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Real estate megaproject Tres Santos bows to authorities

By Miguel Ángel Torres*

Fishers hold christmas party

Fishers from Punta Lobos hold their Christmas party in the public road to maintain the blockade that prevents the private company access to the beach.
os pescadores de Punta Lobos hicieron posada de Navidad en la via pública para mantener el plantón que impida a la empresa privada el acceso a la playa. (Foto: Cortesia Salvemos Punta Lobos).


Results are still not in from a meeting held by business owners and fishers from Punta Lobos with legislators and representatives from municipal, state and federal agencies. The aim was to address how to legally resolve the theft of land and loss of beach access by MIRA Companies.

The US investor showed up overnight, claiming to be the property owner. It has begun work on the Tres Santos mega project on ejido, communal and even private property, creating socio-environmental conflicts between a growing number of residents.

In constant conflict with governmental representatives, investors and even their own neighbors, those defending the traditional us of the land have almost always ended up in jail and, in the worst cases, killed.

While President Enrique Pena Nieto (EPN) was just a short distance away in Los Cabos inaugurating infrastructure projects, commercial centers and hotels, in Punta Lobos, located right next door to the “Magical Town” of Todos Santos, fishers were protesting against the real estate megaproject and a property owned by the University of Colorado which, for the time being, have blocked their traditional access to the beach and their source of work.

Baja California Sur is a place of great natural wealth, with rock art, fresh water oases, marine and land animals, and unique vegetation. It is also a place where the ocean meets the desert and therefore a place of unique landscapes found nowhere else in the world. It is this natural beauty and its treasures that fuel the economy through tourism, as well as fishing since a large and varied number of species suited for human consumption ply the surrounding waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California.

This economic model is being altered by the explosion and imposition of new projects that are imcompatible with the model. Instead, they result in plunder, displacement, marginalization, and poverty which has never been eradicated. To give an example, in spite of being a world class tourist destination, Los Cabos suffers from garbage collection problems, deficient public services, and the destruction of mangroves that are necessary as a first line of defense against tropical storms and hurricanes.

Among other new, outside investors are not only the giant real estate projects but also an open-pit gold mine, an underwater mine, and other infrastructure and services projects that will privatize the beaches.

EPN himself admitted it when he inaugurated the toll road joining San José del Cabo with Cabo San Lucas, declaring: “while the principle engine for economic development in Baja California Sur is tourism, there also needs to be attention to a variety of necessities that permit this activity to grow, consolidate, and bring well-being to the state’s residents.

EPN promised to strengthen this type of activity when he affirmed that his administration is prepared to work with the state government to promote new investments like Loreto. “I want to pledge that we make a shared effort, join forces, and together work on how we can move development forward in this beautiful place, maximize the development here in this place that is so beautiful and relevant to the state of Baja California Sur, [a place] that has, without doubt, enormous potential,” he said.

Mira Companies boasts that: “We are thrilled about MIRA’s rapid growth in the Mexican market. Each new project is an opportunity to prove that we are innovators that provide our investors with a strong sense of security that by means of a consistent demand for outperformance in our investments we are the best stewards of their capital.”

But the facts contradict him. Behind all the hype of the highway’s inauguration were farmers from Ejido San Jose demanding payment of approximately US$2 million that they are still owed for having ceded 50 acres of ejido land to the project.

Los Cabos is one of the municipalities most recently affected by the arrival of new investors. Among the notable ones are: Tres Santos, which is displacing fishers in Punta Lobos, threatens the cultural integrity of Todos Santos, and infringes on the Federal Terrestrial Maritime Zone (Zofemat).

The project will cover a planned area of 1023 acres for the construction of 11,000 hotel rooms, a number which would house a population greater than that of Todos Santos. It would also infringe on part of the Zofomat (or federal terrestrial marine zone for it's Spanish abbreviation) which includes the 20 meter contiguous strip of shoreline, and is considered to be in the public domain and designated for unimpeded, common access. Salvemos Punta Lobos, who are defenders of the area, point out that the Zofomat is determined through the maximum high tide marks.

According to the Regulations for the Use and Exploitation of Territorial Waters, Navigable Channels, Beaches, Federal Terrestrial Maritime Zone and Reclaimed Coastal Land, issued by the Federal Attorney's Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), Article 7 establishes that “beaches and the federal terrestrial maritime zone may be enjoyed by every person without limitations or restrictions.”

And Subsection 2 of the same document points out, according to Carlos Ibarra, reporter for SDPNoticias.com that: “the construction and installation of elements and buildings that impede the free passage along the zone is prohibited, with exception to those that are approved by the Secretariat and which follow urban and architectural norms, as well as those laid out in the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Protection of the Environment (LGEEPA)

MIRA Companies is also accused of destroying mangroves, and of operating outside of environmental and national laws. For example by tresspassing and contracting with foreign security personnel, presumably from the United States, who can be seen on a video released by Salvemos Punta Lobos trying to intervene in the fishers’ blockade.

Established to deny the company access to the beach, the blockade has resulted in the company’s willingness to open negotiations with sights set on solving the conflict. All work on the megaproject has been suspended.

At a meeting held October 30th the the midst of the blockade, company representative Beatriz Ledesma and members of the Punta Lobos fishing cooperative, agreed to hold a public meeting on November 11th in the Todos Santos town square. Invited would be representatives from all of the public institutions involved in the project with decision making authority, the company, other residents affected by the project, and the fishers.

At the same time, local representatives of all political parties presented a Points of Agreement document to Congress in which they ask that the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources issue a report on the development projects. They asked that the following be provided: information on how much and which mining projects are operating within the state; what companies have applications that are being processed; and the current status of each and every one of the applications.

The representatives enquired about other project applications currently being reviewed where there might be negative environmental impacts, “such as marina projects, given that these can do great harm to the environment when there are attempts to locate them in inappropriate areas. Such is the case in La Paz, where there is an attempt being made to build a marina just 65 yards from Playa el Corumuel which is going to have an impact on that ecosystem.”

At the national level more than 300 human rights and environmental defense organizations agreed to join forces with the goal of preventing mega projects that only fuel conflicts between inhabitants and the Capitol over large areas of the national territory. Their demand is nothing new.

According to a 2012 complaint filed before the Permanent People’s Tribunal Chapter Mexico, investors are involved in: water and communication projects, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, petrochemical and chemical factories, wind projects, paper mills, sugar mills, and cement and electric plants; the exploitation and extraction of minerals and other substances considered national resources under federal mining laws and regulations on nuclear materials in Article 27 of the Constitution; toxic and radioactive waste treatment, confinement or disposal installations; logging operations aimed at the extraction of tropical forest and old growth species; changing of land use and zoning regulations in temperatate and tropical forests and arid zones; industrial parks where highly dangerous activities will be carried out; real estate developments that affect coastal ecosystems; construction projects and activities within wetlands, mangrove, lagoons, rivers, lakes, and estuaries, as well as on their shores and within federal zones.

The complaint also mentions construction projects and other activities in the nation’s natural areas supposedly protected from exploitation, and fishing activities, aquaculture projects, farming, or ranching that can increase the risk to threatened species and cause damage to the environment.

*Codirector, Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness