martes, diciembre 04, 2007

New Excuse On The Block

Now this is one of those "hard-to-believe-but-is-it-too-good-to-be-true" types of situations. This is the second time this year I have read an article in a local paper regarding a small group of allegedly (I haven't verified their credentials) doctors of oncology and alternative medicine who say they want to build a holistic type of treatment center in Playa Blanca, and that they will even give free treatment to the poor. The "gotcha" is that in order to build the clinic first they have to build and sell a condo development, which they supposedly sold their own homes to fund. Now these folks could be for real, and I guess I hope they are, but I can't say as I agree at all with their method of supposedly raising revenue to build such a clinic here. Guess we should be glad it's not going to be a very large clinic, or else they might have to develop a marina in the lagoon at Barra de Potosí! D-Loco, a reader of my Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa Message Board wrote "Oncology firms-corporations-investor groups are the latest wave of fax/email/postal phishing and stock boiler room pressure sales." One of the doctors involved claims that he "is an accomplished direct channeller of universal information, [and] has permanent contact with high Ascended beings". Now I may be just a lowly unenlightened country boy who can barely talk to Earthlings, much less Ascended beings on the astral planes or rocket ships or whatever they're getting around in these days, but credentials like those cause me to raise a skeptical eyebrow. It's like the Maharashi Mahesh Yogi who claimed to be able to fly via meditation but wouldn't explain why he still needed 6 helicopters to get around. Some folks see'em coming and steer clear, others flock to them with blind faith. Namaste, y'all. ;~)

jueves, septiembre 27, 2007

Development, Jobs and Saving the Zihuatanejo Community

From my message board this morning...

Don't suppose anyone listened to the excellent radio program this morning on Aquamarina 1410 (a local AM station with internet feed) where my friends and neighbors had a great discussion about the pier that included some of its proponents?

Of course, part of the discussion dealt with the jobs that would be generated by the construction project and the marine terminal services and the extra income from increased tourism the additional cruise ships are supposed to generate. Though I find that argument to have no other bearing on the pier proposal apart from propagandistic populist political purposes (the 4 P's?). It arose because of an article in one of yesterday's local papers that unemployment among youth is on the rise.

Historically such types of construction projects require skills not available locally, and the tendency of any large construction company here in Mexico is to bring most of their workers with them. Thus the local creation of jobs would be diluted by all the skilled workers and administrators that would be brought in, putting a greater demand on municipal services than there currently is, services that already cannot cope with the local population.

Our infrastructure is already failing and any city planning, growth and development can only be described as chaotic at best. Same with our traffic system. In our limited space between the hills we simply cannot grow any more without causing a severe deterioration in the quality of the environment and the quality of life, further straining if not eroding the fabric of the local community and probably driving away much our tourism except the weekend busloads. From the way they already flock to the Playa Del Puerto and even play in the canal (ewwwww) it seems those humble folks simply don't know any better and will swim in almost anything. But those tourists combined with the projected 100's of cruise ships a year are hardly the level of tourists that will maintain or improve Zihuatanejo's current standard of living. And when the cruise ship passengers start complaining of a foul odor coming from the water in the bay then even the cruise ships will stop coming, and if it's built we'll then be stuck with a useless pier that would quickly fall into neglect and deteriorate in the bay.

If the government were serious about wanting to create jobs locally it could easily put thousands of people to work building roads and infrastructure not only here but also in the forgotten and isolated communities of our mountain region. They could also support the farmers and help them modernize and develop new markets as well as attract new clean industries to diversify the economy.

But if the government were truly serious about creating meaningful employment they would first have to revamp the educational system and simply get serious. Teachers who don't work shouldn't get paid. Many are often on strike or take arbitrary days off or call themselves union administrators so that they spend little quality time in the classrooms if at all, often assigning homework without teaching lessons and spending more time on rehearsals for parades and presentations where it seems the "modern" dances they perform look more like table dancing than anything else. Our schools are failing and we can't expect much help resolving future problems from many children "graduating" from too many of our schools in the region. Of course too many still don't graduate at all, and illiteracy is still astronomical here.

A new pier or another tourist development simply isn't going to help us resolve any local problems but instead will certainly only create more problems. It is highly doubtful any of our local problems will be resolved until our public servants can clearly perform their jobs with professionalism, transparency, dedication, altruism and a sense of true civic duty instead of appearing to cater mostly to political and personal interests while ignoring the majority of their constituents, especially the benevolent counsel of respected community figures and leaders.

and Narciso who was born in the Zihuatanejo added...

Mexican teens and early 20's do not have the same pressure as their counterparts in the USA...(this in Zihua, you cannot apply the same model in Mexico city for instance). Usually parents will not have the pressure of mortgage payments and property taxes or other home related expenses. Growing up in the area I did not need lots of money to have fun. I played soccer, went to the beach a lot (it was my second home), enjoyed nature (BTW I also attended school). Food was relatively easy to get. My mom owned a home (not fancy but it was sweet home for us). I worked occasionally for some friends of my family and the pay was better than hotels or restaurants.

Right now I have a few nephews in their 20’s and some teens, and they would rather stay home than work for 5 dlls a day. Two of them have their own business and the other two work within the same family related business.

and Laura from Barra de Potosí also replied to a message from John Murphy, a real estate agent representing a tourist development project in Playa San Valentín...

The above posts are raising very important points relating to the manipulative fallacy of claiming that these kinds of projects are 'good' for the local economy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I can't help but post here my answer to John's reply to me (way below) about the price on the Valentin property... and mostly his words (easily said but painfully misleading) that ...'jobs' are good for reducing poverty. I respectfully offer a differing perspective. To reduce poverty we must generate sustainable locally owned businesses and owner operated productive projects... owned by (formerly poor) locals...and not be deceived by the banner...'more jobs' while in fact the cost of living goes sky high and the entire life of locals becomes impossible in order to make way for an invasion of wealthy developers.

Read more detail below if you should be so inclined... it was late and I care about this so it's long (you've been warned):

Not too bad!... only $58 barros de los millones de verdes! I'll just be sending Brangelina an email now.

I agree the solution to poverty lies in education and economic development. But not 'any jobs at any cost'. It's important to look at the hidden effects of 'just any jobs'. Consider the Maquiladoras for example.

