The state of Chiapas, in southeastern Mexico, is home to the last remaining stands of rainforest in the nation — and also to almost half a million impoverished people, many of them living on the brink of starvation. In the past, the forest has been ravaged by monied interests, such as foreign companies looking to cut down the region’s mahogany and cedar trees; now, the region’s people and its trees are both dying, and sadly, the struggle often pits one against the other as peasants try to scratch a living from the land. The 1,278 square miles now known as the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve officially became a protected area in 1978, but that protection has been compromised by pressures from poverty, population growth, and political upheaval. The Zapatista rebel movement has said that conservation efforts in Montes Azules serve “large multinational companies dedicated to exploiting biogenetic resources,” not the region’s natural resources, much less its people. But the central conflict in the area is perhaps best summed up by one of its residents, Manuel Lopez Gomez, who said, “It’s difficult to maintain a nature preserve in places where people want to live.”

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