Latin America and the Need for a Life-Liberating Theology

by Ingemar Hedström

Ingemar Hedström was born in Silbodal, Sweden. He graduated from the theological seminary in Lidingö, Sweden, in 1971, studied sociology at the University of Stockholm in 1971-72, and received his licentiate in biology, chemistry, and geography at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, in 1981. He received a M.Sc. in natural sciences from Uppsala in 1982, where he studied tropical ecology and entomology. He was ordained as a pastor of the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden in 1972. Since 1983 he has been a member of the investigative team of the Departamento Ecuménico de Investigaciones (DEI) and professor at the School of Biology at the University of Costa Rica. His books include: Born to be Free: Trafficking in Endangered Species in Costa Rica and Ecuadore The Gift of the Poor to the Rich: Nonviolent Struggle in Latin America; Will the Swallows Return. The Reintegration of Creation from Latin American Perspective; and We Are Part of a Great Balance: The Ecological Crisis in Central America.

This essay originally appeared as chapter 8, pp. 111-122, in Charles Birch, William Eaken and Jay B. McDaniel (eds.) Liberating Life: Contemporary Approaches in Ecological Theology, published 1990 by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 10545. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Latin American liberation perspectives must be committed to the integrity of creation if they are to meet the needs of the human poor. The author compares the diminishing migrations of birds from North America to Central and South America to the plight of the poor: “If this is happening with wild animals, we may easily guess who is to follow.”

In the latter decades of the twentieth century, the phrase liberation theology often has been used synonymously with Latin American liberation theology. This reflects the Immense influence that Latin American theologians have had on the global Christian community. Can Latin American theologies, too, be part of the emerging consensus that life in its totality, and not human life alone, deserves liberation? Indeed they can, at least from the point of view of Ingemar Hedström. Hedström, living in Latin America for many years and deeply influenced by liberation perspectives, has published several works at the interface of liberation theology and ecology. His proposal is that Latin American liberation perspectives can and must be committed to the integrity of creation if they are to meet the needs of the human poor. Hedström’s essay, abridged by the editors of this book and translated by Kathlyn Smith, combines sections from two of his books: We Are Part of a Great Balance: The Ecological Crisis in Central America [3d ed., published in San Jose, Costa Rica, by Editorial DEI, 1988] and Will the Swallows Return? The Reintegration of Creation from a Latin American Perspective [Editorial DEI, 1988].

All the great civilizations of the world began with the felling of the first tree . . . the majority of them disappeared with the felling of the last

Combe and Gewald

During the 1970s, when I visited the capital of El Salvador on several occasions, I was able to observe the thousands of swallows that would fill the power lines every evening across from the National Theater in Morazan Plaza. Like endless strings of white pearls they covered the entire electrical layout of the plaza, as well as the small ledges on the theater building. The same phenomenon was observed for many years in the city of Escuintla, located to the southwest of Guatemala’s capital city.

This Custom of gathering together to sleep and rest at night (roosting in English) is practiced by a few animals, including white herons, mammals, and some species of butterflies. It is believed that, given the high number of captures by predators, the chances of individual survival are greater.

My native companions informed me that these swallows of San Salvador had been practicing the custom of roosting together in Morazan Plaza for many, many years. Some citizens had written beautiful poems in homage to the swallows, while others argued that they soiled the streets and tried to get rid of them -- with gunshots, buckets of water, or fireworks. In spite of this, the swallows continued arriving every evening to cover the cables and spend a peaceful night in the plaza.

Ten years later, upon returning to San Salvador, I could not see a single swallow in Morazan Plaza. What had happened to them? Why did they not appear as usual in the evenings? I asked several of my friends in the capital, but no one could give me a definite reason. Among other things, they told me that owls had come to the plaza in search of prey, and that the swallows had fled in a panic. This reason, like the others they had offered, did not seem to me a very satisfactory explanation.

