November 2012. I’m at a community meeting in Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico. It’s a gathering that includes members of the community of Cabo Pulmo, scientists, economists, planners, representatives from national and international NGOs, residents from surrounding communities, and development experts. The subject: the future of Cabo Pulmo and the East Cape. The problem: mass tourism development is slowly encroaching on the region. While the East Cape remains relatively undeveloped at present, this won’t last for long. Development is coming.
Only a few months before, Cabo Pulmo and its allies celebrated when “Cabo Cortes,” a massive tourism development project that was proposed for the region, was cancelled by former president Felipe Calderon (on national TV no less). Calderon cited environmental concerns as one of the primary reasons why he 86-ed the project (and left the presidency with a nice “green” feather in his cap to boot). The project plans for Cabo Cortes included approximately 30,000 rooms, a marina, residential units, multiple hotels, a separate community for workers, and multiple golf courses. It was, effectively, a plan to build a new tourism city in a region where the largest population is approximately 5,000 people. Cabo Cortes was the epitome of the kind of development that has dominated in Mexico for decades: big, fast, and profitable, with a long tail of problems that nobody wants to deal with over the long haul. Places like Cancun and Los Cabos exemplify this type of rapid, mass-tourism development that looks wonderful from the national level and often disastrous at the local community level (see, for example, M. Bianet Castellanos’s book Return to Servitude). Continue reading