Wednesday, March 28, 2007


A.- THE RESERVE: Veering radically from traditional environmental politics in Mexico, the Mexican government has gradually, over the past many months, permitted the illegal realization of a variety of development projects, resulting in a series of unlawful acts, negligently toleranted or even perpetrated by the authorities, which now threaten one of the most conserved protected areas of tropical dry forest in the world: 1. The Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, with a protected area of 13,142 hectares, was created 13 years ago. The reserve represents one of the best conserved natural areas along the Pacific slope of Mexico, where the forest and the sea converge. The dominant vegetation is dry deciduous forest, which sheds leaf cover in the dry season, with patches of semi-deciduous forest that maintains green leaves, along the valleys and streams. The coastal zone supports wetlands with manglars and aquatic vegetation, as well as coastal dunes in the transition to the sea. The reserve protects a combination of habitats which stand out for their high biological diversity: more than 1200 species of plants, 270 bird species, 70 of mammals, 68 reptiles, 19 amphibians, and thousands of species of insects and other invertebrates. This biological richness exceeds that of many countries with a surface area many times greater. Many of these species are unique and only inhabit the dry forests of western México, and an important proportion are currently classified as Threatened or In Danger of Extinction. The dry forest is one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, with only 5% of its original extension remaining in continental America, as a result of the impact of deforestation. In Mexico, about 20% of these ecosystems remain unaltered, highlighting the coast of Jalisco as one of the last redoubts for its continued existence. Nevertheless, in the last 50 years more than 40% of tropical dry forest has disappeared along the coast of Jalisco, and the tendencies indicate that in the next 10 years a further 90% of this ecosystem could disappear. The value in conserving this forest, as well as the species and germoplasma it maintains, radicates in the important environmental services which the forest provides, such as water capture, storage, and purification, control of erosion, soil formation and conservation, and flood control. The dry forest contributes to the production of foods, pharmaceuticals, capture of carbon dioxide, and climate regulation on a local and global scale. Added to which, the forest offers a landscape and natural area to be enjoyed. 2. This explains why, throughout the past 20 years, Mexico has endowed Chamela-Cuixmala with all the legal shields available for its protection, in accordance with national and international law: a) The beaches of Cuixmala and Teopa on the coastal zone of the reserve, have been protected since 1986 by successive Presidential decrees, until 2002 when they were declared Sanctuaries for the Marine Turtle. b) After many years of intensive research, making the area one of the most studied sites in Mexico, the CUIXMALA ECOLOGICAL FOUNDATION (with 18 years working in the region on nature conservation, supporting ecological research, environmental education, and environmental management) and the UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL AUTÓNOMA DE MÉXICO (which established the Estación de Biología Chamela in 1971), promoted the establishment of the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, decreed on 30 December 1993. By means of a Convention with the Federal Government of Mexico, the Cuixmala Foundation and the National University of Mexico assumed responsability for the conservation and management of the reserve. c) In the 1999 Ecological Ordinance Plan for the coast of Jalisco, the reserve and its area of influence were protected through careful regulation of land use and the kinds of development projects and activities considered permissible. d) In the vicinity of the reserve, the islands of the Chamela Bay were declared a Sanctuary in 2002, thanks to the research, promotion and patronage of the Cuixmala Foundation and the National University of Mexico together. e) The reserve is incorporated within the National System of Protected Areas. f) The National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), determined in 1998 that the region and the reserve form part of one of the Priority Hydrological Regions and one of the Priority Marine Regions for the country. Furthermore, in 2000 the area was considered a Priority Terrestrial Region for Conservation. g) The reserve has also been recognized as an Important Area for Bird Conservation by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, created in accordance with the Agreement for Environmental Cooperation of North America. h) The reserve forms part, since 2 February 2004, of the International Convention for Internationally Important Wetlands, better known as the RAMSAR Convention. i) The reserve also forms part, since 27 October 2006, of the International Reserves Network of the Man and the Biosphere Program of the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO). 3. No other site in Mexico, and probably in any other country, more greatly deserves to be afforded every legal protection, at national or international level. 4. The reserve conserves one of the healthiest populations in Mexico of the threatened American Crocodile, implements a successful Marine Turtle protection program, and developed the first project in Mexico on the ecology and conservation of Jaguars, just to mention a few of the most charismatic species. Furthermore, the reserve protects fragile, fragmented ecosystems, including tropical dry deciduous and semi-deciduous forest, manglars and various types of wetlands, and seeks to revert the degradation of these ecosystems. Finally, within the reserve are carried out a variety of programs for scientific research, environmental education, and community outreach for social development, with active participation in regional development plans, ecological restauration, and environmental monitoring. B. THE THREAT: 1. During the last 13 years, in close cooperation with the federal authorities of the Secretary for the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), and the Federal Agency for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), the reserve has successfully confronted the many threats arising from deforestation, habitat fragmentation, the loss of biodiversity and environmental services, illegal poaching and timber extraction. Above all, during this time the reserve has been besieged by repeated attempts to implement non-sustainable tourist developments within the reserve and its immediate area of influence. Many of these projects violated existing legal dispositions, specifically those which protect the reserve, and were detained thanks to the defense of those same legal dispositions. 2. Nevertheless, over the last years the coastal region of Jalisco has been subjected to strong pressure for non-sustainable development by some groups from the tourist hotel sector, now supported by state and federal government. Proof of this has been the work carried out in the last few years by state government on development of the road infrastructure, and infrastructure developments carried out along the coast-line. 3. The federal authorities responsible for fulfilling environmental regulations have unlawfully authorized projects which do not comply with established legal requirements. An example of this are the projects illegally authorized on the last day of government by the concluding administration, which contemplate the construction of more than 3,000 habitations, without considering the already existing 1500 habitations, regardless of the fact that the region does not have the capacity or basic infrastructure to support a development of such magnitude. The fateful consequences of these developments will be seen in the deterioration of scarce water resources in the region, affecting local populations and the food production sectors. Likewise, the tourist developments will become a factor of population growth and migration to areas which currently do not have adequate basic services, aggravating the impacts on the environment and generating social problems which have not been adequately evaluated. Everything points to a repeat of the predatory development models in other tourist regions of the country, where the enviromental and social costs surpass the economic benefits generated in the region. 4. These projects were opposed by members of civil society, providing the authorities with solid and numerous technical, scientific, and legal arguments demonstrating that their authorization would violate environmental regulations, all of which was disdained and ignored by the authorities who inexplicably and unlawfully approved the development proposals. 5. All of this was owing to the fact that during the Administration of President Fox there was a radical change in the conduct of national evironmental politics: a) The first Secretary for the Environment, Víctor Lichtinger, with a good trajectory of environmental protection, was weak before the constant pressures to relax environmental protection in favor of development. Such pressures came mainly from the business sector, which found almost unconditional support in the Office of the President. Even when the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (PROFEPA), lowered its profile during this period and didn’t venture to take strong environmental protection measures, the agency suffered strong political attacks from various business interests with political support at the highest level. b) In order to control Lichtinger, the Presidency located as Subsecretary, Raúl Arriaga (previously Environment Secretary in the Fox administration in Guanajuato), who was the bearer of the philosophy that the environment and its legislation should stop being an obstacle to investment and development. The Subsecretary maintained a tense confrontation with Secretary Lichtinger, which became famed for its severity. A series of circumstances, which have much to do with this idealogical confrontation over the role of environmental politics, quickly brought the downfall of both. On one side, Arriaga was involved in a couple of scandals for granting seriously illegal authorizations (permits allowing the killing of millions of animals and the introduction of exotic dolphins). On the other side, Lichtinger resisted a Presidential order to cease the Environmental