Wednesday, March 28, 2007



New York Times, March 2007

The Presidential Administration of Vicente Fox left office just 3 months ago, leaving behind a well documented legacy of disregard for Mexico’s environmental laws, which translated into serious ecological degradation for the country’s natural wealth. That explains why such high hopes have been placed in your Administration, to turn that record around. However, the unprecedented complex of legally protected ecological reserves in the Chamela-Cuixmala region in México’s Jalisco coast, south of Puerto Vallarta, encompassing a Dry Tropical Forest Biosphere Reserve, a Marine Turtles Beach Sanctuary in Playa Teopa and migratory birds Archipelago Sanctuary in Chamela Bay, is under very serious threat. Veering radically from traditional environmental protection politics in Mexico, its Federal authorities have authorized, over the past 6 months, several illegal development projects right in the midst of the three protected areas, which includes delicate estuarine lagoons recognized as a Wetland of International Importance under the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and as a part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB). What is now known about the region has led the World Wildlife Fund to consider it one of the 200 most important eco-regions in the world, and the prestigious Mexican National Biodiversity Commission (CONABIO) identifies it as a Prioritary Conservation Area. Few other sites in the planet can claim to have achieved such degree of protection, both domestically and internationally, because of their recognized environmental importance. The area is indeed one of the most biologically rich and environmentally delicate sites in the world, as evidenced by the various layers of legal protection with which it has been endowed. Yet on the Northeast of the region, the illegal construction of a highway by the Jalisco State Government, and with the open complicity of the so-called Office of the Federal Environmental “Prosecutor” (PROFEPA), is threatening the important Biosphere Reserve precisely at the place where the Chamela River, that supplies the habitat of its protected species, dry forest and wetlands, enters its territory, while on the Southwest, the illegal construction of a deceitful project called Casa Matos is also threatening the Core Zone of the Reserve as well as the above mentioned Turtle Sanctuary. Worse than all that are the “Tambora” and “Marina Careyes” tourism development projects, in the Western and Northwestern flanks of the Biosphere Reserve, and impacting both of the said Sanctuaries, which were illegally authorized in the last few hours of the outgoing Vicente Fox Presidential Administration last November the 30th. The Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, encompassing 13,142 hectares of the best conserved natural coastal areas along the Pacific slope of Mexico, where the forest and the sea converge, supports wetlands with mangrove 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. The Marina Careyes project, owned and promoted by Mexican banker Roberto Hernandez, (formerly owner of Banco Nacional de Mexico), is of special concern, because he has persistently tried to undertake similar illegal developments in that particular region for more than a decade. He had already submitted the project to build a marina in the Careyes area two years ago, and had to withdraw it because it was totally illegal. The strategy was to resubmit it just with another name in 2006, at the very end of the Administration and find a way to have it passed. This time, he found a way, surely an obscure and questionable one, to have his Marina project illegally authorized by Ricardo Juarez, General Director of Environmental Impact and Risk at the Ecology Ministry (SEMARNAT). Violating his solemn oath as an official to uphold the law, Mr. Juarez has authorized a project whose environmental impacts have not been previously identified as required by law and for which, consequently, no appropriate mitigation measures have been foreseen. The project is a touristic residential development that entails the construction of an artificial marina for boats and for the undertaking of a variety of naval activities, as well as the construction of more than 1025 hotel rooms, commercial areas, beach clubs, roads, infrastructure for the provision of water, drainage and sewerage, electric energy and phone service. Under almost identical circumstances and simultaneously, Ricardo Juarez illegally authorized to Operadora Chamela the Tambora project, not far North of the Marina, which involves the construction of 100 rooms in a Grand Tourism Boutique Hotel, with Spa, a Business Center, 3 beach clubs and an 18 hole golf course with artificial lagoons, and consequently the creation of roads and all the infrastructure necessary for this kind of project, which does not comply with legal requirements either. This was done in open disregard of the opposition of the National Commission for Protected Areas and other governmental entities. Independent environmental experts have demonstrated that these projects, in a site that, because of its exceptional environmental importance, should be left as undisturbed as possible, will inevitably unleash numerous and dangerous adverse impacts resulting from: · The alteration of sand dunes, wetlands, mangroves, tropical forests and marine ecosystems, which are indispensable for the maintenance of a coastal area. · The massive removal of vegetation cover and its elimination. · The loss of humidity and soil fertility. · Radically modifying the landscape and increasing the erosion and the runoff and transport of sediments. · All of the above will in turn affect the quality of superficial and ground water, causing harm to the wetland. The General Environmental Act and its Regulations on Environmental Impact, clearly demand compliance with 13 specific requirements in order to ensure that all direct and indirect adverse impacts, and their accumulated effects in the region, will be properly and scientifically identified and objectively declared in an Environmental Impact Statement, together with specific proposals for measures to prevent them and mitigate them. None of that was to be found in the Statements submitted for authorization in either of the two projects. Ricardo Juarez, the official in charge of their assessment, was warned of that by various governmental institutions and non-governmental groups, on the basis of numerous and well substantiated legal and scientific arguments. He ignored them all and went ahead to illegally authorize them Consequently, numerous prominent personalities and groups, in Mexico and abroad, have begun to mobilize to prevent such ecological crimes, demanding: 1) The immediate cancellation of the illegal Tambora and Marina Careyes permits and the suspension of any construction activity in the zone. 2) Immediate dismissal of Ricardo Juárez, ensuring that he is accountable for his acts and omissions. 3) Evaluation of both touristic projects by an independent body of experts. The legal action started today at the Secretaría de la Función Pública, against the officials involved in authorizing these illegal projects, is a vote of confidence in your reiterated public commitment to reestablish the rule of law in Mexico, a demand you are insistently getting from all quarters, both domestically and abroad. Published by Friends of the Consejo para la Defensa de la Costa del Pacifico. Mexico City, March 22, 2007.

No comments: