Here we go again...another fight to save the Zihua Bay

by casamanzana @, Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 09:22 (4155 days ago)

February 15, 2011

FNS Feature

The Battle of Zihuatanejo: Round Two

Even as the town was festooned in Valentine's Day red and bouquets of
flowers danced in the streets, the scent of popular revolt crackled in the

It all began at the end of January, when the Mexican federal government's
National Trust Fund for Tourism Promotion (FONATUR) took charge of the
municipal pier and adjoining port facilities in the Pacific Coast tourist
town of Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

"We're going to improve the pier, so it is better, for travelers and for
maritime security," vows Fernando Gaytan, the new port administrator for
FONATUR. "We'll do it in a very attractive way."

But FONATUR's take-over of the dock facilities has angered a broad segment
of Zihuatanejo's population. For generations, the pier has been used by
residents to work, to play, to fall in love, and to just pass the time
watching the spectacular sunsets and lazy pelicans bobbing away on ancient

Critics of the management change say the local population was never
consulted, and they fear the arrangement could be the first step in
privatizing the bay, displacing long-time fishermen, raising user fees and
otherwise denying access to facilities, waters and beaches.

"They are ripping us off of our bay," contends Obdulia Balderas, retired
educator and the president of the Zihuatanejo Network of
Environmental Organizations (ROGAZ). "We've mobilized, because the bay is
for everybody, for all the people of Zihuatanejo."

Under the terms of the concession, FONATUR has the right to subcontract
services to private entities.

Last fall, without the knowledge of many local people, the federal
Secretariat for Communications and Transportation
(SCT) granted FONATUR a 25-year concession for the purpose of regulating
the use of Zihuatanejo Bay's waters and managing its facilities.

The concession also covers the Salinas Lagoon, a mangrove
estuary degraded by water pollution that flows into the bay, and the Barra
de Potosi, another lagoon located south of Zihuatanejo where undeveloped
lots are currently being offered for sale.

On Sunday, February 13, about 300 fishermen, boat operators,
small merchants, environmentalists and others rallied at the entrance
of the old-dock-by-the-bay in a public protest against FONATUR.

"Out with FONATUR" and "The Bay: Patrimony of Zihuatanejo" read some of the
placards carried by protestors. "We want investment, but investment that
respects the environment and Zihuatanejo Bay," declared Florentino Zavala
Climaco, president of the Zihuatanejo Federation of Fishing Cooperatives.
"We're going to defend the little we have left."

For years, ROGAZ, SOS Bahia and other citizen groups have raised
their voices against existing or proposed projects to transform the bay,
including a SCT plan for a new cruise ship pier terminal.

Opponents charged the mammoth project would have dramatically altered the
character of a small bay immortalized by Hollywood as the final getaway of
Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in the closing scenes of "The Shawshank
Redemption." A popular revolt resulted in the cancellation of the project
in 2008.

Gaytan told Frontera NorteSur that FONATUR has no intention of building a
new pier, but underscored his agency will improve the existing dock and
cruise ship boat transfer services to better serve the traveling public,
including handicapped persons.

In April, a new Mexican-owned cruise ship line with a home port in
Acapulco, Ocean Star Cruises, plans to begin weekly visits to Zihuatanejo
and several other Pacific ports. The Ocean Star will have a restaurant, a
night-club, beauty salon, an Irish pub and a casino. The new cruise ship
line has begun advertising on Mexican televsion.

FONATUR comes to the local docks with a decidely mixed reputation.
Established to develop Mexico's blossoming tourism industry in the early
1970s, FONATUR first came to Zihutanejo after the Echeverria
administration decreed the expropriation of three collectively-owned land
units called ejidos and encharged the federal tourism agency with
developing the new mega-resort of Ixtapa a few miles away from Zihuatanejo

As stipulated in the expropriation decree, the federal government agreed
to reserve two small lots of land for each ejido member in addition to
paying the ejidos 20 percent of the profits derived from land sold
for hotel and other tourist developments, says Jose Chavez, the current
president of the Zihuatanejo Ejido. Non-ejido residents of Zihuatanejo
were forced to re-purchase from the federal government land they already
had been living upon, he adds.

Nearly 40 years after the 1972 expropriation, the 105 members of the
Zihuatanejo ejido are still waiting to get paid by FONATUR for almost
1,250 acres of lands expropriated for the Ixtapa development. Ten years
ago, ejido members filed suit against the federal agency, Chavez says.

"They haven't complied with the expropriation decree," he says, "and we
continue demanding they comply with it." According to the ejido leader,
the money owed could run into "many millions of pesos."

Although the FONATUR case counts a decade collecting dust in an Acapulco
agrarian legal tribunal, Chavez says he is "confident" a settlement can be
reached to the ejido's satisfaction. Meantime, it's been
business as usual in Ixtapa, he adds. "The development of Ixtapa has
continued, and it hasn't been shut down by our legal demands."

Indeed, many locals praise FONATUR's development of Ixtapa, where
smartly-paved boulevards and efficient water and wastewater services are
the norm. In contrast, many residents criticize the decrepit or non-existent
wastewater treatment in Zihuatanejo, which is the legal responsibility of
the municipal government, as well as the frequent water shortages in
neighborhoods outside the downtown area.

Like Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, Zihuatanejo's urban development has
been characterized by the unplanned-and illegal-settlement of outlying
and hillside neighborhoods that shelter the working class of the tourist
trade, in this instance the workers of Ixtapa.

A long-time member of the Zihuatanejo ejido and the owner of a small dress
shop, Lupita Bravo is a passionate advocate for the people, history and
culture of her town. Bravo says that only popular resistance to FONATUR
and the federal government prevented the eviction of a close-knit
community of small fishermen and farmers. Bravo recalls traveling in a
protest caravan to the Mexican capital to protest the expropriation in the
early 1970s.

She says FONATUR could help out in cleaning up bay pollution and
maintaining order along the dock, but is still "deeply concerned" about
the terms of the concession. "I'm very interested in seeing a clean bay,"
Bravo adds. "But what does it serve if it is in private hands?"

For former school-teacher Balderas, the FONATUR concession issue boils
down to a fundamental one of democracy, in which Mexican municipalities
enjoy the constitutional right to govern themselves and reject outside
projects that are unacceptable to the local people.

"We just finished the struggle over the (cruise-ship) pier and
now we're in this, which is bigger," Balderas says.

Insisting he has an open door, FONATUR's Fernando Gaytan is reaching out
to small groups of people in a bid to win support for his agency's
presence. Anti-concession activists, however, are demanding that the SCT
revoke the 25-year agreement. Marches, petitions and possible legal
demands are among the actions brewing in the community.

-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico


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