Environment, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

Mayans Demand Voice in “Doomsday Tourism” Boom

MEXICO CITY, Jan 19 2012 (IPS) - The indigenous people of southeast Mexico are demanding to be included in the official programmes planned for 2012 to take advantage of the world’s interest in the “Mayan prophecy”, while at the same time fearing a “doomsday tourism” that could damage and contaminate their sacred sites.

Indigenous organisations told IPS that they resented being excluded from the design process of the Maya World promotion plan launched by the government on Monday, Jan. 16 with the aim of luring domestic and foreign visitors to the indigenous regions of the five southeast states that hold the ruins of dozens of ancient Mayan cities.

“Our voices were not heard. Once again, the government has acted without consulting us. The only ones who will benefit are corporations,” Artemio Kaamal, general coordinator of the non- governmental Permanent Forum on Indigenous Policy Kuxa’ano’on (Mayan for ‘we live’), told IPS.

“The focus is purely commercial, with no consideration for our culture, our roots, or our traditions,” he said.

Kuxa’ano’on was formed in 2005 and it advocates for the rights of Mexico’s indigenous peoples in the states of Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Yucatán.

The surge of global interest in Mayan civilisation in 2012 is fuelled by interpretations that the Maya calendar predicted great catastrophes for Dec. 21, 2012, bringing an end to civilisation as we know it. But leaders and representatives of these indigenous people deny this prophecy.

The campaign devised by the conservative government of Felipe Calderón will be conducted both in the country and in the United States, Europe, and Asia, and it is aimed at promoting the Mesoamerican region (present-day southeast Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras), where Mayan civilisation flourished.

With an investment of some 49 million dollars, the Maya World programme is expected to bring in 52 million domestic and foreign tourists and around 14 billion dollars in tourism-related income, including from a series of gastronomic, archaeological, and astronomical special events planned.

The apocalyptic forecasts are based on the Mayan calendar, which marks Dec. 21 as the end of a grand cycle of thirteen 144,000-day “baktuns”, lasting 5,126 years, coinciding with the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.

According to Mayan historians, the 13 Baktun began on Aug. 11, 3114 BC, and when it ends this December it will simply mean that another 144,000-day “long count” will start.

The programme and promotions planned by the government focus on the contributions of Maya culture, avoiding all reference to the apocalyptic interpretations of the meaning of the end of this calendar cycle, which indigenous leaders and historians dismiss as misguided or even intentionally distorted or triggered by hysteria.

“Our members from central and southern Mexico report that they know nothing of the official events planned for their regions. We don’t want this to be treated like Hollywood entertainment or a local-colour attraction. It has to do with history and the passage of generations; it’s part of our spiritual heritage,” Cecilio Solís, president of the Mexican Indigenous Tourism Network (RITA), told IPS.

Founded in 2002 by 32 indigenous enterprises, RITA now groups 160 of these companies, with a total of 5,000 members and 20,000 beneficiaries.

The 2010 census conducted by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography identified 6.6 million of the country’s 112 million people as indigenous, according to a definition based on native language speakers. Of those 6.6 million, 786,000 are Mayan.

Indigenous organisations, however, place at over 10 million the number of people who belong to one of Mexico’s surviving ethnic groups. In the 16th century, at the time of the Spanish conquest, the Aztecs dominated the territory that is now Mexico, but the influence of the Mayan people was still very strong in the southeast, through their art and their knowledge of science and astronomy.

Today, an estimated 1.2 million micro and small enterprises, with an average of 25 workers each, are operating in indigenous areas.

The National Survey on Discrimination in Mexico, conducted by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) in 2010, revealed that the leading problems faced by ethnic minorities are discrimination, poverty and lack of government support.

This survey found that almost four in 10 members of an ethnic group believed they did not have the same employment opportunities as people outside their group, and three out of 10 respondents said they did not have equal access to government aid.

“We fear that our sacred sites will be affected. Which is why we should be wary of this foreign attention. We hope our communities will benefit from the resources generated,” Kaamal said.

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, a group of native entrepreneurs launched the country’s first Indigenous Business Centre, in the city of Toluca, some 66 kilometres north of Mexico City, with an initial membership of 40.

The goal is to create another 24 centres just like it, and eventually form the Indigenous Business Chamber of Mexico.

Indigenous businesses are active in a range of industries, from ecotourism to mining, and while there is currently no data on their contribution to the economy, a study is underway in the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to assess their value.

“Different indigenous peoples are coming together and working to reconstruct their cultures and work together. We’re seeing initiatives that are not merely aimed at ensuring the livelihoods of their own members but rather underpin a local economy that works as an exhaust valve for (social and economic) pressures,” Solís said.

RITA is a member of the Mesoamerican Indigenous Council and the continent-wide native peoples movement Abya Yala (which is the Kuna name for America and means ‘flourishing land’), and it is planning joint activities with them in connection with the change of baktun cycle.

Their aim is to strengthen the organisational capacity of indigenous peoples, interact with regional institutions, and plan activities on spiritual matters, climate change, biodiversity protection, and indigenous rights.

“We have to find ways to organise ourselves and work with other indigenous peoples. We need to form a single movement to chart the course of our destiny,” Kaamal said.

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