The Maya Conservation Partnership (MCP) is an international  consortium of  like-minded people who care deeply about Guatemala and Mexico with a goal of preserving the heritage and patrimony of the ancient Maya Civilization and the unique tropical forest of the Mirador-Calakmul Basin.  The institution was legally organized  as Maya Conservation Partners LLC, and includes prominent national and international foundations, business organizations, advocacy groups, universities, and research organizations; all interested in partnering with the Governments of Guatemala and Mexico in  preserving the heritage and patrimony of the ancient Maya civilization and the unique tropical forest of the Mirador-Calakmul Basin in northern Guatemala and southern Mexico for future generations.

The MCP believes that much can be accomplished by enforcing the existing National laws of Guatemala and Mexico and has prioritized this emphasis as the foundation for preservation and conservation of the Cradle of Maya Civilization in the Mirador-Calakmul Basin.  The technical committee of the MCP partners was a key force in drafting the landmark legislation, The Mirador Calakmul Basin Maya Security & Conservation Partnership introduced as S.3131,  on December 19, 2019,  will establish a historically significant international partnership between Guatemala, Mexico, the United States and others in the international community.  Notably, it authorizes $60 million over a period of five years for implementation of the Maya Security & Conservation Partnership program centered within the Mirador Calakmul Basin of Guatemala and Mexico. It will be matched dollar for dollar by the Central American Development Bank (CBAE or BCIE). This is the first program of its kind proposed for all of Latin America.

The MCP is grateful for the leadership of Senator Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), the Chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee who has taken a personal interest in Mirador since he flew over the forest basin and noted the pyramids peeking out from the tree tops;  Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico);the Senior Democrat on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and Co-Chair of the Senate’s International Conservation Caucus; and Senator Jim Risch,the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  These influential senators have taken a deep interest in the positive effects of the conservation and long term protection of the Mirador-Calakmul Basin system and its unique forest and archeological treasures.  Their  bipartisan legislation,  S. 3131, The Mirador Calakmul Basin Maya Security & Conservation Partnership Act will provide $60 million in US government funding over five years to foster continued scientific and archeological research, enforcement of existing laws against looting, poaching and illegal logging and development of a sustainable tourism economy centered around the Mirador Calakmul Basin.  Notably, the Central American Development Bank (CABEI) has committed to matching dollar for dollar with financing through their institution to support this project bring potential total of $120 million in investment in the first five years once the legislation is enacted into law.

“The Mirador Basin features beautiful Mayan ruins with networks of pyramids, palaces and ancient cities that many consider to be the eighth wonder of the world, and I would agree. I used to fly my plane over the Mirador Basin, and I have seen the magnificent structures with my own eyes, so I think it is important that everybody gets that opportunity.  My legislation will support efforts made by the Department of the Interior, the Department of State, the Mexican government and the Guatemalan government to secure this region and ensure future generations are afforded the same opportunity to see these magnificent Mayan ruins.,” stated Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Chief Sponsor of the legislation in his remarks to the Senate when introducing The Mirador Calakmul Basin Maya Security & Conservation Partnership Act.

stated Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Chief Sponsor of the legislation in his remarks to the Senate when introducing The Mirador Calakmul Basin Maya Security & Conservation Partnership Act.

THE MCP has also proposed a “MCP PLAN 2020” for the preservation and conservation of the Mirador-Calakmul Basin.  In fact, we take a much different approach from those who might suggest a plan for the “development” of the Basin.  That’s why we emphasize conservation, preservation and implementation of a sustainable tourism model designed to create economic opportunity for local communities while providing a sustainable and environmentally sensitive model for providing access to the Basin for international visitors.

The MCP believes that protection and responsible management of the area will provide:  pragmatic solutions for sustainable rainforest protection and conservation; preservation of the greatest concentration of ancient cities in the Western Hemisphere;alleviation of poverty; dissuade migration into the U.S.; mitigate global climate change; provide conservation of cultural and environmental wonders of World Heritage status; and effectively counter the expansion of drug trafficking mafias in the region.

