Thanks for Asking about Playa Viva and Turtle Guys

by david@playaviva.com @, Sunday, January 09, 2011, 15:27 (2475 days ago) @ ZihuaRob

Rob,

Thanks for your fair and balanced approached to the message boards and asking for my side of the story. Unfortunately, the newspaper reporters in the area are not as professional as you are in attempting to get another side of the story.

In short, we did our best to support the members of the Tortuga Feliz. We provided them with a 4x4 ATV, gas, "despensas" (food stipends) and funds for supplies and so much more for over 3 years. But we soon found out that this group was working in bad faith, dishonestly, non-transparently and taking advantage of a government concession to protect the turtles and turning it into a business to promote their own personal gain. Don't get me wrong, I do not think there is anything wrong with locals making money from conservation. But what I do have a problem with is when the individuals involved are lying to their financial sponsors, cheating their co-volunteers out of their fare share and excluding members who were not happy with their illicit and illegitimate activities.

After supporting Baltazar, Freddy and his core team of cronies at La Tortuga Feliz for several years we accidentally found out that they were double, triple and even quadruple dipping. They were obtaining funds from us for gas, from the local government, the state government, federal gov and from other locals like myself. This was the case for gas, despensas, supplies and so much more. The final straw came when we were delivering a second 4x4 ATV and found out they wanted to expropriate the land on which the turtle sanctuary has been located. The land belongs to Playa Viva. So we approached them and asked them to sign an agreement with us, just as we had when we first provided them with a 4x4 ATV. The agreement is commonly known as a "commodato" which stated that as long as they used the asset (in this case the land) for legal purposes, they could stay. They would not sign. Instead, they told us that they would ONLY sign if we paid them a "salary". Now imagine the legal issues that would ensue. They tried claiming the sanctuary was on Federal land, we had a state sponsored topographer come by and verify that 90% of the sanctuary is on private land. They disputed our title, we showed them the title. A member of the state agency came in to negotiate and agreement in good faith, the negotiator was unable to get them to agree to any reasonable solution. We tried everything to work together with Baltazar and team but they were intransigent.

At this point, Baltazar and team would ONLY allow guest from Playa Viva come to the sanctuary if we paid a per head fee. Thus, they were taking a volunteer project for which they receive authority to undertake these activities from the government and had turned it into extortion. So we found the guy who had started the turtle sanctuary originally, Hector Maldonado, who was the founding President of La Tortuga Feliz and we help him start La Tortuga Viva. Hector had been forced out of La Tortuga Feliz because he disagreed with Baltazar's unethical activities.

La Tortuga Viva now has 14 volunteers from the town, 7 who used to be with La Tortuga Feliz and are very experienced working with marine turtles, managing a turtle sanctuary and working with turtle eggs and baby turtles. Each of these 7 volunteers is paired with a new volunteer for training a new generation. When the group of 14 received their first food stipends, they elected to donate a food stipend to the widow of one of their former colleagues. This type of community engagement and commitment is one of the main reasons why we support the turtle sanctuary.

We could no longer support Baltazar and team because of their unethical and non-transparent methods, especially related to our raising money for them from third parties. This put our reputation at risk. We subsequently have raised money for La Tortuga Viva from groups like the World Turtle Trust, the Norcross Foundation and even SunPower Foundation which assisted in setting up a solar fence, lighting and water pump at the turtle camp at La Tortuga Viva. Thus, this team has one of the most modern and contaminant free turtle sanctuaries on the beach in Mexico. To hear any complaint that Hector and team do not know what they are doing is only the cries of unethical Baltazar seeing that his game of coning local, state and federal officials as well as local officials is coming to an end.

If you want to read more about Playa Viva's support for La Turtuga Viva and our history with La Tortuga Feliz see our annual report available on line at http://www.playaviva.com/pdf/La_Tortuga_Viva_2010%20Annual%20Report.pdf or read our blogs about the topic at http://playaviva.wordpress.com/category/turtles/.

Our goal is to be 100% transparent, legal and ethical in our activities and ask the same from the volunteers that we support. We only support groups that are well trained and well supported in their activities to protect sea turtles. I met with Hector just last week and he informed me that we have 4 Laud (highly endangered Leatherback turtle) nets in the turtle sanctuary. Some should be hatching by the 15th of Jan. If you are interested in seeing Laud hatchlings, come by around the 15th and you might get lucky.

Rob, again, thank you for having this forum and inviting me to add our side of the story. Believe me, there is nothing that I would like more than to not be in conflict with Baltazar and team, for them to work with us and not against us, but if you ask anyone in the town of Juluchuca, they will tell you, this is the story of that family. Baltazar was unwilling to be transparent and share the wealth with fellow members of the community and as a result he has killed the goose that was laying the golden egg. Through his own avarice and greed, he is choked a source of funds that could have delivered so much more to him and the rest of the community. I'm sure many of you face these same issues in other areas of your interactions with certain members of the community. If so, please share them with us so we can all learn from them.


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