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Mar 7, 2018
Mexican Landowners Renew Protests at International Resort
Mexican Landowners Renew Protests at
Kent Paterso/Correspondent Photos by Hercilia Castro
Protesters in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Guerrero
As February crawled to a close two parades were
held on Mexican Flag Day in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Guerrero. In the first event,
handsomely-dressed school children with musical instruments filed through
Zihuatanejo's downtown headed for an official ceremony.
Meanwhile, a few miles up the road in the
popular international tourist destination of Ixtapa, about 150 landowners and
their supporters marched in front of swank hotels and upscale shops. Passing by
curious Mexican and foreign tourists snapping photos, the marchers carried
protest banners and sported tee-shirts with strong messages.
"Tourist Friends, you are walking on
lands robbed by Fonatur." "The Ejido of Zihuatanejo demands payment
from the federal and state governments for our expropriated lands," read a
pair of banners.
"What does the ejido want?
Justice!," Justice!" rose a chorus of chants led by Jorge Luis Reyes,
the ejido's president.
The content of the messages, also reproduced
on tee-shirts and on a bilingual Spanish-English audio recording summarizing
the protesters' story that was played from a Volkswagen accompanying the marchers,
referred to demands stemming from the Mexican federal government's
controversial 1973 expropriation of lands belonging to the Ejido of Zihuatanejo
and two other local ejidos for tourism development.
In return for the 1973 expropriation, the
administration of then-Mexican president Luis Echeverria promised Zihuatanejo’s
landowners two parcels each and 20 percent of the profits from the sale of
about 1,000 expropriated acres where glitzy lodgings, golf courses, trendy
shops and the luxury homes of Mexican millionaires and billionaires were built.
At the federal level, the land sales
were directed by the National Tourism Fund (Fonatur).
Since the 1970s, millions of foreign and
national tourists have visited Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, dropping their cash in hotels,
restaurants, bars, boutiques, massage outlets, and car rental and tour
agencies, many of which are part of international corporate chains.
But Zihuatanejo Ejido members say Mexico City
never fully complied with its end of the expropriation, despite years of
patient waiting, some initial discussions and litigation that's dragged on
since 2000. "Nothing has been resolved, the court blocks everything,"
said Danilo Valencia, former Zihuatanejo ejido president.
"More than anything else, (the protest)
is for justice," said Victor Manuel Espino, another ejido member and
grandson of one of the ejido’s founders in 1938.
"(The federal government) expropriated
lands and hasn’t paid us. Almost all the ones who were alive then have died.
Very few are alive. Almost everyone involved in the struggle now are second or
Similar to the old New Mexican land grants, or
las mercedes in Spanish, an ejido is
a collectively owned land unit. And like
the New Mexican land grants, old grievances still boil in Zihuatanejo and are
passed down from generation-to generation.
Protesters march with banner
In a separate interview, Jorge Luis Reyes
described how ejido members, known as ejiditarios
in Spanish, staged multiple protests in Ixtapa last year, reaching out to
federal and state authorities for talks aimed at resolving the landowners'
long-standing demand for just compensation.
Despite initial positive responses from
officials like Rene Juarez Cisneros, former federal deputy interior minister
who resigned earlier this year and later reemerged as a campaign coordinator
for Jose Antonio Meade, the presidential candidate of the ruling Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), a proposed negotiating roundtable never happened, he
"It's worse than last year because
neither the state government nor the federal government has taken
responsibility," Reyes charged. "We're going to continue the protests
while not ignoring the court case."
The politics of development and historic debt
Ejido attorney Pedro Larumbe told this
reporter that he filed papers in February requesting the agrarian court hearing
the landowners' case force Fonatur and Fibazi, a Guerrero state government
agency that's also tasked with developing and selling a portion of the
expropriated lands, to speed up the submission of essential documents
presumably held by the government institutions. "This is a way of
fomenting pressure," Larumbe said.
