~ This essay was originally published by CanchéyKanek on September 15, 2015 ~
These laws about mangroves are forcing us to build in the air. Your government goes to Europe and promotes investment, and when we get here and we want to clear our lots, we are fined, embargoed, and lose millions of pesos in paperwork and fees. Who knows what’s going on? We have yet to find an architect who can build in the air.
That was the complaint of the manager of the Hotel Oasis Akumal, the Spaniard Jaime Sancho when, as I was having coffee with him, his assistant interrupted us to inform him that a courier was seated in the lobby waiting to serve him with a fine. The Oasis Group had recently opened a giant palapa where there had previously been a mangrove forest, a sanctuary of the exotic species that live in the Mayan Caribbean, in the touristic corridor of the Riviera Maya.
I was surprised when I passed Bahía Petempich and instead of the road that skirted the mangroves there was a dirt road that split in half the home of the crocodiles. Just the week before it had not been there. To save 500 meters and the eternal struggle over tolls toe owners of the plots—a group of hoteliers along with a dive resort investor and the owner of sea-view condominiums—had paid a construction company to work day and night for three days to build the access road. We arranged for people from the Federal Prosecutor for the Environment (Profepa) to look the other way for just three days. And that if asked, we would say that when we bought the plots the road was already there, one of the capitalists told me.
And that was not all. From the mangroves flowed a lagoon where dozens of crocodiles stood guard like unarmed soldiers, defenseless in the face of the destruction. Today, those waters have been filled in. Of that, my camera captures proof when a crocodile sees a child and approaches as if seeking shelter from the tons of gravel being dumped in its home. Today, if you head toward Bahía Petempich, 14 kilometers from Cancún on the road to Playa del Carmen, the entire zone is filled in. The crocodiles and their offspring were buried alive.
The success of Cancún was built on the foundation of nature, on the destruction of thousands of kilometers of mangroves. The city of Cancún is, moreover, the ugliest of new cities in the Americas. A senseless urban sprawl that continues destroying jungle in its unchecked horizontal growth. No government, organization, or citizen has presented an urban development plan like those of the world’s great cities. Politicians have dedicated themselves to selling off nature for a few pesos to encourage investment. Local bosses (caciques) have taken over large swaths of land and ordered the burning of forest so that it will be easier to authorize the construction of ridiculous claustrophobic houses, modern jail cells for the servants of global tourism.
Despite millennia of experience building cities, Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum simply bend under the weight of demographic anarchy, the 11% of Cancún’s and 30% of Playa del Carmen’s population comprised of migrants. And this anarchy includes citizens of five continents. We did not learn from Brasilia. That beautiful city is young like Cancún but planned with enormous respect for nature. Even Havana, Cuba, is more beautiful than Cancún. Moreover, Varadero has been built with respect for nature, and it is enjoyable. Cancún and Playa del Carmen suffer. There is no planning for a verdant plaza like the Alameda in Mexico City or New York’s Central Park.
What did our Alameda or our Central Park cost? 480 million pesos. And it is at Tajamar. That is the cost of what Fonatur sold to the investors who destroyed the mangroves. The total current price. The Xcaret Group had done an excellent job with the wide and enjoyable avenues and well-designed walkways on the Tajamar promenade at the edge of the Nichupté Lagoon, from which you could see the towers on the ancient virgin island of Cancún. All the mangrove in that area was respected, because it was private property. The design of the promenade alongside great extensions of mangroves showed that development can go hand-in-hand with nature for the enjoyment of our children. Cautiously, residents from the belt of misery that surrounds Cancún began to visit the place. The state and municipal governments have not promoted or suggested that it was a place for everyone. With their attitudes, they demonstrated that it is a place only for the rich and not for the poor.
Nevertheless, in July, the nightmare began. Heavy machinery began to destroy the mangroves, filling in the waters surrounding them. A citizens’ group kept watch because right under their nose crocodiles were being buried alive and birds were being forced from their nests. They still keep guard at the site. That movement no longer has feet or head. Little by little the protagonists have withdrawn.
It is here where Cancún should have its Mangrove Promenade. And not Tajamar because we are not in the Orient. The investors should donate their plots for this grand park, or sell them to the citizens. The mangroves will stay. As a symbol of the nature destroyed across Quintana Roo. Francisco Córdova Lira must lead the way if he truly believes in sustainable development. The Xcaret Group, which built the walkway with public resources should put its weight behind a plan for Cancún to have a Mangrove Promenade, not just for the elite but for the entire city… a luxurious promenade with the unequaled luxury of nature.
Pedro Canché is a journalist in Quintana Roo who covers environmental and social issues related to the Mayan world. He has faced persistent persecution from local authorities, including a lengthy illegal imprisonment that ended last year. This essay was published on his blog, CanchéyKanek, Noticias del Mundo Maya, under the title “DF con su Paseo Alameda y Cancún con su Paseo Manglar” and is available at: http://canchekanek.com/2015/09/15/df-con-su-paseo-alameda-y-cancun-con-su-paseo-manglar/
Translation by Michael Lettieri