The Associated Press
December 12, 1998

          `Mayan Riviera' Off-Limits to Mayas

          By The Associated Press

          X-CARET, Mexico (AP) -- Offering snorkeling and swimming amid a
          jungle setting, X-Caret is the most popular theme park along the stretch of
          Caribbean known as the Mayan Riviera. But the only Maya tourists are
          likely to find there is Ezequiel Chan Noh.

          The 80-year-old former gum-tree tapper is paid to sit in a hut in a
          ``reconstructed'' Maya village in a forgotten corner of the park -- a mostly
          fabricated series of rivers, lagoons and caves meant to represent the
          natural state of the area.

          Chan Noh spends his day weaving baskets as the occasional tourist
          stumbles upon the ``village,'' usually while looking for the park exit.

          ``I worked cutting mahogany until the trees ran out,'' Chan Noh said. ``I
          tapped gum trees, now that's all gone.''

          He remembered a time when little money changed hands in the area, and
          most Mayas led self-sufficient lives fishing or farming.

          ``Now, so much is bought, nothing is made,'' Chan Noh said.

          The Mayas also once had a history of defending their land: They fought
          one of the last major Indian rebellions on the continent, The Caste War,
          which wasn't crushed on the Caribbean coast until the early 1900s.

          Still, Chan Noh said he's happy to have the relatively undemanding job at
          the theme park.

          Many other Mayas on the Mayan Riviera are not as lucky: They live
          crowded into construction camps 25 miles to the north.

          There, 50 men or more are squeezed into each 20-foot-by-80-foot,
          unventilated tarpaper shack, in hammocks so pressed together they don't
          have room to swing, with one toilet for every 30 men.

          Most are brought from neighboring Maya states like Yucatan to live in the
          camps for as long as two years, while they work in the building boom that
          tourism has brought to this sunny stretch of Mexico.

          Most of the workers still speak a Maya language, and their ancestors
          ruled the area before the arrival of the Spanish.

          But their $5-a-day wages don't leave enough to pay the $39 entry fee for
          X-Caret, and security guards keep them from entering the beaches where
          the temples their ancestors built still sit.

          ``They build these poorly made camps, and bring people in to work in
          subhuman conditions, and the cost to the company is almost zero,'' said
          Tulio Arroyo, a member of the Cancun activist group Alianza Civica.

          In the camp, few people were willing to talk as two security guards
          waved residents away.

          ``It's a hard life,'' construction worker Pedro Peech said before he
          spotted the guards and fell silent.