The Acapulco-based lawyer said he hoped the
agrarian court would rule on the ejido's request within the next three months
Although ejiditarios are frustrated by years
of legal and political delays, they confront more waiting in a year when Mexicans
will elect a new federal administration that's likely to change the top
management of Fonatur. If the ejido's
lawsuit with Fonatur is not resolved before the departure of President Enrique
Pena Nieto next December, theconflict
will continue as just one of many lingering land disputes kicked over to the
At the state level, political complications
likewise come into play. The current Guerrero state government of PRI Governor
Hector Astudillo is under increased pressure to control spiraling insecurity,
protect political candidates threatened with violence (According to the
Guerrero daily El Sur, at least 15
aspirants for political offices up for grabs across the state in this year's
elections have been murdered since last April), and help ensure secure and fair
state, local and federal elections next July 1.
Nonetheless, Astudillo's government has not
lost sight of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. The locality is envisioned as part of a
Special Economic Zone (ZEE in Spanish initials) planned for a slice of the
Costa Grande of Guerrero state and the port of neighboring Lazaro Cardenas,
Michoacan, where development will be geared with the Asia trade in mind.
On February 16, Astudillo and and Michoacan
Governor Silvano Aureoles signed a joint agreement in Zihuatanejo guaranteeing
security for investors.
According to El Sur, Guerrero state and Fonatur officials present for the event
later outlined more than $23 million in combined public investments designed to
promote tourism and improve infrastructure in both Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. No
mention was made, however, of the debt controversy with the Ejido of
Reyes argued that both the federal and state
governments have an obligation to not only hear out and settle the ejido's case
but redesign their historic relationship to the landowners. "It is very
vertical, yet we are equal," Reyes said. "We have the right to oblige
respectful and well-intentioned answers."
Reyes added that Fonatur Director Miguel
Alonso Reyes (no relation to the ejido leader) remarked to a reporter last year
that a debt was indeed owed to the Ejido of Zihuatanejo but pointed the finger
at Fibazi.He regarded the statement as
"historically important," even though Fonatur's chief did not accept
Fonatur did not respond to e-mails seeking
Uniting the ejidos
Zihuatanejo's ejiditarios, meanwhile, are attracting support for their struggle
from other regional ejidos. Representatives of three neighboring ejidos,
Coacoyul, Agua de Correa and El Zarco, participated in the flag day protest.
Fernando Pineda, representative of the Ejido of Agua de Correa, said the
Mexican federal government also expropriated nearly 1800 acres of the
"best" of his community's lands in 1973 for the Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa
tourism development, including prime beach properties.
In Agua de Correa's case, the ejido is still
negotiating with Fibazi for compensation, Pineda said. Ten years ago, the state
agency returned a little more than 100 acres to the ejido but more
indemnification is still owed, he said. "They're mainly paying us with
land and not money," Pineda added.
According to the land rights activist, Agua de
Correa's struggle is the same as the Ejido of Zihuatanejo's. "They still
owe us. We have to be on the alert. If (Zihuatanejo) wins, we win."
Pineda said his 102-year-old father-in-law is
the last living original member of Agua Correa's ejido, which like
Zihuatanejo's, was founded in 1938 during the land reform program of President
Seeing common cause in land rights and other
issues, the Ejido of Zihuatanejo is banding together with upward of 40 other
regional ejidos from the Costa Grande. A non-partisan, non-profit foundation
has been established with the goal of developing rural economies, promoting
environmental education, and supporting health, cultural and education projects
in a region threatened by insecurity, poverty and environmental degradation.
The plan, Reyes said, is to bring "tranquility and harmony to the
Reyes likened the decades-old land dispute
with Fonatur to a contest between government-conjured fatigue and
"The Ejido of Zihuatanejo has historical
memory and isn't going to stop," he vowed. "(Government) is betting
on us forgetting but we are wagering on justice and memory."
Author-Journalist Kent Paterson is former
editor of Frontera NorteSur and is a contributor-correspondent for The Digie Zone