Violence, cartels threaten Mayan ruin sites in Mexico

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The ancient Mayan ruins of Calakmul in southern Mexico are one of the most impressive and remote archaeological sites in the country. But the recent discovery of a clandestine airstrip near the site has raised fears that drug traffickers are using the area as a base.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said in a statement that it had detected the illegal runway in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a protected natural area that covers almost 7,300 square kilometers (2,800 square miles) in the state of Campeche.

The institute said it had filed a complaint with the authorities and asked for increased surveillance and patrols in the area, which is home to hundreds of Mayan monuments and temples, as well as endangered species such as jaguars and tapirs.

Calakmul, which means “two adjacent mounds” in Mayan, was one of the most powerful city-states in the ancient Maya civilization, rivaling Tikal in neighboring Guatemala. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002 and a Mixed Natural and Cultural Heritage Site in 2014.

The site is located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the border with Guatemala and is accessible only by a long and narrow road that cuts through the dense jungle. It receives about 35,000 visitors a year, far less than other popular Mayan sites such as Chichen Itza and Tulum.

The remoteness and isolation of Calakmul make it vulnerable to the incursions of drug traffickers, who use the region as a corridor to move cocaine and other illicit substances from Central America to the United States.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Mexican cartels such as the Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation and Zetas operate in the area, often clashing with local groups and Guatemalan counterparts.

The presence of drug traffickers poses a serious threat to the conservation and protection of the archaeological and natural heritage of Calakmul, as well as to the safety and livelihoods of the local communities and the researchers and workers who maintain the site.

The INAH said it had been working with the federal and state governments, the army, the navy and the national guard to prevent and combat the illegal activities in the area, but acknowledged that more resources and coordination were needed.

The institute also called on the public to report any suspicious or criminal acts that could endanger the cultural and natural wealth of Calakmul.

The discovery of the clandestine airstrip is not the first time that drug traffickers have targeted Mayan sites in Mexico. In 2020, gunmen attacked and killed a park ranger and wounded two others at the Chacchoben archaeological site in the state of Quintana Roo. In 2019, authorities seized a plane loaded with cocaine that had landed near the Kohunlich site, also in Quintana Roo.

Source: AP News