Undoubtedly the greatest challenge facing the archeologists and Guatemalan authorities is to save the Mirador Basin ruins from the constant threat of encroaching settlers, loggers, drug smugglers, cattle ranchers and tomb looters. Because of this lack of security, environmentalists and Mayanists are lobbying hard to get the entire Mirador region – 2169 square kilometres of jungle stretching from the Mexican border as far south as El Zotz – declared the Mirador Basin National Park. President Colom announced in his 2008 inaugural speech that the creation of a national park here was a priority, though this status was not achieved during his four-year tenure. An application is also registered with UNESCO to get Mirador declared a World Heritage Site.

Immediate and effective protection is essential. Successive Guatemalan governments have dithered while neighbouring reserves like Laguna del Tigre have gone up in smoke. Forty armed rangers patrol the Mirador area, otherwise, according to archeologist Dr Richard Hansen (who has led the excavations here for decades) “we’d lose the whole city”. Hansen sees strictly managed ecotourism, including the construction of a jungle lodge and narrow-gauge railway, as the way to preserve the forest and the dozens of Maya sites in the Mirador Basin. But his vision is not universally shared. Many settlers on the fringes, and inside the reserve, see little future in ecotourism and are lobbying for timber and farming concessions to be allowed. Occasionally these land-hungry campesinos torch a ranger station, and villagers at Dos Aguadas have even been granted a concession to farm inside the Maya Biosphere Reserve. So the choice seems to be fewer trees or more tourists.

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