You haven't said exactly what kinds of jobs you think would help reduce poverty - or if just any job. But I think it might be fair to say we have a unspoken link implied in this conversation to this tourist development project - ie: mega-development = jobs = reduce poverty.

Even if you had no such thought in your mind somewhere, I'll go ahead and make the jump... to say something about the kind of 'solution to poverty and job making' that a mega-tourism development project is purported to bring - not speaking directly to you John at this point, or even just about Valentin but in reference to all the projects now planned for the entire coast of Guerrero, the 6 sites making up the 'Corredor Turistico' and 'BahiaMar'- just in the spirit of talking this out on a public forum.

These mega-projects are said to be planned as an answer the problem of poverty in the state of Guerrero. But a mega-project doesn't necessarily lead to the reduction of poverty for the most poor. In fact it is now well documented that it can and does produce a worse situation for just those it is purported to help. This is tricky.

Neither does it necessarily improve the lot of the middle class whom it might appear to be the most likely to help. I know that some families from Zihua and Petatlan in this position are now thinking they will fare well with a mega-project. But most, in talking with them more deeply on the subject, will say they considered themselves to be in a much better position before all this 'development' arrived. They may be able to get a job in a hotel or put up a tourist related business. But their costs of living have skyrocketed. Most importantly, in many cases their children tend to be lost... immersed in problems they feel little ability to resolve within their families (if their families still are together).

Many problems are new with development and range from the worst type - like maybe meth-amphetamine addiction - to the more socially expected in the north like rampant divorce, loss of connection/respect between parents and children and so on. Besides these things, if they haven't lost their homes because of higher taxes and difficulty competing with foreign businesses, many of their neighbors have and so they miss the old community... any community.

Meanwhile because of these same 'mega-developments' land prices have gone so high they are no longer at all even meaningful for local next generation who will have much difficulty even dreaming of owning a home unless it's in one of the Government sponsored 'projects' with government sponsored mortgages. (Have you seen these? - They are reminiscent of many of the now infamous 'projects' built in the States in the creation of ghettos - such as in Watts California etc.

Who really is helped for the most part in a mega-project are probably the high level investors, construction companies, facilitators (politicians in positions of governance) etc. We all know that really.

Meanwhile traditional communities are displaced and real poverty is produced. The banner of ...'it'll bring jobs' has to be really studied to see what reality it will actually create for the poor. Yes, some will have a huge late model trucks, amazing sound systems in houses made of cement and all the alcohol and drugs they may feel inclined to kill pain with. They better like those things because they will have less access to the beach, less time to be with their families and neighbors, fewer community events to enjoy with a community they can relate to, less self esteem as they more and more realize they are not the sovereign business owners of their places anymore... but merely the inferior servant class to a mostly foreign and wealthy upper class to whom they must smile to receive their meager paycheck which they utterly depend upon to keep that truck fueled up for getting to the job.

It will be argued that the taxes produced by the mega-projects would add much needed money to the coffers of the Fed, State and Municipal governments. OK but what have we observed in terms of the arrival of that increased tax base to the poor and all people in general in Mexico in public services? I doubt much need to be said about that.

It appears to me that there is much to be said about an economic development from the bottom up - not the trickle down thing. We've had plenty of time and plenty of instances to see what that actually does for the poor.

The guy from Bangladesh who won the Nobel prize for peace in 2006 had the right idea - micro-loans for the development of micro-businesses owned by the poor and developed by them with the help of whatever necessary support the government or private banks can provide in education and training while they do it. This produces jobs that are part of a locally owned a community filled with family and neighbor owned businesses that can (and must) be sustainable ecologically.

Compare this type of development to one which produces a demeaned and displaced community - moved to outlying areas to make way for the wealthy for whom they become a paid servant class.

This is what comes with these mega-projects. There will be a small middle class offering of jobs... mostly filled with people imported from other areas as they must be educated and conditioned to do them. (Can you see Don Lencho, the mostly toothless fisherman who never goes anywhere without his machete and happens to be an incredible story teller living very happily on the edge of the lagoon with his animals whom it's said, he feeds before he eats himself - including bees, a large snake, 5 dogs, a mepache and maybe other animals, working in the megaproject?)

It doesn't get rid of poverty, it gets rid of the poor from the beautiful areas so the wealthy can live there without having to look at them - using some of them in the pool of paid servants (making them think that's just oh so close to the carrot of being a beautiful person themselves ...although there'll never be a cigar for almost all) and just pushing others into their own personal oblivion (without caring about that except to detest the ugly outcome (alcoholism, crime lifestyle, drug addiction etc... all the things that come along with a destroyed community/culture/family).

There are now actually very effective projects for a real economic development for the poor that are being done successfully. It's actually heartening and rejuvenating to know if it and to see it.

Even here in La Barra we have one called 'Compartamos' where now 25 women are learning to develop their own businesses, handling money (first loaned and saved and eventually earned in their own business) they learn to take care of and increase operating their own business that compliments in a sustainable way their community - thereby strengthening not only their own personal economic positions and that of their family but also strengthening their community.

These women meet once a week with a facilitator from the private bank operating the program. That person (believe me the bank gets their interest rate out of this) has helped them learn step by step from getting a certified copy of their birth certificate so they can get a voter's ID so they can open a bank account with $50 pesos so they can begin to deposit an amount each week equal to the payments on their loan starting at $500 pesos...and learn to save... growing, growing, growing, skills and self esteem. At a certain point as the loans and savings and knowledge increases they are encouraged to start a micro business.

As that business grows, they have a lot more than a job. They are a business owner with self esteem and skills. Their business can provide jobs for their children or neighbors children and they can make passing on those skills as part of what they offer their children... they can do it because they have developed the skills with help at first and with their own experience.

It's so obvious really... who hasn't heard the fable of "Give a man a fish and he'll eat once. Teach him to fish..." etc." The Mega-projects throw out fish to a few (not such great fish even).

La Barra's micro-loan project has had 100% success in the two and a half years it's been happening here growing the entire time. This is done on the model of the project the Bangladesh guy got the Nobel Prize for. It's working in a real way. It only needs more time and to expand to more people.

