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Tales From the Trenches: Meanwhile, Back in The Jungle....

By Juan Farre

The Lacandon Jungle is located in the southeast of the State of Chiapas in Mexico. It was here, in 1994, that the EZLN, or Zapatista Army of National Liberation, launched a war—on land and on the Internet—against the government of the former PRI party that had ruled the country for more than 70 years. This movement has awakened the national conscience about the main problems of this country: extreme poverty and lack of opportunities for economic and social development, particularly among indigenous peoples.

The corruption that grips this country like a cancer is in a great part responsible for the loss of the jungle territory and its hidden treasures of oil, minerals, archeological treasures, flora and fauna unique in the world, etc. For many years I have worked on projects related to nature conservation, but working on The Lacandan Jungle: A Vanishing Paradise was one of the most shocking experiences in my life.

The first time I heard about the State of Chiapas and the Lacandon Jungle territory was in 1977. At that time, we were warned about the rapid loss of the forest, which had begun in the 1940s with the encroachment of foreign and local industries, as well as the hasty colonization of people brought in from distant territories of Mexico. These groups were abandoned in the jungle in the middle of the night in an unknown territory, with a few pesos on hand and not a grocery store around for hundreds of miles. This is one of the reasons why it has been so difficult to solve the social problems. It is the perfect example of the biblical Tower of Babel. The original population was composed of the Lacandons, descendents of the ancient Mayans. Subsequently, ethnic groups such as the Tzeltales, Tojolabales and Choles—each with totally different language and customs—moved into the region, which was later invaded by the Spaniards and other Europeans.

The aim of my documentary, which I shot on 16mm and Beta in 1998, was to present the terrible reality of the extinction of a paradise and to show alternative solutions. The main cause of the destruction of the natural resources was the survival needs of the aforementioned re-colonized people. How can you ask someone with a family to feed to preserve the trees and the fauna? Every day many trees are turned into fire for cooking or lumber for building a shack. Every day many species of animals and plants are destroyed forever.

We filmed in the year of the worst fires in Mexico’s history. The entire territory was in flames. The aerial shots that we took from our ultra light plane resembled footage from a war movie. Our crew was numerous because we had two teams: the film and the “making of” team. To the most remote places in the now diminished preservation zones, we took heavy grip equipment, a dolly with tracks, steady cam, lights and even the ultra light plane, which was very difficult to move on the dirt roads.

We crossed rivers in tiny wooden rafts and trudged through the mosquito-infested mud, but the worst parts were the Mexican Army control points on all the highways and roads. Just imagine traveling the distance from Palenque, the archeological site in the northern part of the State, to Chajul in the south, the gate to Montes Azules, the entrance of the National Reserve. Over the course of 100 miles, there were 16 control points—one every 6 miles. And the officers were not always friendly; many times they asked us to take everything out of the vans—and they meant everything—and then six miles later, the officers at that checkpoint did the same thing, thereby ruining the working schedule and increasing the budget.

Fortunately, the new administration has moved the army out of the “conflict zone.” Not everything was bad. Our work was a blessing. We enjoyed many moments sharing our 20th century gadgets with people who seemingly lived in a different century. We enjoyed the candid and wise stories of the Lacandon Indians. They use to say, “Every time a tree falls down, a star falls down from the sky.” They know that the rain and water come from the forests and that the end of the humankind will be when the last tree disappears. The conclusion of this documentary is that only through sustainable economic projects will it be possible to feed the people and give them opportunities of development in order to stop the destruction of the last and only piece of tropical rainforest in North America.


Juan Farre is president of Farre Producciones, based in the City of Monterrey in northeast Mexico. He can be reached at