Coastal Development Threatens Mexican Reef
Posted on: 03/08/2012 by Talli Nauman
This post is also available in: Spanish
Following efforts by members of civil society to protect one of Mexico’s most important coral reefs, political pressures obligated President Felipe Calderón to cancel the permit for the Spanish investment company Hansa to build a tourist development called “Cabo Cortés”.
At the meeting of the G20 from June 18to 20 at Los Cabos, Baja California–just a few kilometers from Cabo Pulmo, where the development was planned–thousands of demonstrators protested against the project. Days earlier, on June 15, thousands marched to protest the development in Mexico City. These demonstrations focused world attention on the potential damage caused by the project at a time when international press was gathered in Mexico for the summit.
The risk that the protests could hurt the president’s image and have a negative effect on his party in the elections scheduled for July 1 was undoubtedly a factor in Calderón’s decision.
In announcing the “cancellation of the project” on June 15, Calderón pointed out that it was “the only coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico … an unequalled natural heritage of Mexico and one of the reefs with the greatest coral coverage in the world.”
He also noted the internationally recognized environmental significance of the area: in 1995, more than seven thousand hectares of the Cabo Pulmo area were decreed a Natural Protected Area and National Park; in 2005 the UNESCO declared the area part of the Natural World Heritage of Humanity and in 2008 it was included in the list of international wetlands of natural importance by the nations signed onto the Ramsar Convention.
Hansa Baja, the Mexican branch of the Spanish investment company Hansa, “began processes for the construction of a giant tourist development called Cabo Cortés,” Calderon explained. “Owing to the ecological importance of Cabo Pulmo, the possibility that the resort in Cabo Cortés would be constructed caused unease among local communities, academics and environmental organizations.”
“The concerns were that a development of such scale could damage the coast, the beach and generate severe harm to the reef’s ecosystem.”
Calderón concluded, “…the Government of the Republic determined that the Project Cabo Cortés, as it was presented, has not clearly demonstrated sustainability so it has been decided to cancel the conditional the environmental impact authorization for the project.”
Up to that point, environmentalists could congratulate themselves because the nation’s leader heard their arguments and halted the megaproject. However, it is too soon to celebrate victory.
The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) yielded once to Hansa in granting a permit to the company and a second time to Calderón to revoke the permit. This does not speak well of its professionalism.
And what will happen in the future is far from clear. The Calderón Administration is disposed to support investors in undertaking a new project, the president stated.
“In no way will the investors, owners and landowners will be left defenseless. The federal government is determined to respect the rights of the investors and to protect their assets. Also the government is disposed to support their interests in undertaking a new project that will generate benefits to inhabitants through tourism; a project that fully guarantees the conservation of the natural heritage of the country.”
In a speech to the G20 Summit, the president confirmed “green growth” as a priority on the agenda of the Mexican Presidency. The G20’s members are among the most influential nations of the planet. They represent about 90% of the GNP, 80% of the commerce and 2/3 of the total population of the world.
“It is possible to follow a model of sustainable development that permits us to take advantage of our country’s natural assets and to attract investment and tourism to generate jobs without affecting in an irreversible manner ecosystems and biodiversity,” he said. “This is how we manage green growth.”
Agreed. Only this is not the norm in the current stage of savage capitalism.
The ancestral culture of the majority of Mexicans and their way of life has been characterized by their knowledge of how to live with resources in their environment–water, air, vegetation and soil. Calderón and his cohorts have distinguished themselves by benefitting big investors at the cost of the well-being of the people and the conservation of nature.
In his talk before the G20, Calderón dressed himself in green. However, just like his predecessors, he neglected the fact that the world economic recovery, to be sustained, requires following a model of development that protects the environment and is based on the efficient use of natural resources. This means that the combination of efforts of governments, businesses and society in general has to aim to rely on sufficient financial, technological and human resources to achieve rational growth.
Now after the G20 meeting and the presidential elections, it will have to be seen what they will really do in the halls of power. In this new era of devastation of peoples and natural resources, the G20 members seek to save capitalism to maintain and increase profits of those on top.
The fate of Cabo Cortés will be a test. The presence of Hansa threatens and contradicts the proposals of the local communities, of the scientific community and of the environmental organizations that say that they don’t need developments or megaprojects that put the natural wealth and daily life of the people at risk.
When the locals got the designation of National Marine Park in 1994 that protected 7,111 hectares, 99 percent water, the fishermen who sought the reserve committed themselves not to undertake extractive and commercial activities within it. Prohibited were businesses which would alter natural conditions in the park or construction of public and private works, making Cabo Pulmo an example of sustainable management of marine parks.
Some 17 years later, in 2011, the organization Friends for the Conservation of Cabo Pulmo, A.C. was a finalist in the contest Iniciativa México, with a counter proposal to Hansa’s of a model of sustainable development for the zone.
The residents collected signatures against the mega-development to defend the area and promote the proposal they presented to Iniciativa México. They also carried out campaigns of environmental education and conservation programs.
Greenpeace Spain said that Hansa did not comply with Mexican environmental legislation. It accused the consortium, saying it “has caused serious impact on the coasts of Spain, (and) seeks to export this very model, which not only consumes great quantities of natural resources but also seeks to operate outside the law.”
The risks of losing the ground gained. The spontaneous rejoicing of the civil society organizations at learning of the supposed cancellation was a well-deserved if perhaps premature celebration. It’s likely that the project was merely postponed because Calderón’s government wanted to present itself as the champion of green growth and environmental protection.
Talli Nauman is co-director of Periodismo para Elevar la Conciencia Ecológica (PECE) and a columnist for the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org
Miguel Ángel Torres, co-director of PECE, contributed to this column.
Translated by Esther Buddenhagen