suggests visiting  Laguna Lachua to be “industrialized” by the government (they will create a highway across the reservoir).

Manuel Boloma a young Maya Q’eqchi’ [es]Social Anthropologist from the North (near the reservoir) strongly rejects the President's attitude and the apathetic role of people, doing nothing to rescue our future. He saids that it is not an economy-environmental issue but rather the government distorted priorities, a suicide for Guatemala future. He asks Guatemalans to open their eyes and see how they are destroying a valuable tomorrow.

Thumbnail by Semio.

1 comment

  • I like your article very much… Just as a note, I worked in the El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project for almost 6 years. What I saw there is still far more complicated given not only the social, anthropological aspects of it. It is sad that even within Government institutions/organizations there is no common interest in benefit of the Country, far less in benefit of nature. Ironically, it happens amongst some non-Government organizations a struggle of division instead of finding and working on a common goal.

    Besides those dynamics, and the one in relation to petroleum exploitation, there are far many others perhaps as dangerous or worst.

    It is just sad.

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