The US Department of  the Interior’s International Affairs Office which has historically supported tropical forest and archaeological scientific research  within the Basin with funding  will participate in the administration of the funds, together with key allies in the U.S. and Guatemala to insure transparency and productivity.  It’s important to note that he Central American Development Bank has committed to match these funds to provide for infrastructure needed to implement the program.

This will be a unique opportunity for the  Governments of Guatemala and Mexico to implement badly needed security and law enforcement programs to preserve and protect the Basin’s tropical forest, wildlife and archeological treasures from illegal activities such as looting, poaching and illegal logging.   One-half of these funds will be conditioned upon implementation of effective programs administered by the governments of Guatemala and Mexico to provide security and enforcement of existing laws National Laws targeting the looting of Guatemala’s patrimony.

This effortis modeled after the successful Congo Basin Forest Partnership Act enacted into law by the US Congress in 2005.  While the Congo Basin suffered many of the same threats facing the Mirador Calakmul Basin, it is also home to the famous mountain gorilla population which has succeeded in tripling the endangered mountain gorilla population since the Congo Basin Forest Partnership was enacted establishing an international consortium of partners working to preserve its unique tropical forest and wildlife.

“Through an international partnership focused on conservation and preservation of the Mirador Calakmul Basin’s tropical forests and hundreds of Maya archeological sites, we not only preserve the greatest concentration of ancient cities in the Western Hemisphere for future generations but bring greater economic opportunity and security to this vital region”

stated longtime archaeologist Richard Hansen who has led an international consortium of over sixty universities and scientific research institutions performing tropical forest and archaeological research for over 40 years in the basin divided between Guatemala and Mexico.  His work has included a massive LIDAR survey funded by National Geographic, the Mirador Conservation Fund, and the Foundation for Anthropological Research & Environmental Studies (FARES) which has discovered over 654 significant sites Guatemala’s Mirador Basin alone.

“We continue to advocate that Guatemala and Mexico apply the lessons learned from the Machu Picchu experience in Peru which enlisted sustainable tourism as an economic engine for local communities while protecting this valuable treasure from overdevelopment”

stated a spokesperson for the Maya Conservation Partners in Guatemala City.

“The Cradle of Maya Civilization is going to be much bigger than Machu Picchu”  said Congressman Jerry Weller (retired,  Illinois).  “However, Peru’s governance of Machu Picchu offers a successful model which demonstrates the importance of protecting the site and surrounding area from overdevelopment while fostering a sustainable tourism economy employing thousands from the local communities.

 

MCP PLAN 2020 for the Mirador Calakmul Basin

Our Proposal:  Implementation of  a sustainable, eco-tourism model for Guatemala and Mexico to benefit from the incredible patrimony of the Cradle of Maya Civilization in the Mirador – Calakmul Basin shared by the two nations.

Benefit: Potentially billions of dollars in tourism revenues can eventually be attracted to Guatemala and Mexico’s economy by capitalizing on a properly managed program of conservation of the Basin’s tropical forest and its diverse wildlife combined with providing access to some of the greatest archaeological wonders in Human history.

Why?: Tourists from all over the globe will be interested in traveling to see the  world’s largest pyramids, first paved causeways, the first Nation State of the Americas and possibly the largest city on the planet in its heyday.  The Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, CNN, National Geographic Magazine and others have already been telling the world about Mirador  but today only backpackers and those with the ability to afford travel by helicopter can  visit these treasures.

The most well known archeological site in the Western Hemisphere is Peru’s ancient Inca citadel known as Machu Picchu which now  attracts hundreds of thousands of international visitors who hike the Inca Trail or take the privately operated  Hiram Bingham train from the ancient Inca Capitol of Cuzco to Machu Picchu atop the Andes.   Due to a calculated decision by the decision makers in Peru when Machu Picchu was opened to international tourism, thousands of local families in the Andean highlands earn their living from these visitors who must overnight in Cuzco’s hotels, eat at local restaurants and shop in the local markets.  Rather than spoiling the view by  constructing  an airport at Machu Picchuor a freeway to Machu Picchu, visitors must first travel to Cuzco guaranteeing that local communities directly benefit.

