Barra de Potosi in the state of Guerrero, Mexico is the most perfect healthy happy little village I know. I love it so much I even got married there three weeks ago. While we were down there, the local village residents and resident expats were in a state of deep concern because they are under threat to lose their reality and become a cruise ship peer or mega resort.
Please read the story below, written by Barbara Erickson, a resident of the area, and pass it on.
Our only hope to save this lagoon and village is put the pressure on with international press!
Lose an entire ecosystem for – a cruise ship pier or a mega resort?
Aren’t there already enough of those to go around?
The fishermen, beach restaurant owners, salt farmers and other local inhabitants of a small fishing village in the Mexican state of Guerrero are fighting just such a battle. In a David versus Goliath story the 500 folks of Barra de Potosi woke on January 12, 2011 to find out that not only was their entire ecosystem in danger, but they too were likely to lose everything; their life style is in danger of extinction.
Barra de Potosi is only thirty miles south of the mega resort Ixtapa but it is another world in every way. The three dirt streets that make up the tiny village sit at the edge of one of the largest remaining lagoons in the area of the Pacific state of Guerrero known as the Costa Grande. The Lagoon, Laguna Potosi, is home to one of the largest mangrove estuaries in the state with three distinct species of endangered mangrove trees. That lagoon, the adjoining miles of beaches and the surrounding undeveloped tracts are home to over 200 species of birds, endangered butterflies, rare mammals and reptiles, nesting sea turtles, coral reefs, breeding whales and threatened plant species. An ecological paradise, enjoyed by thousands of visitors; locals, Mexican nationals, and foreign tourists each year.
The drama unfolded when Fonatur (Fondo National de Turismo), the Mexican national trust fund for costal development published in the Diario Oficial de la Federacion on January 12, 2011 that the public/private real estate sector of Fonatur; Fonatur Portuaria SA de CV, was granted a 25 year concession that conveyed administrative rights over the pier in Zihuatanejo and all of the adjacent waters extending to Playa Blanca and Barra de Potosi. Imagine the surprise of the locals when the concession was made public, not one of the local population had been consulted. No public hearings were held, no environmental impact study conducted.
A meeting was called by the community leader, Alberto Bello Benitez, with the municipal mayor in Petatlan – the county seat in charge of Barra de Potosi, where over 150 people assembled to ask their government just what was going on. The mayor, Albino Lacunza Santos, dissembled. “I don’t know anything” he told the crowd after keeping them waiting in the heat for over an hour. The people however were prepared; “why then are you quoted in this article about the project” he was asked. Again he dissembled, “I have not signed anything” (turns out he did on June 9th of 2009) and “I will talk to the mayor of Zihuatanejo to find out and get back to you.” (he did not) Many of the fishermen and other locals who make their living in rhythm with the ecosystem in question were sure that there was more to the story than met the eye. “We are not blind” they repeated as they left the building. And “if the Egyptians can stand up to their government, so can we.”
The question was: what exactly is the plan that Fonatur has for this new sweeping concession? No one in a position to know was saying. It took the use of the Transparency Law by informed local journalists and activists to get the answer: a 600 meter long cruise ship pier in front of the Laguna Potosi for starters.
What did this mean for the inhabitants of Barra de Potosi and the tourists that visit? Assuming that the cruise ships will stop at the Barra pier instead of in Zihuatanejo as they do now, it will mean 60 or more ships a year disgorging an average of 2000 tourists for a few hours on what is now a pristine turtle nesting beach lined with a few private homes and small hotels and a group of open air seafood restaurants sitting on the sand. Since there are almost no facilities or activities for the passengers in Barra today, the passengers probably will be motored in buses half an hour one way to Ixtapa /Zihuatanejo; already a longer journey than if the ship moored outside Zihuatanejo Bay and the passengers were ferried to the existing pier as they are now. With 50 passengers to a bus that will require 40 buses housed in a giant parking lot that will need to be constructed. At present, there is no sewage treatment plant in the area and all the water comes from shallow wells. It is not evident what Fonatur plans for bathroom facilities for 2000 people which is vastly more than the entire population of the 9 mile stretch of beach extending from the lagoon.
But of course, the long term goal will be to provide tourist facilities in Barra de Potosi. The concession gives Fonatur the ability to expropriate land which it then would try to lease or sale to large businesses, so the plan undoubtedly will include a large shopping center that will lease space for tee shirt and cheap souvenir shops, and chain restaurants. The plan may also include seizing land and then trying to lease sites for large hotels, but cruisers don’t stay in hotels and cruise ships are not attractive to those who might. Not to mention, the Fonatur resort of Ixtapa is only 30 minutes away with mega hotel rooms going empty.
The existing seafood restaurants – enramadas – for which Barra de Potosi is famous and which attract many tourists (lots from Ixtapa) on day trips are all located on land that is a federal concession. They do not own the land and now Fonatur has exclusive jurisdiction over the area and can move out all those small local businesses with no compensation to the local family owners. Even if some are allowed to remain, the quaintness that draws visitors will be gone and in the 300 days a year when there are no cruise ships, there will be no way to earn a living. The restaurants currently owned and worked by the local inhabitants will disappear.
The local fishermen also will be impacted. Now they land their boats on the beach and they sell their catch to the local restaurants. Fonatur will own the beach and there will be no local restaurants to buy their catch. There could be fancy chain restaurants, but they are not likely to support the local catch or the local fishermen. The fishermen’s livelihood will be wiped out.
The inevitable pollution from the cruisers will destroy the natural sea salt drying operations that form another backbone to the local economy. Fonatur’s development will draw an influx of construction workers with temporary jobs who inevitably remain even after their jobs are gone, so the community will have to bear an influx of poor outsiders further disintegrating the sense of community. Although few of the people of Barra de Potosi ever received more than 6 years of education, they have all figured out that, despite the promises of the government that Fonatur represents their great salvation; the reality is that their entire village and way of life will be annihilated. They are the David, Fonatur is Goliath.
Once the extent of the pier project was known, the fight was joined. Fonatur continues to deny that the plan includes a pier in Barra de Potosi. This despite the published plan. The local population has joined forces with the Zihuatanejo fisherman collectives to fight together to keep their modest lifestyles alive. On March 31st more than 1000 people marched through the street of Zihuatanejo to oppose the concession. The Mexican press has started to cover the story. Biologists, some who have worked in the area for years are uniting to press for protection of the valuable ecosystem. Mexican Wild Coast has published a call for protection. Environmental lawyers are being consulted. A Facebook cause page has been created. Will mangroves, rare birds, nesting turtles and small time fishermen prevail? The record in Mexico in not a good one.
Wallace Stegner, one of the great environmental writers of the twentieth century quoted Thoreau and wrote; “In wildness is the preservation of the world, whose echoes will reverberate a generation later and will probably be felt for generations to come. We simply need that wild country available to us…for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”
Will David win? One can only spread the word and hope that Mexico is not wedded to old models of development and corruption and disregard for its humble people and valuable natural resources.