Excerpted from IntercontinentalCry.org:

In recent years, the popular tourist attraction of Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz has become a point of social conflict for the indigenous Q’eqchi’ Mayan communities surrounding the site. On February 8, tensions erupted and led to the occupation of the municipality building of Lanquín by over 200 members of the communities near the tourist attraction. Community members demanded the recuperation of the site. Since that day, residents have maintained management of the park.

Since February 8, the community has continued to welcome tourists to the Semuc Champey site, as well take entrance fees and maintain the grounds.

As the indigenous-led recuperation of this park continues, the conflict has shed light on a longstanding dilemma in Guatemala around indigenous communities’ access to sacred sites.

“We were here before the state discovered that there was something to exploit and transform into monetary gain,” said Francisco Pop Pop, an elderly resident of one of the communities near the national park. “My father taught me that we are supposed to protect this land, and to work this land for our children, and future generations. Our Grandfathers and Grandmothers gave us the responsibility of protecting the natural resources; we should not permit the state to profit off what we are supposed to administer.”

Semuc Champey has become a popular eco-tourist attraction because of the unique natural beauty of the pools that sit above a subterranean river deep in the jungle of the department of Alta Verapaz. The area was declared a protected area, and the park was placed under the control and management of National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP).

In 2000, the residents were given the titles to the lands around the site. But in 2005 congress passed Decree 25-2005 without consulting the residents, which declared the area a protected area, and expanded the protected land beyond the initial protected area. During this time the municipality was administering Semuc Champey, but this was changed in 2013 when CONAP and the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (Inguat) took over management of the site, and barred the communities from the using the sacred site.

Residents were told that they would receive employment at the site, and that they would be able to enter the site, but CONAP never complied with these promises.

“We have gone to the streets to recuperate our site,” said Crisanto Asig Pop, a 61-year-old member of the Q’eqchi’ indigenous authority. “This is the land of our ancestors; we are the true owners and caretakers of this land. If we wanted to use the site, we had to pay 30 Quetzales to enter. This is why we began to organize and demand our land back.”

Since 2013, the residents of the Q’eqchi’ Mayan communities of Santa Maria Semuc, Se Mil, Se Subin, Chiqanus, which make up the municipality of Lanquín in the department of Alta Verapaz, have struggled for years to recuperate the sacred turquoise pools that have become a popular tourist attraction.

This article was originally published at Upside Down World.

Read the full article at IntercontinentalCry.org.

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