It's time these kinds of armaments in the real work against poverty are given their full support by those holding positions of governance. Isn't it finally time to stop the falsity of purporting that a mega-construction/hotel project is about economic development for the poor when we all know it's about generating profit and greater wealth for those who already hold economic power?

I live in a community here I have grown to love very much and I've watched families grow here - families I care about very much. This community and these families and these children imho will be displaced and probably fly apart under the arrival of the proposed mega-project. It's very real for me. It's difficult to not feel the emotions... deep concern is putting it lightly.

For some it's really about money without noticing or caring about the destruction it creates. For others they really just haven't been exposed to these perspectives.

I hope not to create antipathy in letting myself speak my mind on this. On the contrary. I want to call to the attention of people I know are good people but maybe haven't looked at this from another perspective. It's hard for me to not do it. Because I live here and I care about my neighbors and this community I feel moved to speak out about this. This is a culture that is rare in the world - 'Costeños de la Costa Grande' and is in danger of extinction to make way for these mega-projects. They will leave the poor more painfully poor. The benefit is for the wealthy.

So, all that to say... jobs, OK - but not to take the bait of just any jobs at any cost. Real jobs in local businesses that are generated by a real economic development from the bottom up - ecologically sustainable and again - owned by locals (the former poor of Guerrero) in their respective home communities - families and culture intact.

Wow! This may be the longest post in the world. Those brave souls who have read to the end… I’m impressed! Now… will I post, will I erase, will I post, will I erase... it's easier in a way to erase... simpler... no one will get mad at me... oh well...

May this thread and following ones on this topic continue to deepen perspectives on all sides in consideration of this. It’s really very important.

peace, Laura
Casa del Encanto B&B Barra de Potosí

miércoles, septiembre 12, 2007

Rescue and High Drama at Zihuatanejo's Centro Social

hundreds watch as a fireman tries to rescue an entangled pigeonWhile at the Centro Social in Zihuatanejo awaiting to receive land titles on Saturday, September 8, hundreds of ejiditarios and their families watched in horror as a pigeon became entangled in a string left hanging from the rafters from a previous event. Though my wife Lupita called the fire department right away, it seemed like an eternity before they arrived. Looking up at it just hanging there we thought several times it was dead and that the firemen wouldn't arrive in time since the pigeon had the string wrapped around its neck as well as its wings.
close-up of fireman climbing towards entangled pigeonClose-up of fireman climbing towards entangled pigeon. (click on any photo to enlarge it)
A fireman descends the too-short ladder while his buddies hold itThough it took about 3 calls, they finally did arrive but with a ladder that was almost useless. Nevertheless, they got the hooks over a rafter and a fireman scaled first up one of his buddies holding the ladder and then the ladder itself to the rafters. It was a fairly heroic effort since there was no safety net and the rafters are full of pigeon droppings and grime. As he edged nearer the pigeon the crowd was practically holding their collective breath. Finally he reached the string, but he was unable to free the pigeon while also holding on to the rafters. He managed to untie the string from the rafter and let the pigeon fall into the hands of the 3 firemen waiting below... who dropped it... OOPS! But after removing the string the pigeon appeared unharmed and was taken outside and released, flying away quite easily and enthusiastically, obviously happy to be FREE and ALIVE! =)
La paloma - salva y sana La paloma - ¡sana y salva!
¡Viven los bomberos!

lunes, agosto 13, 2007

Nightmare in Zihuatanejo Bay

Rendering of possible proposed new pier in Zihuatanejo BayThis nightmarish scene could become a reality if Zihuatanejo townspeople allow the federal government to get its way and build a new pier for cruise ships in the middle of Zihuatanejo Bay.

The rendering shows a pier beginning at the end of the actual Muelle Municipal (municipal pier). Although I haven't seen any diagrams showing this configuration, it was discussed with fishermen and with local officials, both of whom relayed this information to members of El Pueblo en Defensa de la Bahía de Zihuatanejo, a civic front of local residents who have made it their mission to make sure the government understands the people of Zihuatanejo will simply not allow this project to be built in Zihuatanejo's bay. The great majority of local townspeople with who have been consulted have expressed their opposition to any new pier in Zihuatanejo Bay, and I am confident it will not be built.

Obviously buses would have to traverse the proposed pier, and I have not included areas for them to turn around. I have simply created a quick rendering from a photo that shows the ships in their correct proportions, and I added a simple pier platform that would more than likely be bigger were it ever actually built. Additionally, if it were built the Mexican navy would have to be moved from the land they now occupy (which has been proposed for a number of years anyway since there is no real need for them to have that location any longer) in order to make room for parking and support services for the pier terminal. A large section of the beach would also have to be paved and many of the fishing boats currently occupying the beach would have to be relocated.

There are simply so many problems with such a concept that not only do the townspeople oppose it for the damage it would do to the marine ecosystem and the eyesore it would represent for everyone around the bay, but the town's infrastructure is woefully inadequate to even contemplate receiving two or possibly even three cruise ships at the same time. We already have received that number of ships at the same time or close together several times in the past and the result is always chaos at the pier and downtown area due to lack of space and facilities for multiple buses, dozens of taxis, and thousands of pedestrians at the same time. Not to mention that when cruise ships are in port many of our paying visitors in lodgings around the area do not come into the downtown area for shopping or dining, and their purchases are generally for much more expensive items than cruise ship passengers, who rarely enter a local restaurant anyway but instead make most of their purchases of inexpensive souvenirs at the artisans market.

Let's hope this nighmarish scene never becomes a reality in Zihuatanejo Bay: a place that has always been appreciated for its natural beauty instead of contrived tourist attractions and cruise ships at anchor. Zihuatanejo has been receiving more and more high-end tourists over the years who prefer simple luxuries of unspoiled beaches, uncluttered views and a peaceful, healthy environment. They would simply go elsewhere if such a monstrosity were built in our bay, and we would have to settle for the "All-Inclusive" hotel crowd and time-share visitors who are generally of a much lower economic scale than the tourists we would lose, meaning we would have to build even more high-density lodgings to bring in more people to make up for the lost high spenders. Sounds to me like a pretty dumb way to go.

domingo, agosto 05, 2007

No to New Cruise Ship Pier in Zihuatanejo Bay

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

During the past month there has been a substantial amount of alarm and concern among Zihuatanejo's residents and visitors regarding a federally promoted project to build a new pier for cruise ships extending to the center of Zihuatanejo's bay.Photo of Zihuatanejo circa 1968 by Gene Lysaker Newspaper articles began appearing on July 5th without any prior warning or declarations from our presidente municipal (our mayor) or any other public functionary.