I have been thinking about the apparent disappearance of the swallows in San Salvador as well as in Escuintla. For me, they have become a very concrete symbol of what is happening in Latin America; I am referring to the environmental deterioration of the continent and in particular of El Salvador. When the swallows could find nothing to eat in the Vicinity of the capital, what choice did they have but to move on or die? We wonder: Will the swallows return, or are they, are we ourselves, headed toward premature death and irreversible destruction?

The disappearance of swallows in El Salvador is by no means an isolated incident. It is part of a much larger pattern of abuse and exploitation, of the earth and of people, which has occurred in South and Central America, and which is itself part of an age-old historical pattern of ecological destruction. It is worth our while to review this age-old pattern and then to look at its exemplification in South and Central America.


The Landscape of Greece: A Decayed Skeleton

Let us recall that centuries ago in ancient Greece more than half the country was covered by green forests. Today it is estimated that only one-twentieth of this country is wooded, apparently, scarcely two percent of the old layer of humus (fertile organic remains of dead plants and animals) has been conserved in Greece (Edberg, 150).

The famous Greek philosopher Plato (438-347 BCE.) founded the Greek Academy. Following extensive travels throughout his country he lamented the fact that the delicate, fertile part of the Greek soil had been washed away through rains and the lack of vegetation in the country (Edberg, 149-50). Of the landscape nothing remained but a decayed skeleton. The temple ruins on the hills of Attica to the north of Athens, the capital, today are silent, along with the natural world that surrounds them. A great many species, among them many birds, have now abandoned this dry, semi-sterile environment in order to survive.

The Roman Empire

Centuries later on the Italic peninsula this same drama was being repeated. During the Roman Empire the flatlands were already suffering from excessive cultivation. The Roman peasants were obliged to go higher and higher into the Apennine Mountains for arable land. The fertile soil lost its humus layer, which was washed by the rains into the rivers and then deposited forever in the Mediterranean Sea. Once there, it fouled the water and killed the aquatic fauna.

So the Roman Empire was soon forced to seek new lands on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea -- in Northern Africa, in what is now Algeria and Tunisia. The Romans thus acquired in their African colonies provisions and olives enough to continue living "on bread, wine, and pleasure" in the city of Rome.

The Romans also exploited the lands on the island of Sicily in the same way as in Northern Africa. Let us remember the legendary city of Carthage, which lies close to the capital (Tunis) -- how it had to be literally "destroyed to please the Romans." Carthage had to feed not only itself and the neighboring villages -- whose populations are calculated to have been about three times the present population -- but the Roman population as well, including a very large migration of people who were then looking for new opportunities in Rome.

Northern Africa

With the exploitation of natural resources that was practiced throughout this epoch, the natural environments of Italy, Sicily, and Northern Africa had to pay a very high price to be able to satisfy the excesses of the Empire. Furthermore, what the Romans did not manage to destroy during this period was finished off by domestic animals, mainly goats or kids. These animals not only eat the green parts of the plants, but consume the roots of the vegetation as well. The region in which Hannibal of Carthage captured elephants for his army -- the mountains of Northern Africa where today these beautiful animals are no longer found -- became a semi-desert, along with southern Italy and Sicily. Today history informs us that the vegetation of this landscape died with the Roman Empire itself.

The Clearing of European Forests

At this point I should add that not only the environment of the great Southern European empires was sadly damaged. In the tenth century, when the original European forests began to be converted to farmland and pasturage, ninety percent of the entire continent was covered by trees; today only twenty percent of these trees remain (Myers 1979, 121).

Often the despoliation occurred with amazing rapidity. In the eighteenth century, when the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-78) returned in his later years to an island of the Gothenburg (Sweden) archipelago, he was surprised at the absence of trees, which had been there when he was a young man. The cliffs facing the sea were practically bare because the trees had become raw material for the construction of ships and of wooden barrels for preserving the famous Nordic herring.

