Born in the Mayan lands of Buctzotz, Yucatán, the poet and professor Pedro Uc Be has dedicated his life to the promotion and conservation of the indigenous Mayan culture.
Uc Be’s family were farmers; his first activities consisted of working the land, the cornfields and raising animals. This helped him to appreciate the value of his culture.
“Due to the struggle we have for the defenses of our lands, the environment, the concerns due to deforestation, pollution of water, air, cenotes [swimming holes], threats to animals and especially the loss of our language and Mayan culture, we began to look for ways to communicate that reality that occurs in the Yucatan Peninsula,” Uc Be said. “And one of the ways to make this situation known was poetry.”
During his recent visit to San Francisco, Uc sought to raise awareness of what is now happening in the Yucatan, pleading with those interested in preserving Mayan culture to speak up in support of the Mayan communities that are in need.
“We know that this is not only a concern of ours, but also of the people who love culture, language, the environment,” said Uc Be. “Surely we will find voices, hearts and hands that support us in this walk we have ahead of us.”
The poet attended various Mayan cultural events while in San Francisco, where he was able to connect with community members who were interested and concerned about the situation, and inform others who weren’t aware of the issues.
“There are at least four ‘mega projects’ that have in common the taking of our territory, because they need thousands of hectares of land to settle,” he said.
One of these projects is being spearheaded by the agro giant formerly known as Monsanto (Monsanto was absorbed by the Bayer company in June 2018). According to Uc Be, the project threatens to deforest thousands of hectares for the planting of genetically modified soybeans. This threatens the habitat of thousands of animals, as it endangers insects, birds and bees with the fumigations carried out with the planes, and pollutes local water sources, among other things.
Another project is the so-called “solar parks” (photovoltaic power stations, large-scale systems designed that supply power to the electricity grid), which have been billed as “clean energy,” but are anything but clean. In their wake, they devastate large amounts of land and pollute natural spaces such as cenotes with the oil they use. Solar parks also affect bird migration and bats, which are important pollinators and help reforestation.
But there are also projects that focus on high-impact tourism, which snatch locations that have cenotes and pre-Columbian sites, which are sacred to the Mayan culture.
One big concern now is “The Mayan Train,” which is being presented by the Mexican government as a social welfare project that will connect the main cities and tourist circuits of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Yucatan, Tabasco and Chiapas.
“The federal government now imposes on us the construction of a train, which it named after us… but in truth this is a mockery, because this is not a project of the Mayan communities, it has never been,” Uc Be said. “This project will also deforest, it comes with a threat to our culture and our language, because in each of its stations they will build cities of 50,000 people who are going to look everywhere to expand and that is good business for real estate, but it will be in the middle of a jungle that has been preserved for many years. And that threatens the lives of the animals that are there, and also the lives of us as Mayan people who are used to living a certain way, and this development will alter our way of life.”
Along the more than 300 miles of roads they seek to integrate with a railway, are territories that have great natural and cultural wealth. According to the government, the region will benefit from tourism and social development.
But who is thinking about the effects that this will have on Mayan communities? What will be the repercussions to nature? How much land will the Mayan community lose due to the creation of these projects? What will be the benefits for the Maya?
That is precisely the concern of all the Mayan families. This project is scheduled to be carried out regardless of the effects it will have on Indigenous communities, who have lived in these lands for centuries and who work them with love, who sustain their families with the honey of the bees, with the livestock and agriculture.
“If we lose our territory, what follows would our migration to the north, as is happening with the Central Americans who today, unfortunately, struggle to cross into our territory to come here,” Uc Be said. “Being left without land, this is what we are bordering on. It is a very unfortunate situation, we do not want this to happen, we don’t want to abandon our lands, we like living here, what we are and what we can offer the world, those are the values of Mayan culture.”