Apparently the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT) has "approved" a budget for a development group called PROCOMAR to build a new pier in Zihuatanejo by 2008. However, since there is stiff local opposition to this in Zihuatanejo (since we frankly don't need another pier in our already overtaxed and abused bay), the "responsible authorities" are looking at the possibility of building it at Playa Larga, which would of course increase the constructions costs (including profits and kickbacks) since a breakwater would have to be built.

It just seems a bit more than odd that a project can receive federal approval and funding without having a specific locat1on and all the accompanying environmental impact studies, permits, etc. But I've been listening for years to unrepresentative "public servants" touting all the "megaprojects" they want to attract to our region. They seem to mind not that their stupid projects are driving away the very tourists we have worked so hard and spent so much money to attract in the first place. Hey, but who cares as long as someone makes a lot of money, right?

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the governor wants the entire coastline from Acapulco to Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa to look like Acapulco. Now THERE'S some VISION for you! This type of "development" seems to be the vision he and like-minded "public servants" and "influential interests" have in mind for the future of Guerrero. Of course, most of the workers, epecially managerial staff, will have to be brought in from other states since our educational system in Guerrero has just about completely failed us for at least a couple of generations now. Ixtapa has taught us that lesson. Another grand failure of this plan is that the Costa Grande of Guerrero is a region of fishermen and farmers. I seriously doubt they aspire to be servants to the wealthy in tourist hotels and restaurants even if they had the education to fill such positions.

"What about the people who need jobs?"

That is an excellent point to bring up since it is with this very same promise that politicians ask for votes.

My view is that protecting and preserving the cohesiveness and core values of a community should be the principle function of local government, and rationally planning for the sustainable growth of that community should be among their principle tasks. Nevertheless, nowadays amid the ruins of our unresponsive political system where public servants serve themselves instead of the public, communities are more often trampled upon and torn apart owing to the lies, interests and excesses of politicians and the influential. "Government planning" has become synonymous with self-serving interests by the influential and political elite, and the true repercussions of their actions are often not visible to the general public until years later, if ever. "Tourist development" is a common rallying cry supposedly to provide jobs for the poor and bring economic prosperity to the general populace, but in my experience from living in tourist resort areas in the US Virgin Islands, Florida and here I believe that more often than not what it does is enrich public servants, developers, union leaders and other mostly non-local business interests at the expense of the local population, including the community and its ecology.

There really is no need for this pier. We do not need more cruise ships. We don't even need all the ones we have now. And our own humble municipal pier has worked just fine for all these decades since it was built. We simply don't have the infrastructure to receive more cruise ship passengers or even to receive more traditional vacationers than we currently have and for whom we already cannot provide adequate and quality services.

We don't need new megaprojects and hotels. We don't even fill the lodgings we have available except perhaps for three or four weeks a year: Christmas/New Years and Semana Santa.

Almost every major construction project here has brought their workers here from other states then unceremoniously abandoned them after completing the project, thus adding to our burden of low-skilled, poorly educated, non-taxpaying population for whom the municipal government with its scarce resources must then seek to provide housing and services at the expense of the local taxpayers. During the past 5 years alone we have watched our population of squatters more than double on potentially valuable hillside lands previously zoned as protected ecological zones mostly with a view of the bay, increasing our city's population by about one-third, all because unscrupulous politicians seeking to enlist their votes for upcoming elections encourage them to come here, mostly from neglected rural towns as well as from Acapulco where land-squatting is a generations-old family enterprise for many. During that same period lawlessness, pollution and crime have skyrocketed, and frankly Zihuatanejo isn't the same place it was ten years ago, and the local established community is not happy about it at all.

I believe that our state government has purposefully neglected the agricultural sector of our state with the intention of driving folks to the cities where their voting blocs are more valuable to populist politicians and their parties (more lucrative to be a politican in a big city than a small town, right?), and our educational sector has been allowed to fail in order to keep them poor and more easily manipulate them. Even much of our "social unrest" is not what it seems but is instead an attempt by a few to manipulate large sections of uneducated poor people in order to receive payoffs and political appointments (aka cooptation) from governments, effectively living off the misery of others. This is a well-known ploy in this region and other poor regions such as in the neighboring state of Oaxaca, and our self-serving paternalistic governments lend themselves to it as do people who are accustomed to expecting help from the government (or God) instead of helping themselves.

In the case at hand, the new pier project is more likely than not simply a pretense to sell large quantities of overpriced cement and assign a government contract to a company most likely with a public servant or other influential person among its owners in order for the public servants involved in its assignment and oversight to receive kickbacks and bribes. That's how governments do business here in Guerrero. They have no intention of helping the poor to improve their situation or even planning for the sustainable growth of our region. What they do is ruin a place, squeezing all possible profits from it, then move on, leaving the mess behind with other up-and-coming politicians who promise during their election campaigns to fix the mess, though we have yet to see them do so anywhere in our state. So while Acapulco continues deteriorating, the same process is being repeated here in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. And the worst part is that our "responsible authorities" continue counting on many of those poor to take their problems across the border to the USA, "el otro lado" as we call it, except they just can't seem to leave here fast enough any more thanks to the population explosion and more dangerous conditions for crossing the border from increased border security.

Personally I think more resources need to be spent on improving rural education and making our agricultural sector more competitive as well as promoting local investment in alternative clean industries. That would be some of the best-spent money our government could invest instead of assigning funds for building unnecessary projects that reek of cronyism, incompetence and corruption.

The locals are still just finding out about this project, and many of those who don't read papers or listen to news on the radio still don't know. But everyone my wife and I have spoken to about it are astonished that the government would even attempt to pull such a stunt in light of all the very strong bad feelings already generated by Puerto Mío's attempt to go down this road by building their jetty, which even though just about the entire town opposes, there it remains. So this is like throwing alcohol on a simmering fire, and if the government insists that this unwanted and unnecessary project be built in Zihuatanejo's bay then I believe it could lead to violence. Too many local folks are already really fed up with our incompetent, irresponsible, unresponsive and unrepresentative government, especially at the local and state levels. They either pander to the rich (for their money) or the poor (for their votes) while all the hard-working, tax-paying, educated, middle-class folks and small busines owners continue to be ignored.

I hold nothing against cruise ship visitors. But the cruise ship companies are nothing but more corporate toadies exploiting the places they visit for their own profit without a care for local ecology, economy or community. And the government representatives that aid and abet them instead of doing the jobs they were elected or appointed to do such as protecting the interests of the community are TRAITORS and should be treated as such.

The company PROCOMAR was seen working in the bay during the past couple of weeks taking samples and soundings of the bay floor to determine the best locations to place the pilings for the pier that will stretch out into the middle of the bay. They are moving swiftly on this and the local ecological groups are pretty much being ignored and swept aside. There must certainly be big money in this for some influential public servants for this project to be moving along this quickly. It would appear they are trying to do this faster than any opposition can get together and act. The barge and its workers disappeared late last week. Perhaps it had something to do with a local rumor that there would be violence against the workers?

This project goes against everything the life-long residents of Zihuatanejo have ever dreamed about for their bay. It would forever change the face of Zihuatanejo and end the way of life so many have worked so hard and dedicated so much to build and protect. It would also be a slap in the face to the thousands of repeat visitors who come here year after year precisely because Zihuatanejo isn't another Acapulco, Cancún or Puerto Vallarta. But apparently some short-sighted city planners and public officials of questionable motives don't seem to care.

El Pueblo en Defensa de la Bahía de Zihuatanejo

On Monday, July 23rd the first meeting of concerned citizens and ecological groups occurred and they decided to join forces. The group decided to call itself "El Pueblo en Defensa de la Bahía de Zihuatanejo".

The turnout for the first meeting was very encouraging, especially given the short notice. The people who showed up and participated represented an important cross section of Zihuatanejo's community: among them hotel owners, vacation rental owners, private home owners, titled professionals, common workers, restauranteurs, shop owners, ecological groups, and at least one webmaster (ahem). Though the various ecological organizations were well represented, one of the first things we all agreed on was to form an inclusive civic front not just of ecologists (who of course can continue with their own efforts) but of the community at large so as not to be so easily dismissed by the government as the ecological groups have historically been in their particular causes. Nevertheless, their contribution, like everyone else's, is invaluable and certainly much appreciated.

At the same time a letter writing campaign was initiated on my Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa and Troncones Mexico Message Board encouraging our visitors to express their opinions to the respective public officials at the local, state and federal levels. Most of my readers sent me copies of their letters which I printed and presented to local officials at subsequent meetings.

For our first meeting with local authorities it was decided to compose and present to them a letter expressing our collective concerns and soliciting a meeting with the presidente municipal.

First Official Contact

On Wednesday, July 25th about thirty people representing "El Pueblo en Defensa de la Bahía de Zihuatanejo" met with advisors to the mayor as well as with the municipal directors of Tourism and Ecology to present our concerns about a proposed new pier in Zihuatanejo's bay and to express our united opposition to any such project within the bay. This meeting occurred thanks to personal contacts and efforts made by my wife and one of her friends.

The meeting went very well indeed. Our concerns so far about certain groups or organizations riding shotgun over the larger citizens' group were respected, and the representation and participation was most excellently balanced and representative of the local community. I also made sure that our visitors' voices were heard via the letters I had received, and I am very pleased to report that they were well received and appreciated by everyone. On behalf of our community, I extend our collective gratitude to all who wrote letters for their participation in this matter as well as for their preference in choosing Zihuatanejo as their vacation destination.

After presenting our signed letter in the name of "El Pueblo en Defensa de la Bahía de Zihuatanejo" (The Townspeople in Defense of Zihuatanejo Bay), most of us spoke up and presented our concerns and points of view as members of the community with a common cause but with different experiences to draw from. One of the most compelling arguments on our behalf was actually presented by an advisor to city hall who was born here and who has been a diver all his life, describing the condition of the bay as he has known it and as it is now. I managed to control myself and not ramble too much and made a fairly coherent contribution on several relevant points as well as waving a thick folder in my hands emphasizing ALL OUR LOYAL VISITORS who aren't present but whose voices deserve to be heard and respected. Every head nodded in agreement.

Collectively we simply stressed the point that there should be NO studies to determine the best location for a new pier going on inside Zihuatanejo Bay (as there were at that time) because the bay should not even be considered as a possible site for this or any proposed new pier. It should be protected and even nominated as a World Heritage site. Maybe we got a little carried away on that last point, but the idea was to show how much we love our bay.

An important point that we made was that we intend to be on the side of city hall and hope that city hall is on our side, to which the representatives present wholeheartedly declared they were and that they would meet and work with us to resolve this matter in the best interests of the community AND our visitors.

The mayor's advisor assured us that the mayor prefers that the project not be built in the bay either, but that since it is being promoted by the federal government he cannot simply say "no" without sound and legal justification. I guess I should mention here that a recent local newspaper article suggests that the mayor actively sought this project for our municipality, though another article attributes the efforts to attract this pier to the previous mayor, so there's a bit of discrepancy there.

The director of Ecology provided some detail on the current condition of the bay and how the project has gotten this far by technically complying with the laws and regulations that relate to such a project. But my own "animated" presentation made such an impression on him that afterwards he asked me to ask the readers of my message board to please send him their experiences with cruise ships in their communities with as much technical detail as possible so that he can be better informed by people who have experienced their problems first hand. Both representatives also stressed that letters from our visitors DO help. (If you are interested in expressing your opinion please see the list of people to write at the end of this article).

Second Meetings

On July 31st "El Pueblo en Defensa de la Bahía" held a second meeting. This meeting had a few less participants than the first one, but there were some important new faces including a relative of my wife who represents several important groups including ejiditarios and campesinos as well as being an advisor to city hall.