Disappearance of North American Virgin Forests

About the tenth century, when the ancient Scandinavians, the Vikings, were frequenting North America, the humid portion of the east, as far as the mid-east of what is now the United States of North America, was covered by a dense forest of 1.6 million square kilometers. Today less than five percent of this forest is still virgin (see Myers 1979, 121).


If we move forward in the course of European history, we find that at the time when Spanish kings were trying to build their own empire, trees were cut down in Spain, also, to produce lumber for shipbuilding, and great expanses of forest were converted to pastureland. But all of the wealth that Spain had managed to amass during the sixteenth century was lost in the Spanish trade crisis of the following century. Spain’s environment was greatly affected, and today on the Iberian Peninsula we find a severely eroded landscape, virtually dead rivers, and bare mountains.

The Naked Coasts of the Mediterranean

I have been able personally to observe several of these areas and their present appearance as resulting from overexploitation in Southern Europe: felling of trees and excessive pasturing in Greece, Turkey, Italy, and southern Spain, as well as in North Africa -- Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. All of these large areas are now dry and eroded because of the poor land management mentioned above.

A New Land to Exploit: America

Long ago the Spanish and the Portuguese settled in Central and South America. It may be supposed that Central America at the time of the conquistadors’ arrival presented an area covered almost completely by forests. On his fourth voyage, when Christopher Columbus reached the coast of what is now Costa Rica, the admiral found an enormous wealth of forest in the area:

Before Spanish colonization, the natives cultivated the soil using rudimentary, subsistence-level methods; therefore, the exploited geographic areas were very limited. Forests predominated; plant cover was maintained on cultivated ground, thereby renewing its organic material and nutrients, or natural fertility; the climate contributed efficiently to agricultural yield, and the rivers and underground springs were plentiful and of excellent quality; the fauna was abundant (Espinoza, 168).

In South America, in what is now Peru, the subjects of the Incan Empire had developed terrace cultivation, by which they obtained better harvests and also avoided soil erosion.

In Mexico the high plateau populations used water-rationing methods for centuries in their farming, which made possible the flourishing of an area that today is totally dry and eroded due to lack of measures to prevent a permanent water shortage in the region.

The Fall of the Mayas

Another illustrative case, though not an altogether clear one, is the collapse of Mayan civilization about one thousand years ago. Of the proposed theories regarding its fall, the role of agricultural productivity in the lowlands has been discussed in the majority of the studies done on the subject (see Fonseca Zamora). It is believed that the Mayas upset the balance between humans and nature, although the fall of their civilization probably corresponded to "a network of interaction in which any difficulty could have had repercussions on the whole" (Fonseca Zamora, 505).

The Mayas attained a high degree of efficiency in mathematics, writing, and astronomy, but probably not in the rational management of soil and forest. Roughly by the year 250 BCE., the clearing of forests and the over-cultivation of Mayan agricultural lands had caused a great deal of soil erosion (see Deevey, et al.). One proof of their mistaken farming methods may lie in a discovery made on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where after a meter’s excavation into the light-brown fertile soil, a stratus of black was unexpectedly found: this probably means that this civilization practiced burning off vegetation in order to expand their arable lands (see the studies in Dagens Nyheter.(Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, 30 April 1979. "Skogsvard död för Maya"1 Repeated burnings promote destruction of soil productivity in any part of the world.

The Aboriginal Population of Central America

Certain parts of Central America were densely populated during the pre-Columbian period, reaching their peak density by 1520, when the Europeans arrived. The most important nuclei of aboriginal population were in Guatemala, El Salvador, and certain parts of Honduras (Fournier, 50), while Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama were a sparsely populated region.2 The aboriginal population then decreased eighty to ninety percent over the following twenty-five to fifty years (Corrales Rodriguez, 114-15).

Imported Agricultural Systems

The Spaniards who came to Central America saw as backward and primitive the native system of soil cultivation, which was migratory or itinerant agriculture, involving prolonged rotation (Hall, 122-23). They therefore replaced the indigenous tradition with agricultural systems imported, literally, from Spain and with models of land use which were well-suited to the Mediterranean regions but completely alien to the tropics.3 When the Spaniards settled in Costa Rica, all lands, including those of the aborigines, became the property of the Spanish Crown. True to Spanish tradition, the pastures and cleared fields, which had no place in’the aboriginal ecosystem, were initially designated as public lands, but in practice many of them were gradually absorbed as private property (Hall, 123). Espinoza summarizes the situation well:

The Spaniards invaded the region by pillaging nature; they appropriated vast tracts of land, monopolizing the best soil, introduced livestock, and enslaved the natives for clearing forests, creating pastureland, and tending livestock, thus establishing land-cattle fiefs. With oxen they implemented animal traction, or cultivation of the soil with ploughs, thus intensifying erosive agricultural practices and the soil compaction caused by livestock’s trampling of the ground (Espinoza, 168).

Today, the depletion of minerals, forests, and other natural resources in Central America is considerable, just as is soil depletion in the areas of greatest development. Changes in the possession and overdevelopment of land have affected the people in the past and continue to do so today. The Spaniards and their descendants, in less than four centuries, changed great stretches of countryside into an unbalanced, half-naked environment. We continue this destruction in the present through practices at the heart of our economies. By way of illustration, consider the pattern of destruction in light of its relation to the meat-eating habits of North Americans.

The "Hamburgerization" of the Forests of Central America

Forest management, agriculture, and extensive cattle-ranching are the principal activities upon which Central America’s economy rests.4 Of these, cattle-ranching has developed the most during recent decades. For this reason the majority of Central American countries could be called "hamburger republics," though the cattlemen of the region do not themselves perceive it in this way. They see their activity as fair and profitable enterprise. Cattle-ranching still represents a fairly secure flow of income into Central America.

Now, what the cattlemen refuse to acknowledge is that meat production in Central America is intimately linked to destruction of the forests. This is due primarily to the fact that cattle-ranching in this region is a process of colonization based upon extensive exploitation of large amounts of land, including forests. Consider the following statistics concerning individual countries in Central America.

Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, between 1960 and 1980, pasturage and cattle increased by about seventy-five percent, while the rain forests decreased by about forty percent during this same period, being converted to pasturelands (Myers 1981, 6). The hatos (cattle pastures) account for one-half of the landed property in Costa Rica and one-third of the country’s total area.

In 1972 Tosi had already summed up very precisely the consequences of irrational utilization of Costa Rica’s virgin lands, to the detriment of the natural balance. His account is worth extensive quoting.

When it left the Central Valley, agricultural colonization became Cattle-based and extensive, occupying great areas of land in order to sustain a dispersed population. The invaded regions were, in general, warmer . . . much rainier, and characterized by a topography that was often rugged and uneven. . . . The land was ill-suited for continual cultivation. New fields cultivated on top of the debris of a recently cleared forest . . . did not last more than two or three years. Given these limitations, colonization was characterized by a frontier that advanced rapidly upon virgin forests with tree-cutting . . . , burning, and temporary cultivation, and by a large area in its wake where abandoned farmland, instead of being allowed to turn into natural secondary forests thus renewing its fertility and guarding against erosion, was converted into cattle ranches. Whenever there was a dry season of sufficient length for the annual burnings, the brushlands were made into natural pasturelands. Since cattle require a wide expanse of this barren land in order to be profitable, the colonists indiscriminately cleared forests in every kind of climate, topography, and soil. Even watersheds important to the lowland water supply were completely shorn of their protective forests.

We know the process well. It is not just persisting, but is getting worse at present, spreading over the slopes and upper river basins of the country’s mountain ranges. . . . It has gained new momentum, impelled not by the poor colonist searching for land with which to support his family, but rather by the commercial cattleman seeking short-term profits in the new and expanding international beef market.

