Carmelita unveiled I.
Carmelita, Petén, Guatemala. This small village in the far north of Guatemala is a contradiction in itself. If you are the average traveler then you most probably come here to start your hike to El Mirador. But even if you spend a few days in the area, Carmelita hits you as a peaceful, tranquil little community where everyone greets everyone and locals make an effort to show hospitality to visitors. But behind the scenes, this town is rumbling and boiling with tension. It all comes down to money, of course, and that combined with the basic character of humankind creates a situation most visitors would never think of. We consider it very important for the general public to know about some facts that don’t get mentioned in NGO progress reports or in your travel agents’ office. Here is what I found out by interviewing as many locals as I could during a 2-week period in November. The „Cooperativa de Carmelita” (referred to as the “logging cooperative”) was founded in 1997, in charge of the planned logging and timber extraction commissions and representing community concession logging activities. Then, in 2001 Dr. Richard Hansen came along with ideas of developing tourism, promising wealth and prosperity for Carmelita, the closest town to the famous El Mirador ruins. At this point about 50 tourists visited the site annually, a number that did not cause a stir in the community. Then, in 2004 Patricia and Carlos (surnames omitted deliberately) and some other locals founded ASTUNAC (Asociación para Turismo y Naturaleza de Carmelita), a cooperative-style organization specifically designed to accommodate the growing number of tourists. By then visitors came by the hundreds, and that with the logging concessions still not granted fully, prompted the logging cooperative to form the Comision de Turismo within its own framework. And here is where the fight began in earnest. The logging cooperative was controlled basically by a single family in Carmelita, who from then on decided who and when would get the job of guiding tourists to El Mirador.