The Mirador Calakmul Basin in northern Guatemala and southern Mexico offers a similar opportunity with far greater economic potential if both governments commit to conserve and preserve the Basin’s resources for future generations while implementing a sustainable ecotourism model designed to create jobs and economic opportunity for local communities and attract tourists and visitors from around the Globe.

Guatemala and Mexico can benefit greatly from  the forty years of archeological research by Dr. Richard Hansen and his international team of archeologists involving over 65 universities and institutions. .  Due to their scientific work resulting in a rewrite of Maya History, we now know that the 2500 square mile  Mirador – Calakmul Basin contains the Cradle of Mayan Civilization once known as the K’aan Kingdom.  This scientifically recognized basin encompasses one of the last remaining intact tropical forests along with the world’s largest pyramid by volume, first paved causeways and the ruins of what was once the first organized Nation State of the Americas.  A comprehensive LIDAR (vegetation penetrating radar) survey led by Dr. Hansen’s team has identified over 571 Maya sites in Guatemala’s portion of the basin alone while 54 cities have already been excavated in Guatemala portion of the Basin.

Scientists recognize the Mirador-Calakmul  Basin, located in northern Guatemala and  southern  Mexico as being among the few remaining intact tropical forests in all of Central America.  The area covers approximately 1.6 million acres of pristine tropical forest; almost 2,500 square miles within a geographically contained ecological system inside the Basin.

 

The climate impact of the  Mirador-Calakmul  Basin is immense as its forests play  a critical role  in  sustaining the  environment—absorbing   vast quantities of carbon  dioxide, cleansing water, creating and sustaining rainfall through evapotranspiration,  and  providing wildlife habitat with a wide biodiversity.  According to smoke patterns, the jet stream carries oxygen from

this region directly to the midwest U.S., providing oxygen for this area. According to smoke patterns, the jet stream carries oxygen from this region directly to the midwest U.S., providing  oxygen for this area and reinforcing the environmental significance of the Basin within the Western Hemisphere.

 

Existing communities concessions providing a franchise for local communities to harvest renewable resources  in the Guatemala portion of the Mirador-Calakmul Basin are credited with helping preserve forest habitat against the threats of deforestation.

International development agencies have invested millions of dollars in support of this program over the past few decades and often highlight the role of communities in the preservation of forests.

Guatemala’s Tikal National Park offers an example of the economic potential offered as Tikal  alone generates an estimated $220 million annually in economic activity due to tourism according to estimates from the Guatemalan Ministry of Finance.  Tikal is currently the most popular Maya site for visitors in all of Guatemala.   Many of the sites within the Mirador-Calakmul Basin are grander in scale and archaeological significance.  Unfortunately, many visitors to Tikal only come for the day, shuttle in from the Flores airport on paved roads into parking lots inside the Park and leave spending little money in local communities before returning to Guatemala City.

Unfortunately, looting of archeological sites and poaching of wildlife is an ongoing and serious problem threatening the treasures of the basin.  The little law enforcement and security presence on either side of the border has allowed this criminal activity to continue suggesting the need for an international partnership to increase enforcement of existing laws and increase the presence of law enforcement inside the Basin.

The Government of Peru collects almost $9 million annually  in fees from visitors who travel to Machu Picchu from Cuzco providing funding for security and infrastructure.   In contrast, Guatemala currently collects no fees from visitors to the small Mirador  National Park inside the Basin nor from any other Maya sites within the Basin while it  does collect a $20 entrance fee to visit Tikal.   This  exposed missed opportunities from those who travel inside the Mirador-Calakmul Basin.

