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 business...in 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

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