Night of the Golden Iguana
Land Conflicts Riddle Mexican Tourism Development
Certain events transform the world. The coming of the railroad to the rural
As a young man, Ramon Lopez Villasenor recalls helping work crews unload equipment on the beach for the shooting of the
A 1937 decree by the administration of Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas had granted Mismaloya's residents about 3,000 acres and created the ejido of Boca de Tomatlan and Mismaloya, a collectively-owned unit of land. Later, in 1991, the ejido was expanded by nearly 2,400 acres.
The filming of "Night of the Iguana" brought a "bonanza" of jobs and income to the small agricultural and fishing community, acknowledges resident Salvador Garcia Lopez. But the movie also opened a Pandora's Box. Outsiders, enchanted by the tropical, jungle-canopied scenery of Mismaloya, soon wanted a piece of paradise.
"Thanks to this movie,
Mismaloya's biggest problem has been with Mexican businessman Fernando Beltran y Puga, who claims ownership of parts of Mismaloya. In 1983, ejido members say, Beltran y Puga was behind an early morning raid that resulted in the burning and destruction of more than 20 homes and the displacement of many families. Now 77 years of age, Idelfonso Camarena Gonzalez says he lost his home and belongings in the attack, adding that his daughter attempted to take pictures of the eviction but was threatened by men with guns.
In the latest chapter of the long-running dispute, Beltran y Puga has the law on his side-at least so far. An estimated 480 people residing on 26 acres of land face pending eviction because of a legal judgment favoring Beltran y Puga. Handed down by a Mexican judge last November, an order cleared the way for the residents' removal.
Mismaloya's inhabitants, who earn a living farming, serving tourists, and protecting the rock islands of
"There was no Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve for this town," says Javier Garcia Lopez, a young man with an intense gaze. "We were out guarding." As 2009 kicked off, Mismaloya's residents took their demands to the very heart of the regional tourist industry, marching hundreds strong through downtown
Calling for a peaceful resolution to the land battle, Mismaloya's resisters demand the intervention of the municipal government to stave off an eviction, as well as the upholding of the 1937 and 1991 ejido decrees.
In the bigger picture, the conflict brewing over Mismaloya is nothing new in the annals of Mexican tourism development. Historically, local residents have clashed with the Mexican government and private developers over land ownership rights and compensation for expropriated lands in many resorts including Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo,
In the canyon country of Northern Mexico, leaders of the indigenous Raramuri community of Bacajipare recently filed a legal complaint with the Chihuahua state attorney general's office charging that they were being physically threatened because of a conflict over lands situated in a zone slated for the construction of the Divisadero-Barrancas Adventure Park. A large hotel, a heliport, and a tramway are planned as part of a project promoted by the Mexican Federal and
Another emerging hotspot is in the Riviera Nayarit just north of
Perhaps over-optimistically, SECTUR predicts tourist industry investment nationwide will grow this year by 2.5%, a rate of growth which is far higher than
In resort destinations, land conflicts frequently break out over the gold that might gush from development, but in another battle near
An attempt by
The persistence of land conflicts near
Meanwhile, word of the Mismaloya struggle is gradually filtering out to the national and international community. Opposition leader and 2006 Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez recently visited Mismaloya and pledged to get his team involved in the ejiditario's cause. Spread by Internet, news of the conflict is reportedly reaching the large foreign tourist population that visits the
Rejecting notions that they are squatters, Javier Lopez and other ejido members say they have homes, families, and businesses firmly rooted on the land and on the beach. They wonder what the people will do if they are forced to abandon a home that has supported generations of inhabitants. "If foreigners come to invest, let them do it in an appropriate way," says Lopez. "They should not come to mess up the life of a community. They should buy places to put their hotels or beautiful homes that don't have problems, where there are not people living there."
Kent Paterson is a freelance journalist who covers the southwestern