Open letter to archaeologist, Richard D. Hansen
regarding his imperialist and colonial drive to expropriate our territories and sacred sites
[Spanish Version HERE]
We are from diverse Maya Nations, defenders of life, deeply respectful of Mother Earth, defenders of our ancestral-contemporary territories, and of our millennial history and memory. As activists, weavers, writers, artists, and academics that live in and outside of Guatemala, we express our deep concern over the proposed Mirador-Calakmul Basin Maya Security & Conservation Partnership Act. Our nations were never consulted nor informed about this proposal and have never given their consent. We have seen the short news video from VICE News Mayan Ruins in Guatemala Could Become a U.S.-Funded Tourist Attraction (June 17, 2020), in which it informs us that you are leading a campaign in Guatemala and the United States to generate funding to transform the sacred El Mirador site into a tourist attraction and in that way bring, “economic benefits to Guatemalans.”
For many years, we have known about your interference in Guatemala through your archaeological projects and your relationship with White, Ladino and Criollo-Mestizo political and economic elites, which is seen not only in the VICE documentary, but also in your Ted Talk 8th Wonder of the World: The Mayan Legacy (June 18, 2018), where you talk about your findings at El Mirador. We also know about the academic and journalistic articles about you, such as King of the Jungle: The Mayan Empire of Archeologist Richard Hansen. We know that you and your people are used to dividing up the world and to plundering with impunity, and as a result journalists give you ownership of the “Maya Empire” as if it were property. This is especially obscene since you know full well that Maya peoples still exist and you are excavating our territory or what we call Our Big House.
Your Wikipedia page also reveals your alliance with certain senators such as Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma who is well known in the United States for denying the climate crisis. Another revealing fact is that you graduated from Brigham Young University (BYU), which belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, a church known for “hunting for treasure” in the “Third World.” There, according to Teena Clipson in her article, “Dr. Rirchard D. Hansen and his fight for El Mirador”, you gave your first steps with regards to your interest in archeology, after you heard the academic talk offered by University of Harvard’s professor, David Freidel. Consequently, John E. Clarck, a Mormon archeologist, became the head of the anthropology department at BYU and director of the New World Archeological Foundation (NWAF). You and Clark became great friends, and since then have generated pseudo-scientific arguments that propose that the ancestors of Mormons (nephit Israelites) built sacred sites in Mesoamerica. This is an odd way to try and give yourself legitimacy in the archaeological field and to legitimize the business you are trying to build on top of it–all in search of a supposed superiority always claimed by white people. Theories like these are not only absurd and laughable, but they also increase the probability of actual looting. Your intentions do not surprise us, since both Mormons and other groups who have built their wealth by looting many territories of Latin America and the so-called “third world,” have made this same argument. Denying our greatness and submitting us to misery are old strategies of those who steal our history because they themselves have no roots, since they only exist while they colonize and plunder us.
You also proudly indicate that, for your business, you already have the interest of investors such as Mel Gibson, Morgan Freeman, and Prince Albert of Monaco. Who has given you the right to sell our territory and Our Big House to such characters or whatever they are? Who did you ask permission from? Mel Gibson already amassed great fortunes with his disgusting film Apocalypto, where he degrades us and represents us with lies. Were you his main advisor? Are these the ideas about our ancestors that you develop with your scientific theories? We know very well that the vast majority of gringo and European researchers come to plunder our knowledge and take it to the audiences of their countries. They have no real interest in returning it to us because that is the way of colonial and imperial science, always at the service of power and capital, like you very well show.
Anyway, we bring attention to some disturbing questions that emerge from your statements in the videos and the documentation that we have found about your business. Your “progressive” offer reproduces that long liberal imperialist tradition that justifies your theft on the grounds that white people or non-indigenous scholars are the saviors of our peoples and they possess a truth that we do not possess … but, let’s go step by step.