The towns of Carmelita and Uaxactun just outside the Mirador – Calakmul Basin offer the potential to serve as gateways due to existing but unimproved roads and air access from the City of Flores and Tikal National Park.  Both communities can serve in a similar role to that demonstrated by Cuzco as the  destination communities for the location and development of  hotels, restaurants and other services which will employ local community residents.

The Maya Tren initiative underway in Mexico offers the potential for easy transportation  to the northern boundaries of the Basin from the Maya Riviera in Mexico and providing access to the ruins of Calakmul and the Mexican half of the Basin.

 

Steps are needed to implement this proposal:

  • First, the governments of Guatemala and Mexico must commit to ensuring the conservation and preservation of the Mirador-Calakmul’s tropical forests, biodiversity and ancient ruins for future generations. through aggressive enforcement of existing laws to prevent poaching, illegal logging and looting of archeological sites.
  • Second, the two governments must commit to implement a sustainable ecotourism model designed to ensure direct economic benefit to the local communities in the region.  This model must enforce a minimal impact on forest and wildlife habitat while allowing access to archeological sites for visitors.
  • Third, the two governments must commit to avoiding the traditional “exploitative model” of constructing paved roads, hotels, restaurants and gas stations inside the Mirador-Calakmul Basin’s forest and avoid the long term environmental consequences from these intensive type of activities.  These services can all be made available at the two hospitality zones in the Guatemalan communities of Carmelita and  Uaxactun for example while ensuring the integrity of the tropical forest inside the Basin.
  • Fourth, the two governments must commit to designing a mode of transportation that minimizes the impact on the forest and its biodiversity while providing easy access for the potentially hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the Basin’s Maya ruins and archaeological sites.
  • Fifth,  the two governments must commit to providing support for continuing the ongoing scientific, archaeological and tropical forest research due to its potential for an even greater contribution to global medical, climate and cultural knowledge.
  • Lastly and with the utmost importance, the two governments must commit to a significant law enforcement and security presence inside the Mirador-Calakmul Basin to ensure enforcement of existing laws and protect its environmental and cultural patrimony for all time.

Saving the Mirador Basin: Cultural and Natural Wonder of the World

The Mirador Basin of northern Guatemala and southern Mexico is a unique geographically defined area which contains the last large area of tropical forests (1.6 million acres) left in Central America (Fig. 1, Fig 2).  The area is home to dozens of new species of insects, rare birds, and unique plants of unusual pharmaceutical values, six types of tropical forest, and the greatest concentration of jaguars in the world. It has been estimated that a major percentage of oxygen in the Midwest U.S. is created in the Peten region of Guatemala and southern Mexico, as indicated by the patterns of smoke from the region (Fig. 3).   But it is also home to the largest and earliest ancient Maya cities, some of the largest ancient structures in the world, the tallest pyramids in the Americas, the first “freeway” system in the world in the form of major causeways which linked ancient cities in a network, arguably home of the first state level society of political and economic sophistication in the Western Hemisphere, and the area known as the “Cradle of Maya Civilization.”

The area is highly threatened by massive deforestation fueled by narcotics traffickers who are laundering drug money with large cattle herds requiring vast tracts of cattle pastures. The northern Peten is also a strategic area for drug cartels because it is within maximum fuel range for aircraft from Columbia to northern Peten.  Drugs are directed to the northern Peten and unloaded for overland transport to the north. Planes are abandoned and burned (Fig. 4, Fig. 5, Fig. 6). (NY Times  2010 “Ranchers and Drug Barons Threaten Rainforest) see also Science, Vol. 343, Issue 6170, pp. 489-480, 2014.

The smoke from the intentionally set fires in the Peten to create cattle pastures has closed schools in Houston and generated near lethal levels of carbon monoxide in the state of Chiapas, Mexico (located to the immediate west of the fire areas) (Fig. 3, Fig. 7, Fig. 8, Fig. 9, Fig. 10 ). Large scale unemployment in the area is providing mounting pressure for crime, unification with drug cartels, and large scale migrations to the U.S.  In addition, the situation is fueling socialist and communist interests because of the lack of economic opportunities which provide an ideological platform to the poor and uneducated populations of the area.

