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Beach development the old fashioned way

12 August 2010

Guadalajara Reporter (sombrero tip to David Agren*) 06 August 2010:

At least 150 Jalisco state police in full riot gear evicted some 800 people living and working in the beach community of Tenacatita and the neighboring village of Rebalsito in the early hours of August 4.

Although officers said they “invited” residents to leave, some reports suggest there were as many as 27 arrests and three people injured with gunshot wounds.

At least 11 people who resisted the eviction are being held at the municipal jail in Ciuhuatlan. Four minors have been released, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

State police said they acted on the order of a judge in Autlan, who ruled that some 50 families were illegally occupying land that belonged to Jose Maria Andres Villalobos, a successful and influential businessman and realtor, and former president of the Guadalajara Chamber of Commerce and current president of Expo Guadalajara.

Villalobos has been trying the get the low-income families evicted from the land for two decades, ever since he purchased 42 hectares of Tenacatita beachfront land from the wife of a former state governor in 1991. (He apparently obtained the federal beach concession rights in 1993.) Many of the businesses on the undeveloped beach are palapa seafood restaurants that have been serving tourists and locals for more than 40 years…

La Jornada said the Guadalajara businessman had been negotiating with “foreign investors” to develop the land.  Villalobos said he envisaged a tourist complex in Tenacatita comparable to the luxury and elitist Careyes resort further up the coast.

The PAN government of Emilio Gonzalez has made tourism development in the Costa Alegre, as the southern part of the state’s coastline is known, one of their main priorities.  It’s promoting a number of polemic developments, most notably in Chalacatepec, south of Tomatlan, an ambitious development that has been dubbed “the New Cancun.”

A story from the same newspaper (Guadalajara Reporter is one of two major English-language newspapers in Mexico) dated 10 August 2010 fleshes out some of the story:

The eviction took place after a judge ruled in favor of Guadalajara businessman Jose Maria Andres Villalobos, the owner of Inmobiliaria Rodenas, who claims to own at least 42 hectares of disputed land.

The ousted residents’ claim to the land dates back to the 1940s, when the Rebalsito ejido (local land commune) was set up in the wake of the Mexican Revolution, which dispossessed many wealthy Mexicans of their properties and land.

Unfortunately, the land distribution program was highly inefficient and replete with corruption, and it wasn’t until the presidency of Vicente Fox (2000-2006) that Rebalsito’s ejido lands were regularized under the  Programa de Certificacion de Derechos Ejidales (PROCEDE). According to La Huerta municipal officials, 220 land titles were handed out and the deeds duly recorded in municipal registers. The majority of the zone’s residents are up to date with their property taxes, municipal officials say.  A few ejidatarios have taken advantage of changes made to the Mexican Constitution in the early 1990s and sold their parcels of land, some to foreigners.

Jorge Diaz Topete, the lawyer for Villlalobos,  says these titles are bogus and that his client is the true owner of the land, which he says was purchased from Paz Gortazar de Gonzalez Gallo, the widow of former Jalisco governor Jesus Gonzalez Gallo (1947-1953), in December 1991.

The second of the unsigned articles (and — because of the danger to reporters who cross the local powers-that-be — more and more news is un-bylined these days) may be misleading in its discussion of ejido lands.  Efficiency was never a priority of the ejido (rural collectives) — rather, it was meant to undo the long injustices of years of land grabs by the rich and powerful and foreigners, and return the land to the people who lived on it and worked it:  efficiently or not.

The problem with “bogus” land titles on ejido lands (or former ejidos) has surfaced time and time again — usually when some rich guy suddenly decides he can make a killing with a development of some kind.  Forced evictions aren’t all that unusual either, although most I’ve seen or read about have involved squatters and not people with ties to property going back to at least the 1940s.  According to the second article, “Hundreds, maybe thousands, of campesinos from diverse points in Jalisco are set to converge on Guadalajara … to rally in support of residents of the small fishing community of Tenacatita.”  The exact date wasn’t known when the article was published.  The Guadalajara Reporter thought it would be yesterday or today.  There was nothing in yesterday’s Informador or El Occidental about the protest in yesterday’s paper, and this is written before the Thursday papers are on-line.

A little editorializing, if I may.  While I’m not opposed to foreign development, foreign buyers need to understand that land titles may not reflect the true owner, and that — unlike the United States and Canada — the original owners were not wiped out, but may have ties to the land going back a millenia or two before paper records were available.

Secondly, while some of the more sophisticated foreigners are aware of the nexus between NAFTA and narcotics and immigration, too many of us overlook the other major change represented by “neo-liberalismo” — the idea that land is a commodity.  Those 1990s “reforms” often represented a true “clash of civilizations” between those who saw land as just a thing that could be bought or sold as convenience dictated, and those for whom a piece of land was part of their identity as a member of a community.

Dispossessed, the people in the latter category have lost something of themselves.  What choices to they have — go into the narcotics biz?  Sell time shares or wait tables for the new “owners”?  Emigrate?  Or ???

It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it is not only drugs that have alienated the people from their governors, and the desire for a radical change in direction is not just coming from urban intellectuals.  How that change is channeled will be the challenge in the next few years.

* whose by-line has shown up at least twice in the New York Times lately… who should feel lucky to have him, if only temporarily.  Maybe Times investor Carlos Slim put in a word.  If so, good for Carlos and David.  If not, still, good for David.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 August 2010 7:12 am

    Yes, yes, yes… I have seen so many foreign investors go full charge into a “deal to good to pass up” only to find that the paperwork was not what it seemed. A suggestion would be to choose your lawyer based on his credentials not because Jose at the bar says he’s a great guy. A good way to choose a lawyer is to find out out who is the president of the “Notarios” association. Go to that person and tell him what you need or get a recommendation from your consulate or embassy. The law is very different in Mexico and property title is very complex. Beware and be warned!

  2. Hugo permalink
    13 August 2010 6:52 am

    Bogus land titles is not a new phenomenon in Mexico. There are quite many bogus indigenous community land titles from the 19th Century in Central Mexico. They were produced by the communities themselves in order to defend their land against the first liberal land legislation, the rapid expansion of new haciendas (often with European owners), and later mestizo ejidos. These land titles are almost always notarized copies and they provide very interesting reading often including detailed narratives of how the land was given to the community by Cortéz personally or even Carlos V. They will start with the notary declaring in the preamble that he in the presence of indian community leaders who are presenting the original colonial title and that he is making a true copy of the original. Such titles reflects the ingenuity of indigenous communities in defending their lands and how they were able to use the weapons of the enemy. Perhaps the present ejiditarios should use better advisers.

  3. 16 August 2010 6:06 pm

    I thought it might be a good idea if this blog listed our website as a resource link under media, since we are extensively quoted in this post. We are constantly updating information on this and hundreds of other stories on Mexico, all written by foreigners living here–some for as many as 40 years.

  4. 21 December 2010 1:04 pm

    Scammers are all around the globe selling stuff they do not own, not just Mexico, it is imperative to know the local laws and procedures and also research trustworthy realty firms, for example, Grupo Dine and Questro are two of the largest land developers in Mexico. Of course, legal land is not a “dreamt deal”, it is more expensive but also it will get you rid of all future problems that may arise when things are not done correctly. I think many times people don’t know who they must contact and perhaps end up falling in the wrong path… We are working with american and mexican attorneys in a comprenhensive, concise and easy to understand buying guide (will be available shortly for free of course in our site) for people interested in buying property in Mexico. We strongly believe that people should have access to this kind of information in an easy and open way.

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