It's all over for Costco and company in Cuernavaca.
A group of some 300 people blocked the road to the historic downtown Casino
de la Selva building on Aug. 21 to keep out chainsaw crews sent to cut down
the trees and make way for the construction of the discount superstore and associated
Then, police threw 32 of them in jail.
Within 24 hours, 3,000 people were out in the street marching for the prisoners'
freedom, labeling the detentions "repression."
As I write, thousands more are mobilizing to prevent the prisoners from being
moved to Morelos state's maximum security prison. And the Civic Front in Defense
of the Former Casino de la Selva has scheduled an all-day cultural event in Cuernavaca's
central plaza Aug. 24 to show support of their martyrs.
Thus, the U.S.-based Costco Wholesale Corp., and Mega Comercial Mexicana stores,
together with the Morelos state and Cuernavaca city officials, have sealed the
fate of the proposed development in the state capital.
Their pet project, opposed by local residents for more than a year, is now
a lost cause.
The unrest followed the announcement that the city had granted Costco its 50,000
dollar license to convert the natural, historic and cultural heritage site into
a shopping center and chop down hundreds of 50-year-old trees.
The environmentalists, who held a peaceful sit-in to stop the tree cutting,
were exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and non-violent
They were beaten and accused of no less than rioting, sedition, sabotage and
resisting arrest. Their constitutional guarantees were breached. Bail was set
at ridiculous sums ranging from 2,000 dollars to 50,000 dollars.
To the environmental damage already caused by tree cutting and destruction
of murals in the historic building, officials have now added abuse of authority
and human rights violations to their list of wrongdoings.
This lawless behavior and flagrant disrespect of the Constitution, has been
accompanied by the usual badmouthing by politicians of foreigners who supposedly
incited the civic movement and, of course, by local sellout media proclamations
defining the protesters as communists and professional agitators.
If you didn't know Mexico you wouldn't believe it.
Even so, it's hard to imagine what the authorities were thinking when they
opted for their hard-line, anti-democratic tactics.
Didn't Morelos Gov. Sergio Estrada Cajigal Ramírez and Cuernavaca Mayor
José Raul Hernández remember that their immediate past governor
was impeached for high-handedness in confronting the politically active constituency
of revolutionary Emiliano Zapata's home state?
Hadn't these guys just seen the results of ignoring organized civil society's
demands when the movement to bar the new Mexico City international airport's construction
recently nixed the federal government's expropriation of lands for the project?
At the very least, the elected officials should have recognized they were not
only operating in the new, globalized era, but they were also facing the demands
of a citizen's mobilization composed largely of college-educated, world-traveled
intellectuals with highly sophisticated tools, ties -- and what's more -- experience
The official violence only fanned the flames of discontent -- and did it well.
The effort to return the casino property to the public domain and retain it
as green space, after the city sold it to developers at one-sixth of market value,
had long since garnered support from organizations all around Mexico, in the United
States, Canada, Eastern Europe, Spain and Brazil.
This past week dozens more well respected environmentalists from across the
country, and even a group in Ecuador, added their demands to those of the Civic
Front in Defense of the Former Casino de la Selva.
Together, they are calling for the intervention of Mexican President Vicente
Fox, Interior Secretary Santiago Creel, and Environment and Natural Resources
Secretary Victor Lichtinger.
They are demanding the project be cancelled and replaced with one to protect
the cultural attributes and greenery that are essential to Cuernavaca's worldwide
fame as the city of eternal spring, a retirement haven and a foreign-language
Not only that but they have initiated a boycott against Costco and Comercial
Mexicana, equating them with repression, violence and environmental destruction.
Sooner or later the movement will get its way.
Let this be a lesson to all the rest of the shopping center promoters and colluding
officials in Mexico and throughout Latin America to choose their sites carefully
and play by the rules or face the same kind of failure as Costco and Cuernavaca.
Talli Nauman is a founder and co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental
Awareness, a project initiated with support from the John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation in 1994. Her experience includes more than 25 years of photojournalism
in the Americas, a master's degree in International Journalism and a bachelor's
degree in Visual and Environmental Studies. She can be reached at email@example.com
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