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Puerto Escondido residents held a demonstration at the entrance to the Puerto Escondido airport Wednesday morning to make their position clear on further development in the city: it can’t happen until the existing community’s basic needs are met.
The protest was held to coincide with the anticipated visit by people involved in creating a development plan for Punta Colorada, a 111-hectare beachfront property whose protection has been urged for years by environmentalists, surfers and others.
This week’s demonstration was the latest of many at which protesters have demanded a plan for fixing the most urgent infrastructure issues before taking on new projects that will bring more tourism. While the lack of proper drainage and sewage treatment facilities has been an issue for many years, the situation is only getting worse with greater numbers of tourists and a growing population.
Ironically, Punta Colorada itself is the source of untreated sewage discharges into the ocean because of the under-capacity treatment system located there.
Salvemos Colorada, an organization formed a dozen years ago to protect the area, took legal action over a year ago after lab results showed that the wastewater being discharged into a lagoon at the site exceeded established limits. The lagoon overflowed last week, sending polluted water into the ocean waters. Meanwhile, the court that is considering the case has yet to make a ruling.
One of the demonstrators and a Puerto Escondido local said the issue was urgent. “We are demonstrating because we have a sanitation problem . . . What we want is that before the airport and the highway [to Oaxaca] are finished, and they begin to start many more million-dollar investment projects, that they fix the current issues first. That’s why I’m here, it’s not fair that we are swimming in contaminated water, which can affect us with stomach problems, hepatitis and other diseases.”
Another resident said, “We don’t want Colorada to stop being what it is. We have almost nothing left. There is very little living, natural area left . . . Nothing makes sense if we lose the fight.”
While the mayor San Pedro Mixtepec has defended the urbanization plan by claiming it will pay for the infrastructure that Puerto currently lacks — a functioning sewage treatment system, proper storm drainage and a safe landfill — many residents aren’t convinced.
“They want to sell Colorada to finish doing a job that the government has not done in many years, which is to have a well-planned, clean Puerto with services that we all deserve,” said one.
The proposed urbanization plan consists of seven lots for the construction of hotels, 13 for residential tourism, two lots for local housing, five for commercial development, one for unspecified “special mixed” use and one more for a tourism office.
The plan, prepared by Oaxaca environmental engineer Ing. Juan Manuel Sánchez Gutiérrez, who is also named as the person responsible for the project, says amenities will include a beach club, recreational area, green spaces, a lookout point and a wastewater treatment plant.
Construction of the necessary infrastructure is predicted to take four years and building the residential component would follow. In all, the project is expected to take nine years to complete, according to the plan.
But the proposal comes at a time when many residents are questioning the lack of an overall development plan for the entire city.
One resident echoed much of the community’s sentiment in reference to Puerto’s rapid growth: “It’s out of control. If we’re any more people, it’s going to be chaos. That’s why I’m [at the demonstration], so that the government supports its people. I hope this helps so that they take us into account . . . Now it’s an emergency.”
While the demonstrators’ most urgent concern is the high levels of contamination on Puerto’s beaches, they also note other problems that the project at Colorada could bring, such as a larger socio-economic gap in the community. While the current government portrays it as progress, the demonstrators disagree.
“Enough with the lies that [more tourism] will bring us employment, well-being, progress, when in reality, we have seen over the years that this is not the case.”
Demonstrators are fighting for clean water but they’re also aiming to preserve the essence of Puerto Escondido. One demonstrator who has been visiting here for the past 16 years said, “I just don’t want to see Puerto turn into another Acapulco . . . People want natural, tropical, virgin beaches. That’s why they’re here now. So if it changes, it’ll be ruined . . . I love this town. It’s shaped me into the person I am today. And I wouldn’t be where I am without Puerto Escondido and just to see it changing so drastically is really, really sad.”
Government response to the community’s demands has been minimal. There is no evidence of a plan to fix the sewage treatment facilities, which is the most urgent infrastructural issue facing the city.
Beto, one of the demonstrators and the owner of Colorada Surf Shop said, “Until now, governments have always pretended that there is nothing to be seen, that nothing is happening. They minimize the movements. They deceive you saying that it brings progress, but it is not the progress we need.”
More than 100 hundred people gathered Wednesday but one of them urged more people participate in order to have a larger impact. “[The government is] not taking care of the little that is left, which is our beaches . . . It is time for the community to get involved and fight for what corresponds to us, which is a dignified life.”
El Sol de Puerto
This post is also available in: Español