Belize, population 294,385 is a tiny nation that gained independence in 1981 from the British. As the CIA’s World Factbook summarizes, ‘Belize was the site of several Mayan city states until their decline at the end of the first millennium A.D. The British and Spanish disputed the region in the 17th and 18th centuries; it formally became the colony of British Honduras in 1854. Territorial disputes between the UK and Guatemala delayed the independence of Belize until 1981.’
The country suffers from a crippling debt, high unemployment and few developed sources of income. It’s main earning comes from tourism. In 1996 the government permitted Malaysian-backed companies, led by Atlantic Industries Limited, to log selected areas in the Columbia River Forest Reserve for the next 20 years, 103,000 acres of limestone hills and low mountains, nearly all covered by pristine old-growth tropical forest.
Many Mayan people are against the logging as this activity has disrupted their way of life, which depends heavily on the forest. More about the Maya here.
They have organised themselves around Toledo Maya Cultural Council who have appealed to their government and international organisations to re-think the logging concessions. A decade on their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
The Columbia River Forest Reserve logging concession is one of a number of concessions given out to logging companies by the Belize government. This is causing many problems for the Maya people which are summarized well here.
The modern approach to deforestation involves the elites of a country dealing with the international logging companies and ignoring the local peoples directly and negatively affected. In the 18th century British logwood cutters overcame the indigenous population and imported black slaves. Today the indigenous peoples still suffer. For further detailed information on their plight visit Rainforest logging disrupts deep cultural rhythms in tiny Belize .
For links to current and general news from Belize .
For NGOs involved with helping indigenous peoples fighting deforestation and the destruction of their lives see the Global Forest Coalition.