The meeting began with some updates on a meeting the ecological groups in our civic front had with members of city hall discussing not only the pier but also the artificial reef project (another stupid idea and potential problem). While we appear to also be united in our opposition to this artificial reef project, I believe we are not going to tackle that head on, but insist that there should be no constructions of any type within the bay, with our focus obviously being the new pier but suggesting that the artificial reef should not be built for the same reason and that there is little point in attracting new marine life when recent studies show the pollution problem in the bay to be more serious than previously thought. There is already a ban on eating shellfish from the bay, but due to the fact that about 5 meters of sludge has formed in the bottom of our bay since the construction of Puerto Mío's jetty 15 years ago, and that it appears to be encroaching on the La Ropa Beach area, and the fact that one of the persons involved in taking the measurements of that sludge apparently had a toxic skin reaction to the sediment, we really have no business trying to reintroduce marine life into a dying bay without healing the bay first.

We also defined groups in our community that we need to enlist in our struggle and educate on the problem since it appears that some people are opposed to the ecological groups because of incorrect information or outright propaganda or disappointment with them in the past, and the media is trying to pidgeonhole our civic front only by its ecologist component. Some shop owners who do good business from the cruise ships think the ecologists want to ban the cruise ships, which possibly they do, but that isn't our struggle at the moment. Many squatters and "new" hillside communities also do not trust the ecologists because they are always (correctly) accusing them of being a major factor in the bay's contamination. These were points brought up by the ecologists, and I must say I was very impressed with their stance that we can better achieve our goal by unity and by putting other faces in the fore besides just theirs, since they are already identified as opposed to this pier. They suggested letting others speak more in public meetings with officials while they hang back a bit in order to stress that they are part of something much larger, a tactic everyone can appreciate as showing more community representativeness.

An excellent point was made by one well known restauranteur when she described a conversation she had with a former state functionary who is sympathetic to our cause and who advised that we should remain united at all costs because "when the people get together on anything, the government trembles."

Another person in a position to know described what we are up against by explaining how the government will work against us (if they aren't already) through using their full time professionals and experts from various ministries to meet with and pressure various local groups in order to essentially buy their loyalty with money or land or other favors or simply through threats. We are already seeing this at work to some degree.

In general it was agreed to keep our options and minds open until after the upcoming meeting with the presidente municipal. All in all it was a very upbeat, positive and inspiring meeting with a wide range of participation by people from all sectors of our community. The cohesion and unity are admirable, though we are acutely aware of our perennial enemy: apathy. My wife and I were encouraged by this second meeting, and I think many of our other participants were, too.

On August 2nd we had our meeting with the presidente municipal. About 50 residents showed up for the meeting that was scheduled for noon. As usual there were a few last minute "misunderstandings" about who was supposed to meet with the mayor and how the meeting was to be conducted. We planted our collective feet to demand that he meet with all of us without any conditions, and after an hour and a half wait we finally achieved that goal.

Several regidores (like councilpersons) were present including for Tourism, Ecology, and Development with whom we shared our points of view while awaiting the mayor. All of the regidores assured us that they were on our side.

When the mayor finally showed up 2 or 3 persons in our group made brief statements about who we were, why we were there, and what we hoped to achieve. Then we let the mayor express his official position, which was the purpose of the meeting. In between a lot of political doublespeak for the purpose of the media present, he claimed that he has always been against a new pier in the bay, and that his preference was that it be built at Playa Larga. But he also made a few statements that some of us found unsettling, such as that the bay was not polluted and that he has a commitment to foment economic development and investment as well as to create more jobs, which appeared to be an excuse for allowing this project to get this far in spite of the fact that he is aware of the opposition by most taxpayers and long-time residents to this proposed pier. It sounded a bit like he was making excuses and saying that he could accept a new pier in the bay in spite of his personal position, if the federal government determined that it would have to go in the bay or we would lose the "investment".

However, once he had spoken he tried to rush off, and we all protested this apparent lack of respect on his part and we insisted that he allow us a chance to respond to his comments. After a bit of voice-raising and mild admonitions reminding him of his duty to listen to the people he is supposed to represent the political games ended and he finally agreed to listen.

Just a few people spoke up to make points we had all agreed on and that had been expressed in each of our meetings. I took advantage of the opportunity to brandish letters from our visitors in my hand and remind him that we spent millions of pesos attracting our current visitors to this place and that it would be disloyal to our visitors, as well as a foolish waste of money to cause them to choose another vacation destination because of our lack of planning, foresight, and attention to our problems.

Other excellent points were made that basically repeated the points agreed upon in our previous meetings. The conclusion on our part being that we are united in our opposition to the pier and that, if necessary, we would again take to the streets in marches and protests to draw attention to this problem that is being unnecessarily allowed to repeat itself here 3 years after a similar attempt by Puerto Mío to have such a project approved was blocked by united public opposition.

We finally got the mayor to pronounce himself clearly as being against any new pier in the bay, and he said that we could count on his support. That was all we wanted to hear. Now, of course, it is up to us as a community to hold him to his word.

Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Here is a list with contact information for the "responsible" public officials you can contact to voice your concerns, politely and respectfully, please:


Presidente Municipal Lic. Silvano Blanco Deaquino:

TA. Florentino Zavala Clímaco, Dirección de Ecología y Medio Ambiente:

Lic. Salvador Jaimes González, Regiduría de Turismo:

Lic. Guillermo Catalán Martínez, Dirección de Turismo:


C.P. Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo, Gobernador del Estado de Guerrero:

Lic. Ernesto Rodríguez Escalona, Secretaría de Fomento Turístico por el Estado de Guerrero:

Diputado Amador Campos Aburto, Cámara de Diputados del H. Congreso de la Unión (Comisión de Turismo):

Senador Ángel Heladio Aguirre Rivero, Senador de la República (Comisión de Turismo):


Presidente Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, Presidente de la República - contact page in English

SECTUR (Secretaría de Turismo) - contact page for Mexico's Ministry of Tourism

Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT) - contact page for Mexico's Ministry of Communications and Transportation

Lic. Angel González Rul Alvidrez, Dirección General de Puertos:

Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) - contact page for Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (scroll to the bottom of the page where it says "Ficha de Atención Ciudadana"; Zihuatanejo is in the "municipio" called José Azueta, and our "Entidad Federativa" is Guerrero)

Spanish is obviously our preferred language but don't be shy about writing in English. In English please try to use simple language without idiomatic expressions or split (2- and 3-word) verbs. And please check your spelling so we all look good and so translations are easier.

