What will it take to save local fishing and village life in Zihuatenejo, Mexico
These days when Mexico receives media attention it is usually related to drugs and violence. One of the key stories not being told is about how traditional trades are being lost as privatization gains momentum daily. I won’t venture here into the connections between the so-called war on drugs and the selling-out of some important ways of life in Mexico. I would simply like to draw attention to a small tragedy in process in the fishing and tourism-dependent village of Zihuatenejo.
Its all about controlling water and the waterfront. The village is located in the State of Guerrero, 100 kilometres north of Acapulco. It’s close to the village of Ixtapa, well-known to those who like to holiday at resorts. Zihua, as the locals refer to it, has a few resorts, but also a large ex-pat community of U.S., Canadian and European citizens who own condos or time-shares. There is also a significant community of dual citizens who came here thirty, forty or fifty years ago and never left.
I have been hearing about Zihua since the 1960’s, though I had never been here until recently. Like many others of my generation and political persuasion, I find it difficult to go anywhere and just to be a tourist. I prefer to immerse myself in the culture. Like so many other places in the world, Zihua is no longer the picturesque village it once was. The beaches are not as clean; the hills are alive with the sound of construction. And as in so many other places, the proliferation of For Sale signs indicates the effects of the recession and an aging population.
But it is home to a way of life of thousands of working people who, fish, run small businesses, provide services and work in other areas from construction to mining. On the first Sunday of my visit, I went down to the village waterfront–the Bahia. As I watched the fish market transpire, with fishers selling their fresh catch to everyone from men and women shopping for their families to restaurant cooks looking for their menu’s daily catch, my eye was drawn to a big sign that read “Stop the privatization of the Bahia and the Barra de Potosi.” The latter is a small community south of Zihua. I started asking questions of the fishers and some locals.
A few days later, I went out onto the water with two fishers. They make extra money by taking visitors out to fish or get a feel for the place from the water in their small launches. Once we were out on the water, I could see the full gamut of vessels that use the harbour, from row boats and small motor launches to a couple of yachts. Most boaters greeted one another and shared information about the state of their luck that day. The fishermen I was riding with stopped to pick up a much older man who works on one of the bigger boats. All in the name of community.
After some digging I found out that the issue of privatization of the bahia has been going on for some time. It involves the federal government agency, Fonatur, whose legal responsibility is to focus on wealth creation through development and tourism. But the government department responsible for the waterfronts has decided to privatize that responsibility by handing over the Zihua Bahia including the Salinas lagoon and the Barra de Potosi to the Miami-based corporation, Integral Port Administration (IPA). Whatever future amounts IPA pays to Fonatur for these resources, will come from charges to any person or organization who is given permission by IPA–not likely the current users, locals who have long been in the business. So whether you sell food, crafts, or fish on the waterfront in these communities, life will change if this project is not over turned. A couple of years back the same players, under different names, tried to expand the cruise ship pier in Zihua. The public, lead by the fishing co operative and local business owners, organized resistance and had that overturned. Serious concerns over pollution of the bahia including threats to turtles and other endangered species were at the top of the list of public concerns. Add to that the hazard to fishing and village life from various aspects of the cruise ship industry and people from all walks of life protested and the cruise ship pier was defeated.
The failure of the first plan spelled the beginning of the plan now going forward. This time, the plan is not only to build piers but to control the entire waterfront in Zihua and Barra de Potosi. API (the Fonatur sub-contractor ) paid 200,000,000 pesos (about 20,000,000 dollars) for a 25-year concession to build and control all business on the water front. If this deal is not stopped anyone who has a business on the waterfront from restaurants to shops that sell mostly locally and regionally-made products will lose their concessions without payment, and be forced off the waterfront. In addition, fishers will be charged for mooring their boats, small tour boats will be charged–and API will make lots of money. While it lasts! Mexico’s public private arrangements are like everywhere else in the world, the public pays and the private collects the profits. In this case you have to wonder though, for how long.!
The project seems to be working totally against current common sense and economics. API’s sales pitch proposes that Zihuarenejo should become more sophisticated–like Acapulco! It all spells change in Zihuatenejo and not good for working people or the regional ecology or economy in the long run.
What I find shocking is that at a time when so much of the wealth of Mexican cultural life is being threatened by overwhelming forces of violence and evil, it’s federal government is pursuing a path that will lead yet another village to lose it’s identity. Nor do I understand why, at a time when world travellers are looking for something different than the hamburger culture, when Eco living is more important than ever, and when countries around the world are falling apart because of legislation based on greed, that such a project is seriously being pursued.
Why would this same federal government that claims to be fighting crime not be encouraging projects to promote what is already a success– encourage real village life, keep it simple, use tax dollars to clean up the water, improve the water treatment systems and protect the other species who share the place with people. Why not work toward boasting of the cleanest Bahias in the world for fishing communities and tourism. Why would the Mexican government not encourage Fonatur do the job it was created to do?
Am I naive! I don’t think so! When I met with the people in Zihuatenejo, I told them that I would try to get the message out to visitors–new or returning, and other people, about this self-destructive proposal. Just as I was preparing to leave, on June 1st, 2011 I went down to the Bahia to have a last look. There was a huge Marina Fiesta going on with games, food and drinks–all put together by the co operativa. What a site to see the community come together and plan, sing, eat and celebrate together. It’s an annual event, but this year it took place under the sign that says No to Privatization of the Bahia!
I have asked the group Avaaz.org to consider adding this project to their campaign to stop the war on drugs. Your encouragement to them might help to make it possible.
We are all living the results of massive privatization through cuts to public services. Here is one we might all help to thwart.
Letters can be sent to the United States of Mexico, Secretaria des Comunicaciones y Transportes : Avenida Xola, esquina con Eje Central, S/N, Col. Narvarte, Del. Benito Juárez, México, DF.- Tel. 52 55 57239300
Letters of support to the co operativa representatives: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org