Determined to draw more attention to what many Puerto Escondido residents are calling a public health and environmental crisis, Beto Olivera López went for a swim on Wednesday — a 12-hour swim.
The owner of Colorada Surf Shop in Zicatela also swam in an effort to motivate the community to get involved and stay involved in a movement first triggered by negative water quality tests at two beaches and a plan to develop the land at Punta Colorada.
Olivera’s swim followed comments by Oaxaca Governor Salomón Jara regarding the development project, referring to those who have protested it as “so-called environmentalists.” He went on to claim that the group had its own interest in the land, and would eventually occupy it.
Social media users and local activist groups soon reacted. Almendra Gomezleyva of the organization Salvemos Colorada said, “We aren’t so-called environmentalists. We are the people, a community united to defend our land and the last piece of green that we have left. We’ve been doing this for 12 years and we’ll continue to do so.”
Surf shop owner Olivera was one of many who were upset by Jara’s comments but was unsurprised. He has lived in Puerto Escondido his entire life and has been active in the movement to preserve Punta Colorada from the start.
“In 2012, I got involved in Salvemos Colorada when there was the threat of a dock being built there as a port for local fishermen.” The port was never built but a new plan has been released for the urbanization of the area.
Local issues such as wastewater being discharged directly into the ocean without treatment motivated López to get involved again.
“A few months ago I kept going past the wastewater in front of my business in Zicatela. I passed it and passed it and didn’t do anything. Everyone was complaining about it but none of us were doing anything. So I said no, we need to speak up. If we don’t, no one will do anything.”
From there he started posting videos on social media to inform the public. Olivera was one of the first at the scene at Punta Colorada when the lagoon opened a few weeks ago, releasing wastewater directly into the ocean.
However, recently he noticed a shortage of people at the protests and marches. “So I’m asking myself, where are the people of Puerto Escondido?”
On Independence Day, Olivera was part of a group that went to the morning parade in order to raise awareness for the Salvemos Colorada movement and the health crisis. He was alarmed by the small number of people.
“I went to the parade, and we were fewer than 20. So I said, what’s going on? I got really angry. I thought, where are all the people that are complaining?
Wondering how he might get people’s attention and get the message out, he decided to do the swim, having done some distance and endurance swimming in the past.
On Wednesday, he set out from Bahía Principal at 6 a.m. A small group of local women dressed in white was there to cheer him on before the sun had even fully risen.
One of them told him, “Thank you for doing this for Puerto. Thank you for fighting for us.’”
He said the words helped him through a particularly difficult part of the swim. “On the fourth lap, there was a really strong current. That’s when my shoulder started hurting, an unbearable pain . . . But I remembered that woman, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to let you down. I’m not going to let [all] those people down.’ That’s how I got through that current.”
A group of surfers and swimmers supported Olivera from the water on his final stretch from La Punta to Bahía Principal, where hundreds of people awaited his arrival. With supporters backing him both by sea and on land, there was an excitement in the air and a feeling of anything being possible, which was López’s intention.
While Olivera accomplished his goal, he’s not naive about the future of Puerto. “Unfortunately, what’s coming for Puerto Escondido is more plundering and draining of resources.” He hopes that through his efforts more people get involved and stay involved in the seemingly long fight ahead of them.
“We want development, but development that is sustainable.” And clearly, with contaminated beaches, local ecosystems in danger, and unregulated construction, it’s not what is currently taking place.
El Sol de Puerto