Sacrificing the Forest: Environmental and Social Struggles in Chiapas

Sacrificing the Forest: Environmental and Social Struggles in Chiapas

Sacrificing the Forest: Environmental and Social Struggles in Chiapas

Sacrificing the Forest: Environmental and Social Struggles in Chiapas


The Selva Lacandona of Chiapas, Mexico, has received a tremendous amount of attention since the Zapatista uprising began in 1994. Concerns have focused on both the rapid rate of deforestation in Mexico's largest tropical rain forest & the social marginalization of its inhabitants, which is considered to be a root cause of the uprising. In this book, Karen O'Brien presents an insightful analysis of how deforestation & social struggles are related in this region & then considers the implications of these links for the remaining forest. A valuable tool for scholars of deforestation, environmental change, & political ecology, Sacrificing the Forest will also be of interest to readers trying to understand the current situation in Chiapas.


The research for this book was undertaken as part of a larger study on deforestation and climate change in the Selva Lacandona. Originally, the analysis of deforestation was rather modest in scope, limited to evaluating deforestation around 24 climate stations scattered throughout the region. Much of this work was to be done through the interpretation of satellite images, verified by ground truth data collected in the field. However, as I traveled around the Selva Lacandona to visit the climate stations, it became increasingly evident that the patterns of deforestation existed in both historical and locational contexts. What had been generally presented as the obvious causes of deforestation in this region did not match the experiences and histories revealed to me during the course of my fieldwork.

Informal interviews conducted between 1991 and 1995 challenged me to broaden the scope of the deforestation analysis. Moving beyond a focus on the pixels of the satellite images, I began to explore the underlying causes of deforestation. It quickly became clear to me that deforestation was the outcome of a complex set of relations that extended well beyond the Selva Lacandona region. Over time, I concluded that Mexico's last tropical forests were being sacrificed, not to irrational land uses, but to economic and social realities.

The fieldwork also introduced me to the ecological realities of deforestation. Using the Chajul Tropical Biology Station as a base for my research on climate change, I was in close contact with biologists, ecologists, and environmentalists conducting various types of studies related to tropical ecology and conservation biology. Many of these people had years of experience in the Selva Lacandona, and were committed to finding solutions to deforestation that involved local communities. Others were clearly more interested in conducting their own research, and were annoyed at the encroachment of humans into their study areas. These interactions gave me a greater understanding of the struggles faced by conservationists, as well as insights on the politics involved with protecting the region's remaining tropical forests.

Over the course of nine visits to Chiapas and many flights over the Selva Lacandona region, I witnessed dramatic changes in the landscape. I also witnessed the emergence of a powerful social struggle that . . .

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