Popularly regarded as progress, this colonizing process has reached a point where it does not lead to authentic development in the country, but leads instead to its impoverishment and to the eventual biological and economic death of the land. In most cases, primary forests arc cleared along rivers and streams. This destruction of elements vital to the ecology and renewal of the land -- elimination of entire communities, their flora and fauna, their roots and seeds, their organic soils. . . . When there are no vestigial forests close by, natural repopulation of secondary forests and wildlife becomes impossible. Worse yet, much of this land is unsuitable for use as pastureland and, when used for such purposes, is gradually ruined for any future use, including forestation (Tosi).


Beginning in the sixties, cattle-ranching in Nicaragua was enormously revitalized (see Slutsky, 100). Meat exports came to constitute the country’s third largest export product, surpassed only by cotton and coffee.

Cattle-ranching in Nicaragua has been conducted traditionally in the form of land-leasing and sharecropping, which the great landowners have given to the campesino (Slutsky, 100). The sharecropper would clear and farm the land and leave it planted with grass before moving on in search of more land; the campesino’s function from the sixties on, then, basically has been that of "increasing the value of land that will later be occupied by the big cattlemen" (Slutsky, 100).


Or consider Panama. In 1950 Panama had about 570,000 head of cattle and approximately 550,000 hectares of pasturage; by 1970 the number of cattle had risen to 1.2 million head and the pasturage to 1.1 million hectares (Heckadon Moreno 1984b, 18).

Regarding Panama, S. Heckadon Moreno says:

The tropical-forest zones are being incorporated into the national economy, at a high ecological and social cost, due to the rapid expansion of extensive cattle-ranching. . . . This colonization is characterized by rapid destruction of the tropical forest, substituted first by cultivation of cleared lands and later by pastures which are burned annually. When the forests disappear and the soil loses its fertility, social organization is altered. Class structure changes, and traditional, mutual-assistance institutions are weakened. . . . These transformations contribute to the cycle which continually displaces the campesinos from old to new frontiers of colonization (Heckadon Moreno[a], 133).

Food for Export and Not for Central Americans

The increase in meat production in Central America did not come about in order to satisfy internal consumption . . . but rather for the purpose of exportation.5

Why the exportation of meat, and not rice and beans or other popular foods so badly needed by the hungry populace? Why cattle-raising, so extensive in its use of the most limited resource in all of Central America, the soil, and so unintensive in its use of labor while thousands are looking for work? Just as in the other operational categories of the World Bank, its interest in promoting cattle-ranching in Central America does not seem to correspond to a desire to confront the conditions and structures produced by man and by poverty. Instead, an answer must be sought as we examine the role of Central American cattle-ranching in the world meat market, and especially capitalism’s interest in its development (Keene, 202).

In some countries of Central America, as is the case in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras, one can see that meat production went from being insufficient in satisfying internal consumption needs to a position of importance among export products, following coffee, sugar, and bananas.

For example, studies conducted by the Nutrition Institute of Central America established that for the average conditions of Costa Rica an average of ninety grams of meat should be eaten daily. According to findings of the country’s National Production Council, in 1983 the daily consumption per person was twenty-three grams.6 Per capita consumption of meat for Costa Ricans declined after that, in spite of the fact that consumption was already at an unacceptable level for supporting basic protein nutrition. According to some sources, such as Myers, even though meat production in Costa Rica tripled during the period 1960-70 internal consumption fell to a point where each person ate "less meat than a domestic cat receives annually in the United States" (Myers 1981, 6).

The increase in meat production is designated almost entirely for export; more than thirty percent is sent to the United States (see Parsons). The meat produced in Central America is usually frozen and flown to Miami, where it enters the processed-foods production chain (see Andersson).

