"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. 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).
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
TA. Florentino Zavala Clímaco, Dirección de Ecología y Medio Ambiente: email@example.com
Lic. Salvador Jaimes González, Regiduría de Turismo: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lic. Guillermo Catalán Martínez, Dirección de Turismo: email@example.com
C.P. Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo, Gobernador del Estado de Guerrero: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lic. Ernesto Rodríguez Escalona, Secretaría de Fomento Turístico por el Estado de Guerrero: email@example.com
Diputado Amador Campos Aburto, Cámara de Diputados del H. Congreso de la Unión (Comisión de Turismo): firstname.lastname@example.org
Senador Ángel Heladio Aguirre Rivero, Senador de la República (Comisión de Turismo): email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.