First. Your findings shared through your Ted Talk are simplistic; it is a lecture made to impress an unfamiliar and misinformed audience. Our cities and sacred sites were built from the architectural, political, economic and spiritual complexity that defined our civilization. We know of the immense wealth of our societies and their great contributions to humanity. For this reason, we find it aberrant when you, in that same video, condemn our ancestors by affirming that, “by their predatory actions [Mayan] civilization collapsed.” Our civilization never collapsed, sir. The Maya are still alive and defending ourselves against looters. Our current epistemologies, cosmovision and ways of life contrast with the “predatory” theory that you impose on us. And we are not based on the idiocy of business and money, which comes out of your mouth all the time, but from the greatness of life itself and from the deep respect for Our Mother Earth. Know that your theories are the same that the colonizers, Hispanics, Whites, Criollo-mestizos and Ladinos have always told us: that our civilization collapsed and that the current Maya are not really the descendants of the nations that made the very cities you excavate. Surely you are unable to understand the meaning of life and the wisdom of the Maya Nations who prioritize respect for everything that life creates over money and business. But perhaps you will listen to your own colleagues, who have questioned deceptive, fraudulent, and simplistic theories like yours. This is the case of Arthur Demarest who, in his comment to the book The Great Mayan Droughts: Water, Life and Death (2000) by Gill Richardson, points out several fallacies built on a range of highly selective and consequently misleading archaeological evidence. Richardson, according to Demarest, ignores and does not take into account the complex social aspects of the life of the Maya of that era. Demarest also adds that it is sought from the start to amaze people, the author, “presents a highly selective and consequently misleading range of archaeological evidence.” About your pseudo-theories you want to sell us to the world to carry out your ecotourism business.
Second. In the video “8th Wonder of the World”, you propose to make “positive changes, involving people in an economic model” and declare “the basin, ‘the first wilderness area in Latin America.’” Such an alternative economic model resides in building a “Tourist Route in the Cradle of the Maya Civilization” with “a natural border using the same forest to prevent the entry of illegal invaders.” The archaeological site of El Mirador – you conclude – is the economic catalyst to get Guatemala out of “misery.” According to you, this project will not only provide employment opportunities to the surrounding families, but will also create educational opportunities. People, you say, are learning to read and write and conserve their forests. But we note that, in the VICE video, you are already aware that there is resistance against your project when you speak of being accused of being, “an imperialist gringo who wants to get rich at the expense of us [Guatemalans].” You end the sentence by saying that this is precisely your criticism of Guatemalans: “they have no vision.” Who are you referring to specifically? If it refers to the economic, political, ruling elites, drug traffickers, loggers and looters of Maya treasures that, in general, are Criollos-mestizos/Ladinos; then yes, you are absolutely right. But we the Maya are not them, because Criollos-mestizos/Ladino’ elites can only think about doing business with our millennial past and our present full of wealth.
These sectors have sought to make Guatemala a mirror of Europe and the United States through policies of whitening and genocide. Yes, through these processes they have sought to eliminate us in order to lay the foundations for an industrialized country that is supposedly acceptable in the eyes of the world; in other words, to promote the idea of a White country. Don’t you know that the Guatemalan state sought to eliminate us during the armed conflict? In case you do not know that history, we recommend that you read the Commission for Historical Clarification, Guatemala: Causes and Origins of the Internal Armed Conflict. There you will find information on how the genocidal and ethnocidal policies implemented by the Guatemala state were supported logistically and economically by the United States and Israel. Therefore, when these Criollos-mestizos/Ladino elite sectors and governmental officials see you, a privileged white gringo with access to investment capital from the likes of Mel Gibson, Morgan Freeman, Prince Albert of Monaco and US senators, these same elites open the door and fall to their knees before you. You have won the attention of those who now sell Guatemala and her natural assets to the highest bidder, such as President Alejandro Giammattei, congressmen, and investors who are also interested in amassing wealth with the crumbs that you offer them, selling what doesn’t belong to them, selling what belongs to us, the Maya.
Third. All of you share an admiration for the material legacy of our ancestors, those great achievements that have impressed the world. But when it comes to us, the Maya descendants of today, you despise, humiliate, and plunder us with contempt. You only see us as servants in your homes, as cheap labor on your plantations and excavations, as despicable and dehumanized objects. You only accept us if we bow our heads and say nothing- or if we applaud your projects framed in your definitions of “progress,” without question. So, like others, we concur that you are just another imperialist and colonizing white gringo who seeks to enrich himself at the expense of our sacred millennial legacy. We ask ourselves, for example, what will happen to the Association of Forest Communities of Peten (Acofop) and the surrounding communities if your project is carried out? Will they, you think, clean the hotel bathrooms and bedrooms and bring the food to your tables? Don’t tell us that these are the great job opportunities that your ecotourism offers us? Are you kidding us!?
