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the October 2001 issue of World Press Review
Raúl Monge and Silvia Ortiz,
Proceso (liberal newsmagazine), Mexico City, Mexico, July 8, 2001.
nations public property invaded and used for private interests;
beach areas and ecological reserves illegally exploited by former
and current public servants as well as businessmen and foreigners;
environmental impact certificates and forest, fishing, and hunting
permits granted on a discretionary basis; preferential treatment given
to companies responsible for polluting; distribution of water for
political purposes; punitive actions not carried outthese are
some examples from an inventory of anomalies discovered so far by
the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat)
[under the new administration of President Vicente Fox].
President Vicente Fox (R) delivers a speech on the National
Accord for Transparency and the Combat of Corruption on Feb.
26, 2001 in Mexico City. The sign says "No more payoffs,
already." (Photo: AFP)
After six months on the job, Environment Secretary Víctor Lichtinger,
Undersecretary for Natural Resources Raúl Arriaga Becerra,
and José Ignacio Campillo García, the head of Mexicos
Environmental Protection Agency (Profepa) are each evaluating the
magnitude of the irregularities theyve inherited. Lichtinger
emphasizes that legal actions will soon be taken against former and
current public officials in the two government offices. Weve
found omissions and acts of corruption, especially in the state-level
offices, Lichtinger explains.
Interviewed at the Nikko Hotel on July 2, Lichtinger maintains that
the system was previously characterized by agreements
and privileges. There were semi-official companies and political
leaders who could not be touched, who were beyond the reach of the
law. Furthermore, he explains, some of the public policies implemented
during former administrationsespecially those related to agricultural
activities and land ownershiphave not achieved what they were
designed for and, to the contrary, have negatively affected the countrys
limited natural resources.
Campillo García illustrated the above with concrete cases:
The national commission created 30 years ago by then-President Luis
Echeverría to regulate the clearing of trees has provoked nothing
short of ecocide, and as a result of the Procampo program created
during the Carlos Salinas de Gortari administration, the agricultural
frontier has advancedto the detriment of forests. He continues:
We found incongruities, such as a reduction in the number of
forest rangers from 3,000 to 300 and the allocation of more budget
money to reforestation programs than to inspection and surveillance
programs. All of this makes me think that in former administrations
there was a lack of interest and even a deliberate intention to do
away with natural resources.
From his office located on Mexico Citys Periférico freeway,
Campillo also refers to the chaotic situation around licenses granted
to private individuals for use of beach areas. Of the 36,000 licensed
recreational sites, only 3 percent have their papers in order and
are current on their payments. This means that local, state, and federal
authorities do not receive at least 800 million pesos (US$88 million)
a year. An official Profepa document reports how a handful of individuals
have taken over a significant proportion of the countrys 18,600
miles of coastline.
Quintana Roo, one of the most important states in terms of tourism,
is considered a critical area. In 538 miles of coastline, Profepa
authorities found a series of irregularities: illegal occupation of
land by both Mexicans and foreigners who have established restaurants,
services, and residences in Punta Sam, Puerto Juárez, Isla
Mujeres, Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Punta Allen, and
Also documented are cases of foreigners owning federal and ejidal
(collectively owned) properties; overdue tax payments; and homes and
tourist developments located within protected natural areas on the
western coast of Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún, Punta Nizuc, Isla
Contoy, Sian-Ka, Uaymil, and the National Marine Park and Reefs of
Cozumel. Campillo explains that in Quintana Roo alone, more than 100
administrative proceedings have been initiated against owners of residences
located in the Cancún-Tulum and Tulum-Chetumal
He predicts that residential areas, hotels, businesses, and recreational
centers illegally occupying federal properties and beaches will be
demolished, because its not right that swimming pools
are established at the nations expense.
Asked if this would include five-star hotels, he says he hopes this
type of case will not be found, but if it is, he warns that actions
will be taken to the final consequences. And given that only 3 percent
of the 36,000 license owners for beach areas are problem-free, he
suggests that the rest should be starting to worry.
Irregularities have also been identified in major tourist developments
in Nayarit, Acapulco, and Zihuatanejoin Zihuatanejo, the son
of the current mayor is involved. In Nayarit, not a single investor
bothered to request authorization from federal authorities to build
on or occupy beach areas.
Campillo explains that ejidatarios (collective landowners), municipal
mayors, governors, federal government officials, and service providers
have all been equally involved in creating this mess. Initially, he
said, the problem was unfamiliarity with the law, but then personal
interests and corruption came into play. One government official suspected
of wrongdoing is former Quintana Roo Governor Mario Villanueva Madrid,
who is currently behind bars at Mexicos La Palma maximum security
prison on drug-trafficking charges.
Profepa has documented licenses for forest exploitation granted under
the former administration that are hard to believe. One example is
the case of an individual who was given permission to cut 800,000
cubic meters of wood over a two-year spanthis amount is equivalent
to the total production in the states of Chihuahua and Durango.
With only limited resources available, actions have been taken against
clandestine loggers in the states of Mexico, Campeche, and Michoacán,
as well as in the Zempoala and Chimalapas regions. According to Becerra,
Large-scale deforestation is run by organized groups; its
a real mafia. Protecting forests is the responsibility of 320
forest rangers, each of whom must watch over the equivalent of the
total land area of the state of Tlaxcala.
Given this situation, the National Institute of Ecology (INE) and
Profepa have begun a process of revoking authorizations for logging
and have undertaken the corresponding administrative and legal processes,
with the aim of establishing the responsibility of government officials
or technical personnel who granted the licenses.
Also included in Profepas inventory of irregularities are licenses
for exporting wildlife. For example, one fully documented case concerns
a license granted to an individual to export 50,000 birds from the
countrys southeastern region. We cannot permit this type
of abuse, emphasizes Campillo, adding that it would appear licenses
have been granted without even the most minimal investigation.
Lastly: When Julia Carabias served as secretary of the environment
[under the previous administration], companies responsible for polluting,
such as Pemex [the national oil company] and the Federal Electricity
Commission, were never sanctioned, despite evidence against them.
Campillo concludes by saying, My intention is not to make mistakes
and to attack the roots of the problems.
As for Environment Secretary Lichtinger, a man willing
to take on challenges, he admits its not an easy
situation, especially since we dont have adequate
policies or instruments for managing basins, water, forests,
land, and industries. He says its necessary to work
toward decentralizing functions, so state-level authorities
can assume their role in protecting ecosystems. Lichtinger says
hes accustomed to being accountable and emphasizes that
his current post will not be an exception. Were
going to start to modify some things, were going to put
a stop to processes of degradation, and were going to
build on the positive things from the past.