Attorney. c) The new Environment Secretary, Alberto Cárdenas, iniciated the instrumentation of a development policy which placed environmental legislation to one side, with the determined help of the new head of PROFEPA, José Luis Luege, who nuetralized that institution. Cárdenas gathered an unprecidented record of violations of environmental legislation, which motivated a strong campaign against him on behalf of environmental organizations. On leaving the SEMARNAT, Cardenas was replaced by Luege, who in turn was replaced in PROFEPA by Ignacio Loyola. The rest of this Presidential term was a continued decline in national evironmental politics, and a significant weakening of ecological organizations. All of this occurred in the context of a marked deterioration in the record of respect for the state of law in the country, an issue which Vicente Fox claimed in his Presidential campaign, but about which he did little during his term. d) It is significant that in the context of the facts outlined above, the authorities were gradually loosing shame or fear of the media campaigns attempted to check them, which became each time more timid and ineffectual. The media demonstrated less interest in environmental issues, and environmentalists and conservationists were seen as radicals comparable to other opposition forces in civil society, such as those called “globaphobics”. e) In the middle of this, two fundamental beauracratic positions became the key for instrumenting the new policy. On one side was the Director General for Environmental Risk and Impact in SEMARNAT, Ricardo Juárez, and on the other, the Subattorney for Environmental Resources, Héctor González Reza. Both functionaries had gained the opposition of environmental organizations, the first for many illegal authorizations of environmental impact which he approved for large development projects, and the second for abstaining to apply and enforce the law in a multitude of cases denouncing attacks against the environment and natural resources. f) In these circumstances, to ensure that the authorities reject requests for authorization of environmental impact for development projects close to the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, has become increasingly difficult given the breakdown which now exists of the state of law. In the case of the project to construct a Marina in Careyes, the SEMARNAT advised the promoters that they should withdraw their first proposal, to avoid having to officially reject the proposal for failure to comply with environmental law, as was demonstrated by civil societies with abundant refutals founded on technical and legal opinions. It is now apparant that this advice came with the offer that the project would be authorized in the future. This is precisely what has just occurred with a new proposal submitted for this development project, whose authorization on the final day of this Administration cannot be explained except as the result of an act of corruption. The same occurred with a tourist development project named Tambora, also in the area of influence of the reserve, which despite having been initiated illegally and without authorization, and having been amply refuted by civil society, was illegally authorized in the first days of the new Administration (6 December), but by functionaries of the previous administration who had not yet left. g) Other construction works begun illegal along the boundries of the reserve, and denounced by civil society, have been totally ignored by SEMARNAT and PROFEPA, despite the fact that they have been provided with indisputable proof of the evironmental destruction that these are causing. These development projects go from the small development of “Casa Matos-Gil”, to others of great extension such as the construction of the road “Villa Purificación-Chamela”, all without any authorization and involving the commission of a variety of illicit activities and environmental crimes, of which the authorities are co-responsible for their negligence and cover-up, for which they are themselves being denounced. This is foreboding of a breakdown in the state of law, and a chaos in Mexican environmental politics, which will be prejudicial to the country at international level. h) The new Administration does not promise a change in the situation described above, rather all to the contrary. In comprising the new government, the forces of those responsible for environmental politics in the final PRI administrations roundly failed in their attempts to recuperate SEMARNAT and PROFEPA, denying them access to either of these positions. Instead of which, with the new head of SEMARNAT, Rafael Elvira, who as Subsecretary of Luege, was in charge of implementing the political change described above, with the Attorney of PROFEPA, Loyola, ratified in his position (and with him most probably the Subattorney González Reza), with Luege as new Director for the National Water Commission, and with Cárdenas as Secretary in Agriculture and Fishing, the augur is not promising, except of a term of severe confrontation between the Government of President Felipe Calderón and organized environmental society, and what is worse, of an Administration which tolerates destruction of the environment in Mexico.

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