What is your idea of development and progress, Mr. Hansen? On the one hand, you are talking about an alternative model, but on the other, you are proposing a multimillion-dollar tourism project that in the long run – there is no doubt – will benefit more foreign investors, Criollo-mestizos and Ladinos with whom you have made secret deals. Do you really believe that the answer to our economic situation is a capitalist project like the one you are proposing? How exactly will it benefit our peoples if in your project you believe yourself to be the owner of El Mirador?
Fourth. With the conclusion of your Ted Talk and, later, with the VICE video, the first thing we ask ourselves is: What Maya peoples or groups have you consulted to carry out these alternative economic proposals? Have you taken seriously the position of the community members who have worked with you on these projects? And, if you don’t know, there is a wide range of Indigenous or Maya organizational processes and governance structures in Guatemala, including 48 Cantones in Totonicapán, Indigenous Governance from Sololá, The Kaqchikel Government from Chuarrancho, Indigenous Ixil Mayorship, Indigenous Achi Mayorship, The Twelve Indigenous Mayorships that live around the Atitlán Lake, and Indigenous Q’eqchi Authorities located in the Verapaces and Petén area. Indigenous governments and Indigenous authorities operate from local to national levels. There are also organizations such as the Council of Maya Spiritual Guides, B’eleje’ No’j, The National Council of Principal Elders and Maya, Xinca and Garifuna Spiritual Guides, The Council of Maya Peoples, The National Maya Coordination and Convergence, Waqib’ Kej, The U’k’ux B’e Maya Association, Association of Forest Communities of Peten, The Committee of Peasant Unity, among many others. Have these organizations been consulted? Or is it that you take the title of “The King of the Jungle” seriously and you think that you are the owner of our territory or Our Big House, located in the place where you have been excavating?
Fifth. The other aspect that is disturbing to us is that in both the VICE documentary and the article, “King of the Jungle,” it is noted that Mormons from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints visit our sacred sites. These Mormons from Utah believe that thousands of years ago a group of Nephites who fled Jerusalem in 597 BC came to Mesoamerica and built great cities. Mormons, who consider themselves descendants of the Nephite Israelites, provide resources for your excavations in exchange for appropriating our territory and sacred site. We are aware of our codices. We know that our ancestors welcomed exchanges with other societies, people today known as Arab, Asian, or African. Our ancestors were wonderful hosts, just like we continue to be. They always received visitors with food and gifts until the colonizers and imperialists arrived. They reciprocated our welcome, food, and gifts with treason, slavery, death, and looting.
It is the ridiculous myth about Columbus that has erased the possibility from continuing this ancestral tradition of exchange, since he has been considered the “first” to “discover” us. So if they wanted to, Arabs, Asians, and Africans could have theories similar to yours. As we say again, our ancient history is so rich and so astonishing that we will say ironically that even aliens believe they are descendants of those who created it, our ancestors. You, Mr. Hansen, are following in the footsteps of Mormon lawyer Thomas Stuart Ferguson (1915-1983), who pursued (without any success) evidence of that Nephite presence in Maya sacred territories.
Finally, Mr. Hansen, through this letter, we denounce your imperialist and colonial impulse, your grotesque desire to amass wealth at our expense. You are just another imperialist and colonizing gringo who, like the Criollo-mestizo and Ladino elites of Guatemala, have a long tradition of dispossession, looting, and extractivism. Respect our territory, our Big House, they belongs only to us, the Maya Nations. There are people who thank you for your archeological excavations. We have nothing to thank you for, we have never asked you to make your explorations on our territory, our Big House.
Enough with stealing our territory and looting our ancient cities!
Ixbalamke Junajpu Winaq’
Aura Cumes (Maya Kaqchikel)
Edgar Esquit (Maya Kaqchikel)
Emil’ Keme (Maya K’iche’)
Jorge Santiago Matias (Maya Tujaal)
Juanita Cabrera Lopez (Maya Mam)
Kaypa’ Tz’iken (Maya Tujaal)
June 25, 2020
English translation by Floridalma Boj-Lopez (K’iche’ Maya)
To adhere your signature to this letter
You can indicate this in the comments or write your information to the following document: