Mazatlán: “The Perfect Storm of Environmental Degradation”

Panelists

The prognostic today from an incredibly prestigious panel of Mexican biologists gathered in the Art Museum to celebrate Son Playas’ third anniversary: Mazatlán is in a “via crucis” or “perfect storm” regarding its natural environment. Beaches here will continue to erode and disappear due to over-building, damming of rivers, relocation of sand, destruction of mangroves and internationally rising tides. Already beaches are impassable in various places. There are obvious irregularities to federal laws, as well as even state and local ones. These experts say that Mazatlán seems to be following the same environmentally and economically destructive path as Acapulco, rather than learning from it. If this path continues, tourism will be greatly curtailed, as there will be no more gorgeous and seemingly endless beaches. While the 100+ towers under construction in the city are hoped to benefit the local economy, the unplanned-for growth and lack of coordination between the three levels of government (federal, state, and local) is causing a trajectory toward the opposite.

Panelists

This article will focus on the main points and learning gained from the panel today, but first allow me to congratulate Raquel Zapien and her team at Son Playas on their third anniversary. Son Playas is one of a very few journalistic outlets in Mexico dedicated to environmentalism, and Mazatlán is blessed to have this resource. Their reporting has served a hugely needed role in our community. Today, Saturday 28 May, was also a blessing, as their anniversary brought together this prestigious panel, a capacity audience, all-day cultural programs, as well as an exhibition of thirty sustainability and environmental organizations—governmental, private and non-profit—all in one place. What a huge gift to be able to learn about so many different organizations and opportunities all in one place!

If, like me, you get frustrated by the fact that local “federally protected environmental areas” are so frequently developed and cemented over, you may find some of the main points below interesting.

Points Made by the Panel:

  1. A lack of coordination between the three levels of government—federal, state and local—is a huge contributing factor to environmental degradation in Mexico.
  2. Even though the city likes to say, “the municipality has no power; that was a federal (or state) decision,” per law municipalities have control over the “suelo” or “ground.” Municipalities pass zoning and usage laws and can prosecute irregularities, thus curtailing federal or state permits. We need to remember that municipalities benefit financially from the use of beaches.
  3. There has not been a census of the beaches in Mexico, so there is no official count of how many there are.
  4. There are few if any systems of control and vigilance for environmental laws, and no incentivization to comply.
  5. I have always been told that as non-citizens we should not participate in political activities, protests, or voice our concerns over development. Today we were told that as foreigners we may not be (or maybe you are) legal citizens (tener ciudadanía), but we are residents (ciudadanos). Those of us who own property are also property owners. Thus, there are two reasons why we are legally able to voice our concerns, particularly about events which affect our lifestyles as residents or our property values as owners.
  6. The federally mandated right of all Mexicans to have free and open access to beaches provides excellent leverage to those seeking environmental sustainability, as does protection of endangered species.
  7. Every resident in Mexico has the right to transparency on the part of the government. Yes, this made most in the room chuckle. But we were assured that this is the law. We were told that federal projects are on the federal transparency site, as are many of the projects in Mazatlán as well. If we go to city hall or the municipal archives and ask for building permits, etc., we are entitled to see them. Sheila Arias stood up from the audience to tell us she would help anyone who needs public information.
  8. Sinaloa does have earthquakes, and the building of such tall towers on the beach is a disaster waiting to happen.
  9. 40% of the species fished in Sinaloa are in danger of extinction.
  10. Municipalities can pass and enforce laws to keep our beaches clean. Some cities prohibit the introduction of cans and single-use plastics to the beach, others require that beach visitors return with everything they brought to the beach. Cities have power.
  11. “Natural disasters” are not natural but man-made, caused by us building where we shouldn’t, taking what we shouldn’t, destroying and degrading the protections nature offers.
  12. The key to environmental sustainability is in the people, the residents of a location. We need to use our voices to make our desires heard, to ensure that government acts on our behalf. We need to plan to prevent disasters.
  13. Any new building project requires a public hearing, input from the public. We should all be making sure these happen, that our voices are heard.
  14. Corruption everywhere is rampant. One of the best remedies is the court system: suing those projects that are built “irregularly.” We were assured there are lawyers who help with this pro-bono.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am very concerned about the “irregular” building in the Delfin area of our city: apartment buildings and homes right on the beach with no setback, and private piers appearing in the Escopama Estuary. During the Q&A period I asked the panel about this, specifically what we private citizens and residents could do. Below is the recording of that answer.