A pragmatic solution lies in assisting the government to form the formation of the first “Wilderness Area” in Latin America, which prohibits roads, airstrips, and vehicular access.  Such a maneuver effectively thwarts and neutralizes narcotic trafficking and laundering capabilities, eliminates the threat from cartel cattle pastures, and allows surrounding impoverished  communities to be a key part of the economic development of the region through active incorporation into a strong eco-tourism model. Forestry concessions should be allowed to continue to harvest non-wood resources, providing an additional revenue to help justify the conservation. The scientific investigation of the cultural and natural system of the Mirador Basin economically justifies the conservation of the area because of the size and the cultural grandeur of the ancient Maya cities that are concentrated within the geographical and geological borders of the system.  The opportunities for vastly expanded economic development of the area through eco-tourism provides new employment opportunities for local inhabitants, provides a greater tourism venue for Guatemala, dramatically expands employment and educational opportunities in northern Guatemala, establishes a new model for conservation for all of Latin America and other areas of the world, such as Southeast Asia, and justifies the conservation and permanent protection of the last area of tropical forest with critical oxygen resources for the  southern and Midwestern U.S.  Furthermore, the permanent preservation of such a large tract of tropical forest provides a new and valuable mitigation to climate change.           A total of $129 million U.S ($129,325,470) is requested over a ten year period (2019-2028) to establish the Mirador Basin as one of the premier tourist attractions in the world, with Preclassic art and architecture in at least nine ancient cities, rarely seen before, exposed and consolidated for permanent tourist visibility.  In addition, museums, visitor centers, and rest rooms will be constructed and functional with specialized construction of water collection facilities.  A miniature train will allow controlled tourist access to the concentration of the largest and earliest ancient Maya cities, without the construction of roads or airstrips which would potentially facilitate illegal use of the area for nefarious purposes.   The program would allow extensive scientific research of both cultural and environmental wonders that would justify long term positive economic benefits for the country (est. $220 M annually), provide for highly specialized consolidation of world class art and architecture for tourist development, and provide detailed environmental studies of the area.  In addition, the plan provides the miniature train, museums, visitor centers and rest rooms at sites throughout the Mirador Basin.  Furthermore, the plan provides crucial funding to the Guatemalan and Mexican governments for governance ($2 million annually to each country) to provide for patrols, training, guards and rangers, and equipment for the entire 10 year period until such funding is no longer needed because of sustainable tourist revenues.  It is also suggested that incentives be provided for the construction of high-end, and medium range eco-lodges to accommodate tourism with minimal impact to the environment.  It is expected private entrepreneurs will sustain the majority of the costs of eco-lodge development.     The primary funding would allow consolidation and research at key Mirador Basin sites which would provide a strong additional economic value to the region, and justify the long term protection and conservation of the area.  Funding is also sought for publications of the research as well as oversight and annual audits to insure transparency and proper management.  The plan has raised awareness with members of the U.S. House an  Senate and key letters to the presidents of Guatemala and Mexico have been written by influential members of the U.S. Congress (see attached).  In August 2018, a Bi-partisan group of senators, staff, and members of Congress went to the Mirador Basin as a fact finding effort to understand the tremendous potential and opportunity of the area.

The proposed project provides pragmatic solutions for sustainable rainforest protection and conservation of primary interest to the U.S., dissuade illegal immigration into the U.S., mitigate global climate change,  provide conservation of cultural and environmental wonders of World Heritage status, and effectively suppress and/or neutralize the expansion of drug trafficking operations in the region.

The Mirador Basin exists as one of the world’s greatest cultural and natural treasures. Through our Foundation, Mirador Basin provides resources for archeological investigations, education, health and protection of the ecosystem.

The Foundation for Anthropological Research and Environmental Studies (FARES) is dedicated to conducting scientific research on ancient Maya societies and their environments in the Mirador Basin in the northern Peten, Guatemala.

Maya Conservation Partnership
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