The Mayans of Toledo saw logging contracts as a throwback to 1492


Shortly after Belize’s independence, Mayan leaders in the Toledo countryside were alarmed at contracts that had been awarded to foreign companies, including Atlantic Industries of Malaysia, to extract logs from nearly 500,000 acres of land. Columbia Forest Preserve and other parts of the neighborhood. Juliet Litterer, in a 1997 study for ICE titled “Belize Logging Conflict,” said the government of Belize, in order to earn foreign exchange, sold the rights to log the forest for US $ 0.60 per acre.

The contractors came with giant bulldozers, chainsaws, skidders and monster four-wheel drive trucks, and when the villagers went to the forest to hunt and fish, to gather medicinal plants to cure their diseases and to cut wood. thatch and wood to build their houses, they saw the precious trees cut down, and the flora that the logging companies did not want trampled on. They saw the banks of the Columbia River crumble where the big machines violated the 66-foot reserve (buffer), and streams and streams diverted or blocked by debris.

The Mayan chiefs saw the future, and what they saw looked a lot like 1492. Because they knew the history, they knew that after the loggers plundered the forest, the land would be divided into vast areas and distributed. to newcomers, to newcomers who would prevent their children from accessing the premium from which their ancestors earned their subsistence.

In 1492, the Spaniards, a technologically advanced people who intended to increase their material wealth, landed on this continent called the Americas. In this cyclical world, people rely on what others had done before, and by 1492 the Spaniards were on top of technology.

Looking at a map of the so-called Old World, at its center is the Middle East, the area of ​​the present world that is most volatile, at least since the British cut up a piece of Palestine and gave it to the Displaced Jews. after the Second World War. On the fringes are Russia and neighboring territories, Oceania and southern Africa. Surrounded by North Africa, Europe and Asia, the region was a melting pot of knowledge, in the fields of science, philosophy and economic systems.

The most advanced peoples of the first millennia were probably the Moors of North Africa, and in 711 when they invaded Spain, which they occupied for 800 years, they were certainly far ahead of Europeans in science and in many other areas. Around 1440, a German by the name of Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, giving Europeans the ability to mass-produce books containing the knowledge they had acquired in distant lands, books they used to educate and cultivate their own. students and their elite. From there they took the lead.

In fact, it was not a European who invented the printing press. Heather Whipps, in the story “How Gutenburg Changed the World”, which can be found on the website,, says that the honor of inventing the printing press goes to the Chinese, who, from AD 600, had “a printing technique of using wooden blocks with several words to press or rub texts on paper. Whipps said the Chinese had developed movable type a few hundred years later , but that their invention had not caught on because “with more than 10,000 common characters in their language, the process was cumbersome …”

When the Spaniards arrived in the so-called New World, they had knowledge of Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Probably the people on this side of the world who had reached the highest level of technological advancement – amazing heights in astronomy, agriculture and architecture – were the Mayans, but that was before the invasion of 1492.

In the north, the mostly nomadic Plains Indians lived in a land where wild game and fruits and nuts were abundant, and without needing to tame the land, they developed an economic system that ensured the least damage to the land. their environment. They did agriculture, but most of their investment was in their culture, religion and laws to live with each other and with nature.

In the region we know today as Mexico, the Aztecs developed sophisticated farming systems with drainage and irrigation, and they established towns and cities, some with thousands of people. The Aztecs built spectacular buildings, and they had a calendar and a religion. In South America, the Inca had a vast empire. They built roads and bridges, irrigation canals for their fields and waterways to bring water to their towns; they had a disciplined society and they had a calendar and a religion.

The peoples of the Americas were civilized, organized, and technologically self-sufficient, but they were no match for the newcomers. They were outmatched militarily, in science, and in ambition / greed for material wealth.

The newcomers in 1492 plundered the Mayan resources, but this is no surprise, as they were invaders, not guests. After we became an independent country in 1981, our leaders opened the doors to investors, but many of them came not to partner with us. They came to exploit our forests, without care, and without replanting what they had extracted. They came with money to take control of prime properties on the coast, on the cays and in the countryside, and they came to take over the nation’s affairs.

If the Mayans had not taken a stand, the foundation of their culture and economy would have been destroyed. Their success is an inspiration to other native Belizeans who greeted independence with hope and now find themselves on the cliff edge financially. In urban areas, the majority of native Belizeans live hand to mouth, and in the countryside, they are no better off.

Small farmers in the north and south-central – small-scale sugar cane growers and small-scale citrus growers – are now peons, with much of their land taken over by the rich. In rural Belize, the west and the deep south, the children of small grain farmers all line up for government jobs as their ancestors’ farms have all been sold or taken over by the forest.

At a time when we are a people desperate for hopeful stories, perhaps especially because of the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is this story of triumph. Had the Belizean Mayan leaders of Toledo not taken a stand, their children would have lost their rights to almost all of the land surrounding their villages. They didn’t, and the Mayan victory in Toledo gives hope to other native Belizeans, hope they too can make 1981 not like 1492.

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