It could be contended that the eating habits of North Americans and their country’s politics are determinants in the promotion of cattle-ranching in Central America. According to Andersson, some United States government programs stimulate ranching activity in Central America. The U.S. State Department’s Agency for International Development, for example, has carried Out various assistance programs for profitability in that industry.

The "Hamburgerization" of Central America

On the other hand, after 1955, when the first "hamburgers to go" restaurant opened in Chicago, there was a veritable revolution in the eating habits of North Americans (Hubler, 1). In 1960 there were already more than 200 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States alone, with a consumption of meat that was truly immense. The problem at that time was how to obtain so many tons of meat at a low price. The best alternative turned out to be the meat produced in Central America, on the basis of the extensive grazing and natural pastures of the region. Inexpensive meat would mean inexpensive hamburgers. So, beginning in 1960 a "bonanza era" of cattle-ranching came to be. Few people had any idea of the high cost that would be paid in the Central American forests.

In summary, we would point out that from 1960 to 1980 beef production in Central America increased 160 percent; of the 400,000 square kilometers of rain forest that existed in 1960 in Central America less than one-half remained by 1980 (Myers 1981). We find ourselves faced, then, with a "hamburgerization" of Central America.

The Need for a Life-Liberating Theology

In light of this ravaging of people and land in Central America, we realize that the preferential option for the poor, characteristic of Latin American liberation theologies, must be articulated as a preferential option for life. To exercise this option is to defend and promote the fundamental right to life of all creatures on earth. The right to life in all its fullness involves partaking of the material base of creation, that is, of the material goods that permit life. All people, and not the powerful alone, must be availed of such goods; all people, not the powerful alone, must do so in a way that preserves rather than despoils the earth and other forms of life. In order to exercise this right in a just and sustainable way, we must rediscover our primal roots in the earth, and creatures of the earth.

This rediscovery will not be easy. Many modern people are detaching themselves, consciously or unconsciously, from their primal roots, from the origins of their existence: the earth and its natural resources, self-renewing sources of food, raw materials, energy, and so on. They are doing so because they are obsessed with profit and an eagerness to dominate nature. Indeed, this obsession has become an ideology.

The basic characteristic of this ideology seems to be unlimited growth, constant expansion. In the case of capitalism we have a pattern of consumption and waste that attacks humanity itself. This ideology is the basis for a mode of production, especially in the affluent countries, whose thirst for profit and for irrational expansion has not only promoted the pauperization of the majority of the planet’s human population but has also led to the plundering and pollution of nature. Thus has life been endangered not only for the poor, but for all sectors of the human population and for many of the creatures with which we share the earth.

It would seem that we have only two options. On the one hand, there is the traditional, persistent, and negative interpretation of anthropocentrism. According to it, human beings are in the front rank, trying to control the natural environment for his own benefit.

On the other hand, we have a new and more attractive valuation of nature. We might call it ecocentrism (see Sale). According to this interpretation human beings are but one among many species, and not much more. We have no right to continue our present behavior, as if we were the only species on earth and, moreover, as if the present generation were the last. Rather we must recognize ourselves as of the same order as other animals, in no way more valuable.

I believe we ought not limit ourselves to either of these concepts. Rather, we must somehow discover and combine the positive elements contained in each. That is, we must establish a new concept based on a balance between these two ideas, thereby achieving an interpretation of the harmonious relationship that is aspired to between human being and the rest of nature.

What we need is a greater understanding of the environmental limits which most certainly exist regarding human intervention into nature. The acceptance of these environmental limits may not guarantee us an equitable distribution of society’s wealth, but -- and this is the crucial point -- the idea of balance and environmental limits offers the prospect of a more just society. This is because respect for these limits is essential to any social body that aspires to a qualitatively better life for all. Traditional industrial society, as we know, has not really presented us with this possibility.

In other words, we must develop a new ethic and, to be frank, a new logic with relation to nature, based on the conviction that, as Father Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru says, "life and not death has the last word." We rightly insist that God opposes death because God is the Creator and the giver of life.