Expert’s answers to my questions about development in Estero de la Escopama

Summary of the experts’ responses to my question about building on federal lands in Delfín and Estero de la Escopama:

Dr. Abril Montijo, CIAD:
It’s a lack of political will, but there are mechanisms for citizen participation, including protests. She just heard about two upcoming opportunities. IMPLAN and the municipal government will hold two events in June. One will be a workshop to help people understand the diagnostics conducted, and the other will be an open meeting. We all need to attend and make our voices heard. Our government is combatting corruption, but there are so many realities that make us doubt that. We probably can’t destroy towers already built but we can prevent more from starting. Please attend the meetings and speak up.

Dr. Omar Cervantes, President Pro Playas:
In theory the towers must have a permit, and those are public information. That is the place to start: verify who did it, did they have permission. It’s called “Uso del suelo.” Could be that they are not following what they were approved for. Someone would need to denounce them. Other places people have filled in the ocean and the waterways; that’s illegal.

Dr. Esteban García Peña, President Oceana México:
How did they give those permissions? SEMARNAT and the Secretary of Federal Maritime Zones and the municipal government, all three must give permission. El Químico is an open person; talk to him to verify if the buildings have these permissions. What is happening with environmental planning in our country? We have laws that regulate development, especially in federal zones, but the sticking point has been an abuse of the words “por excepción”…  The law agreed to only give permissions to those who are going to respect the environment. But nowadays, politicians give so many “by exception” permits. They will agree to have a developer plant a few trees on the street as compensation for destroying a wetland. He is sure those buildings in Delfín were built under this laxity. These out-of-control towers create wind tunnels, impede the flight of birds, impede access to the beach by the people, and erode the beaches.

Omar:

The politicians follow through on what pleases them. The exception, as Esteban said, is the chain around our necks. Meet the Químico and talk to him. They are political points.

Winds of Change

Photo from the fourth and final choreography

Unbelievably, the Angela Peralta theater was nowhere near COVID-capacity Friday night for Delfos Contemporary Dance’s Vientos de Cambio (Winds of Change), which kicked off the 2022 Spring Season for Cultura Mazatlán. If you weren’t there, you lost out on an incredible performance! Each of the four pieces presented from the Delfos repertoire were stellar, sharing with us the emotionality, power, and drama we are privileged to expect from them.

The third dance, with only the women on stage, was what stuck with me. It hit my heart and soul hard. Each woman’s mouth was taped shut with what looked like electrical tape. They all wore ponytails and hauled and pulled one another around by the hair in disgustingly realistic ways. The performance was way too close to home. Any woman of my age has lived through the experiences portrayed in the dance. The piece culminated with the women removing their tops; their body movements and lighting were reminiscent of the best fine art nudes. At its conclusion, the audience was heard to openly gasp for air; it obviously moved most everyone the way it did me. To me the piece illustrated the pull of our patriarchal systems: how we are all victims when power is not shared; how cruel women can be to each other—something we’ve sadly absorbed from an inequitable, unjust system; and the crucial importance of sorority, equity and social justice. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I also loved the piece with the origami boats. The light on the white paper made them absolutely glow on the stage; I’m not sure if my photography was able to capture the wonder of the moment that the audience experienced, with dozens of origami pieces lining the stage.

Choreographers of the night’s works were Xitlali Piña and the company’s co-founder and director, Victor Manuel Ruíz. The dancers included Surasi Lavalle, Johnny Millán, Xitlali Piña, Luisa Escobosa, Diego Alcalá and Rodrigo Agraz, plus two special guests, Vanya Saavedra and Katia Rivera.

When I think of Delfos I think emotionality, power, and darkness; their lighting has a theme that, while dramatic, is very challenging to photographers. Friday night’s scenography was an event in itself, as usual; the graphic and powerful lighting, minimalist set and creative costuming were contributing stars of the show.

During the performance and as I write this article, I want to shout out how much I MISS THE PROGRAMS that for years were handed out at every performance in our theaters!!! I know they ostensibly were stopped because of COVID, but then couldn’t we perhaps be told the content by the announcer pre-performance, or read it online? I for one was eager to understand the title of and intention behind each piece, and I love knowing for sure who choreographed and performed what.
EDIT: Having published this, Johnny Millán kindly sent me the program that I had been unable to locate; it had been posted on Facebook. Here it is:


The public here in Mazatlán has a lot to look forward to coming November, when Delfos will celebrate their 30th anniversary with a series of performances including Minimal, which debuted last year. The company will also perform at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City with a new piece.

Update One Year On: A Home for Juan Manuel

You ROCK! Your generosity has made a tremendous difference in the lives of two wonderful Mazatleco men in need. Thank you very, very much!

Juan Manuel, Don Rodolfo, Dianne and Greg

Last Christmas 85 families contributed to building a small but precious “little blue house” for Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo. The building and furnishing process took several months and loads of love, but I want to report to you that the two gentlemen are living in their new home happily and healthily! 

Thank you and bless you!!! Your year-end love for others and gifting to those less fortunate has made a huge difference in their lives. Rodolfo and Manuel are incredibly proud to own their own home. Below I share with you a video message from them, thanking the donors from the bottom of their hearts and wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

After we began the house project, Don Rodolfo suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that caused partial paralysis in his face and left arm. He suffers great pain, on and off, in the damaged hand. Juan Manuel, his son, was blind and had lost a leg when we started. Shortly after we gave them the home in March 2021, Manuel had to go on dialysis twice a week for 4-5 hours each time. These were major health setbacks for each of these two gentlemen, yet they continue joyful, grateful and optimistic. The gigantic key we gave them when we handed over the keys to the house, engraved with their names, still proudly hangs on the front door. Inside the home is very much a home: family photographs, books, and daily necessities all have a place in the tiny yet comfortable space.

Just last week Rodolfo used the leftover blue paint to redo the exterior of the “little blue house” (Adolfo’s dream color, a play on Frida Kahlo’s beautiful home in Coyoacán). He added a white line around the perimeter, which is a very charming addition; it really makes the periwinkle jump out. Our son’s girlfriend’s father gifted them a couple of papaya trees and a guava, which have grown strong and born them much fruit. They are now very proud gardeners who were recently gifted a lime tree as well. The trees provide shade to the house and back patio, which Rodolfo has covered with a tarp to provide additional shade. Someone generously donated a used washing machine to them, which they located on the rear patio, but it does not work properly, so Rodolfo washes clothes and bedding by hand on the exterior washboard we installed. With his paralyzed and painful hand that is far from easy. They’ve strung clotheslines on the back patio and have a chair on the front porch. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

You may remember that we received a solid wood trundle bed, which has proven to be absolutely perfect for the space and their lives. Juan Manuel sleeps on top, and Don Rodolfo folds up a plastic chaise lounge and once that is out of the way he pulls out the trundle in order to sleep at night. 

The younger son gifted them a beautiful large wooden armoire that locks; that is where they now keep their clothing and valuables. They received a donated, used television and miraculously have SKY TV! The television is invaluable to Juan Manuel, as he listens to news shows throughout the day. It seems the 350 pesos-every-two-months that they pay for electricity includes the television signal as well. The sad thing to me is that we didn’t install a conduit for the cable, so Rodolfo had to drill a hole through the previously water-tight concrete wall. Live and learn.

While we installed a water heater in the home, deeming it a necessity given Manuel’s health needs, they have been using cold water only. Rodolfo told me they have only the one propane tank, and it currently supplies the cooking stove; the tank doesn’t have a splitter valve. With the cold temperatures having arrived, it would be so nice to get the water heater working. They have not been using the microwave we bought them back when they still lived in their rental home, because the electrical current in the invasion/squatter colony is not strong enough to power the oven. Manuel’s brother is keeping the microwave until they are ready to have it. 

Over the summer Juan Manuel and Rodolfo had to move out of the little blue house to live with the younger son and his family for six weeks or so. It made for extremely crowded and uncomfortable living conditions for everyone involved. Manuel’s doctor said it was imperative that he not sweat, or the dialysis port would become infected. We had installed a ceiling fan and gifted them a floor fan, plus the windows and doors all open, but our efforts weren’t enough to keep the home cool. There is insufficient electrical current to power an air conditioner. This is a problem that will arise again next summer. Though by then the area may have official metered electrical service, making an A/C and microwave possible.

Each time I visit, both men are warm, smiling and welcoming. They struggle to pay for dialysis, which costs 700 pesos each session plus the 200-peso cab fare to get to the General Hospital and back (1800/week total). They are overjoyed when we bring them despensas/food stuffs. This Christmas they are hoping for some new clothes and a few toys for Rodolfo’s two grandchildren/Juan Manuel’s niece and nephew; Rodolfo told us that his younger son, Manuel’s brother, lost his job four months ago and is now working at one that pays only half what he made previously. Brandon Giovani is nine years old and love to play with toy cars and pistols.

Sofia Beatriz is four and enjoys dolls, jigsaw puzzles and coloring books.

My main purpose with this article is to thank you for your generosity. We truly have a wonderful community here in Mazatlán. Thank you! Should you wish to again help Juan Manuel or Rodolfo in some way (donation towards dialysis, help with propane tank splitter or washing machine, toys for the grandkids or clothes, shoes or food for the two men), please let me know (dianne@vidamaz.com, What’sApp 669-122-8962). I can help you get it to them or pick it up and get it to them for you. 

Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a blessings-filled 2022! Stay healthy and happy.

A Gala to Remember!

If you believe our beloved Angela Peralta Theater should be fully accessible to those with mobility impairments, I have a very special treat for you!

On Saturday night, November 20th, a group of people passionate about accessibility will gather together to raise funds to help install a freestanding glass elevator in the Angela Peralta Theater in order to make the galleries fully accessible. We will enjoy symphonic music and a four or five-course dinner prepared by our beloved Chef Gilberto del Toro of Gaia fame. If the tasting is any indication, you do not want to miss this! Wine will also flow freely.

The evening will begin at 6:30 pm with a “blue carpet” in honor of those who are differently abled. The performance will begin at 7:30 in the theater, followed by dinner and an art auction at 8:30 pm. Vaccination certificates and proper use of a face mask will be required.

Tickets are 3000 pesos per person; Chef Gilberto is donating his time and expertise. Wines and artwork to be auctioned are also donated. Proceeds from the event will go towards purchasing a freestanding glass elevator to be installed near the bar of the theater, to allow access to the upstairs galleries without affecting the structure of the protected building. Artists who wish to donate pieces to support the cause are welcome to contact me, as are those wishing to make a donation towards the elevator.

Plans for the elevator are not yet finalized, but this is the general type we are looking at.

For me this is a dream come true. You may remember a few years ago when I had a photo exhibition on the second floor of the opera house. It was the best-attended art event in the history of Mazatlán, CULTURA told me. However, friends on crutches or in a wheelchair were not able to join me at the inauguration, nor was anyone with mobility issues able to view the six-week exhibition. It was so unfair! An elevator will help us rectify that and make the opera house of which we are all so proud accessible.

Please contact me via WhatsApp to get you your tickets or more information: +52-669-122-8962. To make a donation to the cause send your money to the Bancomer account on the flyer above, with your name so Cultura can thank you, or send a note via PayPal to dianne@vidamaz.com and I’ll make sure it goes to the elevator account. Thanks!

Mazatlán’s Banda Plaza

Ernesto Rios Rocha and Mazatlán’s mayor Benítez Torres

The mayor, El Químico Benítez, has been planning a Plaza de la Banda for Mazatlán, inspired in Guadalajara’s Plaza del Mariachi and Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi. Those plans were put on hold during the COVID pandemic, but activity seems to have resumed in recent weeks.

While nothing is yet firm, locations discussed for the plaza include the empty lot in front of the aquarium, where buses and tourists now park, as well as possibly building an extension of the malecón out into the ocean. 

When I recently saw an incredibly Instagram-friendly projection of a five-meter-tall public artwork intended for the new plaza, El Pedro Infante Besador (Kissing Pedro Infante), I was motivated to interview the artist. He is one of the best muralists in Mexico today, widely exhibited internationally, and a native-born Sinaloense from Mocorito (1968): Ernesto Rios Rocha. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Maestro Rios told me that in 2019 the mayor called to request him to draw up the initial plans for the plaza. He worked on them for four months, and the plans he presented included kinetic sculptures with illumination and music. One of them was the Pedro Infante, and another a sculpture of Don Cruz Lizárraga with a 30 meter tuba!

Ernesto Rios is the artist who spent three years (2008-2011) living in Mazatlán, and with a crew of 28 built the Guinness-record-holding large mural on the outside wall of the convention center. He and his helpers also painted the striking figurative-surrealist murals inside. He has works displayed in the national palace in Mexico City and was commissioned for AMLO’s presidential portrait.

Maestro Ernesto is quite a Renaissance man: he paints, sculpts and composes music. He studied with the Fridos, those well-respected students of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Arturo García Bustos, Rina Lazo and Enrique Estrada. He has campaigned for the past five years or so for the opening of a School of Muralism and Monumental Art in Mexico City. Such an endeavor sounds smart to me; Mexico is so well known for its tradition and artists in that vein.

During my interview Rios Rocha made two main points that he’d love for me to share with our readers:

  1. Murals need maintenance every five to seven years. Properly cleaning them will double their lifespan. He urges everyone in Mazatlán and Sinaloa to campaign to have Mazatlán’s convention center mural properly cleaned and restored.
  2. There is a beautiful Byzantine-style mural by the artist Rolando Arjona Amabilis (the same artist who made Mazatlán’s escudo in Olas Altas) in Culiacan’s Parque Constitución, on Obregón Street, that is badly in need of restoration. This is a valuable piece of art and heritage that he strongly urges us to preserve.