by Moisés Flores Baca
“Cancun is the best example of ecosystems predation…mangroves were destroyed…its beaches were filled with hotels…the sand eroded away and they brought it from Cozumel…taking that sand away from Cozumel compromises the existence of its coral reefs…the fact that it is the place where the environmental summit meant to save the planet is happening there seems to be a joke. To bring seriousness back into this we should lynch the politicians who invented Cancun!… Gulp!
“Cancun is the best example of ecosystems predation…” reads the first line of the cartoon above, published today by the left-wing newspaper “LaJornada”, “The fact that it is the place where the environmental summit meant to save the planet is happening there seems to be a joke”, reads the line in the middle. It is fair to acknowledge that LaJornada normally goes way over the top in terms of its criticism of mainstream politics, more often than not making the reader feel that they are criticizing for the sake of criticizing, especially when it comes to its cartoons, however, it is undeniable that there is an enormous measure of truth in the message conveyed in the cartoon above.
Yesterday at one side event jointly organized by 350.org and the Biological Diversity Organization one of the panelist brought up the fact that holding the Climate Change negotiations in Cancun is very ironic. It is ironic because Cancun is one of those places that epitomizes unsustainable development: in order to build all the fancy Hotels that now cover that skinny line of land in between the ocean and the lake (La Zona Hotelera), mangroves, a hub of biological diversity, had to be destroyed. Because when erosion attacked its beaches, that are amongst the favorites of European and North American spring-breakers (especially American since the legal drinking age in Mexico is 18 years) to vacation, sand was brought from the island of Cozumel to keep the tourist business going. But if this was not enough, for some of the latest resort developments in La Zona Hotelera corals had to be dynamited in order to make the beaches swim-able.
I remember that once about 7 years ago, I was traveling with my family to Cancun, and on our way to the hotel from the airport the tour guide in the bus was explaining us how new was the hotel we were going to stay at: we were amongst the first to have the privilege of staying at the RIU hotel&resort -owned by Spaniards of course, like almost all the other hotels in the Riviera Maya area. The guide got quite excited about the RIU being so new that he revealed, by accident I guess, a piece of information that I am pretty sure he was not supposed to reveal: the developers of the hotel had to “clean the beach up” in order to make it tourist-friendly. They had to blow up some corals that were in the turists’ way to the bliss that it is to swim in the turquoise waters of the Mexican Caribbean. The poor guy got himself into a deadlock and could not do much against the suddenly very serious looks people were giving him. They did not find what he was saying amusing. He tried to laugh and turn his revelation into a funny remark but it just did not work -in retrospect I figure that perhaps the guy was new in the job, probably as new as the RIU was back there. Then he got himself into even muckier waters by adding that when we got to the beach we would find that the sand was rather ‘rough’ on the feet for a couple of feet into the water, but that stepping beyond that into the water one could not feel the rocks anymore and the experience was quite pleasurable. He told us to be careful.
For the four days or so that I stayed in Cancun that time, I would be reminded every time I got into the sea for a relaxing swim of the horrible sin that was committed in that piece of paradise for the sake of the tourist industry: every time I stepped into the water the rocks that once formed a big coral hurt my feet -I think I even got a cut once- taking revenge on me for what some executive at some office in some part of Spain had decided, and some politician in Mexico -who most likely was completely unfamiliar with that spot of paradise- allowed to happen. I get a similar feeling every time I enter the Cancunmesse Conference Center, or the Moon Palace facilities, or even the busses that take people around, and the air-conditioning makes me shiver and suffer because it is way too cold. Not to mention how frustrating it is that the place where the climate negotiations are taking place, the luxurious resort called Moon Palace, is closer to Cancun downtown -where the hostel we are staying at is- than the Cancunmesse, the place where we have to go through security checks… in short, we have to go south all the way to the Cancunmesse and then go back north -the way we came- for about twenty minutes to get to the Moon Palace.
Everyone seems to acknowledge that the outcome of the Cancun negotiations is not going to be brilliant, and in all possibility, is going to be very disappointing. Well, to that we have to add the fact that everything will seem more frustrating at the end if we consider that, for that disappointing outcome to exists, we would have polluted incredibly contributing way more to the problem than to the solution.