Thus, as Christians in Latin America we choose life over death by combating the deterioration of the natural environment and the pollution of soil, air, water, and other elements. Always keeping in mind the environmental limits, we put ourselves on the side of life rather than death, among other reasons, so that all of us will have the chance to satisfy the basic necessities: work, food, home, health, education. Such must be our new, life-liberating ethic.

By way of conclusion, then, let us recall the plight of the swallows mentioned in the introduction, noting that if we are not careful, their plight may become our own.

The swallows that once occupied the power lines in the Morazan Plaza of El Salvador’s capital are migratory birds. They, along with 150 other species of birds (which is equivalent to two-thirds of the birds in North America’s forests), move each year from North America toward Central America and the Caribbean, going as far as South America, in order to spend the North American cold season in warmer latitudes.7

Central America lies on the route of many species of migratory birds. The isthmus is shaped more or less like a funnel, which channels the birds that migrate along diverse paths and come together in the narrow isthmus. Every time that the swallows and other birds fly south, they find their habitat more and more deteriorated. As a result, one to four percent of migratory birds disappear each year (Myers 1986). In other words, the individuals of each species of migratory bird are slowly diminishing in number. It is calculated that within some fifteen years, more than half of the migratory birds will have disappeared. If this is happening with wild animals, we may easily guess who is to follow.


1. Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, 30 April 1979. "Skogsvard död för Maya" ("Poor Forest Management Causes the Ruin of the Mayas"). These studies were carded out on the Yucatan Peninsula in the 1970s by the agronomist Gerald Olson, Cornell University, United States.

2. When the conquistadors arrived there were, in Costa Rica at least, no more than 27,000 natives, according to Bishop Thiel. Seventy years later, given the abuse to which they were subjected, they had decreased to about 17,000, which dwindled to 9,000 by 1801. In other words, in three hundred years the aboriginal population in Costa Rica was reduced by almost two-thirds. Today only one percent of the country’s total population is aboriginal, the lowest percentage in Central America (see Cevo Guzman, et al., 224).

3. Pre-Columbian aboriginal communities required access to a large area of forest, and they would reduce the land’s yield after one or two harvests; they would abandon the farmed lands so that the forest would grow back and would clear another strip for cultivation. In this way the forest protected the soil, the plants, and the wild animals which, together with fish and shellfish, provided the aborigines with valuable sources of energy and nutrients (Hall, 122-124).

4. In the mid-seventies El Salvador had sixty-five percent, Costa Rica fifty- four percent, Honduras and Nicaragua thirty-five percent, and Guatemala thirty-two percent of their land area in agricultural use (see Soria 1976).

5. For a more in-depth study on the World Bank’s cattle politics in Central America, see Keene.

6. See Libertad, Costa Rica. "Desnutrici6n y consumo de came en Costa Rica," 23029 November 1984.

7. In the opinion of Bill Marleau, forest ranger with the Adirondack Reserve, New York State, United States, the abuse of pesticides is the main cause of the recent disappearance of swallows and other animals from this famous reserve. He relates: "I remember how it used to be, when millions of swallows perched on the power lines here. Every year around the 26th of August, they would assemble in large flocks and then migrate south. Last year, however, for the first time in twenty years, we didn’t have even one to build its nest. For four years now, not a single pair has been able to feed its young due to lack of insects in the area. . . . The two kinds of swallows common here had always raised two broods per year. Last year, when as usual I was counting the number of swallows assembled to migrate south, I could only see about fifteen; no more. As I said earlier, there used to be thousands. The same thing is being seen with other species of birds, and with mammals and insects, within our reserve" (Landin, 146-47).


Works Cited:

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______ (b) "La colonización campesina de bosques tropicales en Panamá" Colonización y destrucción de bosques en Panamá. Ed. S. Heckadon Moreno, and A. McKay. Panama: Asociación Panameña de Anthropología, 1984.

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