NOTE ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo that appears at the beginning of this article was taken by the locally beloved artist and photographer Gene "Cri-Cri" Lysaker from Minnesota apparently during the late 60's. In our meeting with Zihuatanejo's mayor and councilpersons my wife took along many of Gene's photos, but this one especially drew everyone's attention due to the spectacular blue color of the water. The point was to show people what Zihuatanejo's bay used to look like for those who didn't live here then and remind them what we are trying to achieve. The photo has not been retouched. Also note the then-new municipal pier, Las Salinas lagoon looking very good, and the unpopulated hillsides.

sábado, julio 21, 2007

Getting Their Money's Worth

Vacationers in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa certainly got their money's worth today. It was a picture postcard perfect day with light tropical breezes, plenty of sunshine, and clear calm seas: just what the thousands of vacationing visitors from all over Mexico as well as from abroad wish for when they imagine themselves on vacation here.

The streets, hotels, beaches and restaurants of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo are full of tourists, mostly nationals with their families enjoying their summer vacation, escaping from the inland cities, their jobs, and the daily Mexican families enjoying the beach Playa Lindagrind of fighting traffic gridlocks to get to and from work and school. The smiles on their faces really leave no doubt they are having a good time and are glad to be here surrounded by Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo's simple natural beauty, far from the crowded hustle and bustle of larger tourist destinations with whom Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa really do not seek to compete.

Small groups of wandering musicians serenade vacationers on the beaches of Zihuatanejo and their music carries on the warm breeze scented by blooming frangipani trees that cling to the coastline around the bay. Families spanning generations congregate at beachfront seafood restaurants and under beach palapas and umbrellas, many with coolers full of food and drinks, soaking in the sun and simply enjoying being together in a still unspoiled natural tropical paradise.

Let's hope Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo can continue being that simple and natural tropical vacation paradise, attracting visitors who come here for what Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is, and not what it isn't. Those who know and love the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo region, especially its residents, do not believe we should seek to compete with other overcrowded and overdeveloped tourist destinations. We believe that Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is a unique enough destination in its own right, thanks to the natural beauty with which it is endowed: a natural beauty worth preserving and protecting for future generations.

sábado, julio 14, 2007

RFK, Jr. Speech at Live Earth

This has nothing to do with Zihuatanejo, but I thought it was important enough that I should help diffuse its message. When Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. gave a speech at one of the recent Live Earth concerts, he struck out hard at the "corporate toadies" and their "indentured servants" on Capitol Hill whom he accuses of urging us "to treat the planet as if it were a business in liquidation, convert our natural resources to cash as quickly as possible, have a few years of pollution based prosperity, (so that) we can generate an instantaneous cash flow and the illusion of a prosperous economy." See the video and the complete transcript of the speech at the following link: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Live Earth Speech

martes, julio 10, 2007

Summer Rain

Just a note to say that after suffering an unusually cruel and mostly rainless summer in Zihuatanejo so far this year, we finally woke up to a cooling rain this morning. The previous night was one the most uncomfortable, and showering didn't help cool us much because the water came out of the "cold" faucet hot. The rain has been intermittent so far today, but at least it washed some of the dust away as well as the foul-smelling grunge on the streets left by the garbage trucks. Of course, the rain has also been good for the downtown shopkeepers since when the tourists aren't on the beaches they're often walking around downtown, and this is the first week of summer vacation for Mexicans. So far so good.

sábado, mayo 26, 2007

Cayacal Schools Receive Donations

Many of our generous and caring visitors to Zihuatanejo bring school supplies and clothing for our less fortunate children, and for those that have dropped off their donations with my wife at Lupita's Boutique I thought you might enjoy seeing where some of those donations have gone.

About a quarter of the way between Zihuatanejo and Acapulco is a tiny forgotten village of fishermen and farmers called Cayacal. Cayacal is located about 55 kilometers (34 miles) southeast of Zihuatanejo along the Carretera Nacional 200 at the coordinates 17°23'20.50"N and 101° 9'41.61"W. Cayacal is home to a small primary school and a kindergarten with about 45 students.

Cayacal roadsign
Cayacal roadsign
fishing pangas on the beach
fishing pangas
the primary school at Cayacal
primary school
the kindergarten at Cayacal

Last Monday, May 21st, we took school supplies and clothing donated by some very kind and thoughtful visitors to Zihuatanejo. We had saved up enough donations to assure that there were enough supplies and clothing for all the children at the kindergarten and the primary school so that no one would be left out.

entrance to kindergarten
kindergarten entrance
kindergarten schoolchildren with donated school supplies in class
kindergarten class
the swings at the kindergarten playground
kindergarten playground
students of mixed grades in classroom
students of mixed grades
students lined up to receive donated supplies and clothing
students in line
students receiving school supplies
passing out supplies
schoolgirls receiving donated clothing
schoolgirls receive clothes
students receiving donated clothing
schoolboys receive clothes
a little boy receives a shirt
boy with a new shirt
schoolgirls hanging out in their favorite tree
schoolgirls in tree

The children were all very grateful for the donations of school supplies and clothing, and they wanted to be sure that the kind people who made it all possible for them received this message from them:

schoolchildren with their donated school supplies


jueves, mayo 10, 2007

Navy Attacked by Gunmen in Ixtapa

While watching the last minutes of LOST at my mother's home in normally peaceful Ixtapa last night, our attention was quickly drawn to what sounded like gunfire somewhere not too far off in the neighborhood below us. For about 15 or 20 minutes we listened to hundreds of rounds of gunfire from automatic weapons interspersed with what also sounded like handguns and a shotgun, and culminating in what sounded like a tiro de gracia at the end. Since we couldn't see where the firefight was taking place, we could only guess that it was coming from somewhere near the residential section of Golondrinas near the intersection with Pelícanos. So many rounds were fired that we feared a stray bullet, so we kept our heads down and tried to stay out of any possible line of fire. We were somewhat surprised not to hear any sirens for what seemed like a long time, but eventually we heard them and saw a couple of police cars drive past on the road below us. My wife and I had to call a taxi to get to our home in Zihuatanejo, and we were concerned they might not come due to the apparent danger. Fortunately APAAZ sent us a taxi, and it just happened to be one who had tried to drive by the scene of the crime to see if the white vehicle reported in CB radio broadcasts was a taxi, but he was waved off by police who had closed the road. He said he saw one body in the road, and during our ride back to Zihuatanejo we listened to quite a bit of radio chatter about the shootout. However, we were quite surprised and disappointed that no roadblock had been set up between Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. With the morning news I found out that the firefight was apparently between narcos and members of the Armada de México when gunmen allegedly ambushed the Comandante del Apostadero Naval de Zihuatanejo as he was driving past the water treatment plant in Ixtapa on Paseo de los Viveros. According to newspaper reports, one marino was killed at the scene and two others injured as they attempted to repel the attack. The attackers allegedly carried off their dead and/or wounded, fleeing the scene in their vehicles. As far as I know they were not apprehended. Also this morning several helicopters of the Sector Naval have been busy circling over Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa since about 9 o'clock, giving the feeling of being in a war zone. With the ambush and murder of 5 members of the Ejército de México last week in Carácuaro, Michoacán and this latest ambush of members of the Armada de México in Ixtapa it appears clear that the narcos have declared war on Mexico's military, something that has never happened in Mexico's history. They have certainly stirred up a hornets' nest, since by directly attacking Mexico's armed forces they have assured that the military will mount a relentless campaign against them to hunt them down and kill or capture the aggressors. The local population has long been calling for the military to take over from the police, who are not trusted, prepared or trained to take on narcos or organized crime. Unfortunately, the governor has been trying to restrict the role of he military in Guerrero so as not to frighten tourists, several who have been injured in attacks over the past two years. Now even the PRI and the PRD at the national level are calling for Presidente Calderón to send the military back to their barracks, against all logic. This only raises suspicions as to the lawmakers' own involvement in narcotrafficking and organized crime, since it is widely known that most police forces at all levels are infiltrated and corrupted by narcos and criminals. If a war is to be waged against organized crime only the military is currently capable of waging it. Yet it begs the question: Even if the military wins, what will be left of Mexico after such a war? Currently in many communities across the country the narcos provide important income, community works and even social assistance where the government has long been failing. Farmers who would otherwise have to leave their lands to seek work either in the cities or across our northern border are currently able to survive and maintain their families only with the money their illegal crops bring. More and more it appears that the only way to put an end to the bloodshed, the corruption and the crime associated with the narco trade, and to save the billions in pesos spent by the government on an unwinnable war, is to legalize and regulate "recreational" drugs as well as to distinguish between truly hard drugs and those less harmful. The money saved as well as the money generated by such measures could be much better put to use educating our youth against drug use as well as rehabilitating drug addicts and making them productive members of our society instead of filling up jails with people who commit victimless crimes. Such a measure would also go a long way towards reducing corruption in the public sector and keeping citizens who are going to use drugs anyway safe from having to deal with underworld criminal elements.

jueves, febrero 01, 2007

Another Ecological Disaster

Residents and visitors to Playa La Ropa in Zihuatanejo this past week have been witness to the incredible incompetence of the local water company, most inappropriately named "CAPAZ" (which in Spanish means "capable"). Last Friday the water treatment plant located in the coconut grove at La Ropa experienced serious equipment failure when pumps failed and untreated sewage water began overflowing and draining into the mangrove estuary (lagoon). The polluted water promptly caused a massive fish kill in the lagoon before eventually breaching the sand bar and flowing into the bay.
Residents and at least one local environmental NGO have threatened lawsuits against the paramunicipal company for the damage to the ecology of the lagoon and the bay as well as to Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa's tourist industry, since more tourists than ever are vowing not to return as a direct result of the increased pollution the bay has been experiencing in recent years.
Their complaints are founded not only on this accident, but also due to the fact that untreated sewage is also being clandestinely discharged by the water treatment plant "El Deportivo I y II" into La Boquita Canal, and explains why the pluvial canal is still flowing copiously even though it hasn't rained here since November 15th. From hillside restaurants and lodgings as well as other elevated vantage points around the bay the effects of this discharge are apparent as they affect La Playa Principal and Playa La Madera. Recent low tides that accompanied the new moon also made apparent the pollution entering the bay from the lagoon Las Salinas. The smell alone told the story to the thousands of daily visitors to the pier, but it wasn't the only evidence.
Not only have the authorities at CAPAZ let us down, but so have the local representatives of PROFEPA, the federal environmental watchdog authority entrusted with prosecuting polluters, who attempted to exonerate themselves of any responsibility by claiming that the Comisión Federal de Agua has jurisdiction, not them, regardless of the fact that in their own published environmental laws they consider the discharge of residual waters a crime as defined in the the following excerpt from their website:
“Artículo 416.-Se impondrá pena de uno a nueve años de prisión y de trescientos a tres mil días multa, al que ilícitamente descargue, deposite, o infiltre, lo autorice u ordene, aguas residuales, líquidos químicos o bioquímicos, desechos o contaminantes en los suelos, subsuelos, aguas marinas, ríos, cuencas, vasos o demás depósitos o corrientes de agua de competencia federal, que cause un riesgo de daño o dañe a los recursos naturales, a la flora, a la fauna, a la calidad del agua, a los ecosistemas o al ambiente. Cuando se trate de aguas que se encuentren depositadas, fluyan en o hacia una área natural protegida, la prisión se elevará hasta tres años más y la pena económica hasta mil días multa.”
Most unfortunately, the people entrusted with protecting our environment, including SEMARNAT (of which PROFEPA is supposedly its legal enforcement branch), have been the same people whose actions (or inactions) have permitted the pollution problem in our bay to steadily get worse instead of assuming their proper responsibilities. SEMARNAT is responsible for signing off on the environmental impact studies and authorizing such disastrous local developments as the jetty at Puerto Mio, the development of Cerro del Vigía, and the ecocide of Playa Almacén (a beach that Puerto Mio caused to simply disappear), among others.
Until incompetent and corrupt public officials are jailed for their actions that consistently negatively impact the community and its main economic activity (tourism), such disasters will inevitably continue repeating themselves. Local authorities have continued to lie to the public and use not only the power of their offices but also public resources for purposes other than what they are intended for, and the current bay pollution problem is just one of the consequences we are forced to endure.