“El Sexenio Perdido” (“The Wasted Six Year Term”)

Although this July 2 Vicente Fox, amidst clusters of bodyguards and members of the Presidential Guard spread out along the length and breadth of the Paseo de la Reforma and adjoining streets to protect him from an absent populace, celebrated the triumph of “democracy” and the government of “change”, his environmental policy, like so much else, could well be described as “a waste of time”. In the short period of time remaining for him to fulfill his mandate it seems that he has converted the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) into a PAN platform for electoral purposes.

Two weeks before resigning from SEMARNAT to enter the fray for the PAN party’s nomination in the 2006 presidential elections, Alberto Cardenas insisted that the contenders be judged according to their accomplishments in the federal government, because according to the now pre-candidate, the performance of politicians is predetermined: “If they are thieves, thieves they will be. That doesn’t change, it’s genetic”.

When Cardenas left SEMARNAT he was replaced by Jose Luis Luege Tamargo, up to that moment the head of PROFEPA (SEMARNAT’S police force). The “government of change” had no qualms about appointing the ex-governor of Queretero, Ignacio Loyola Vera, as his successor. He is being investigated for two cases of administrative irregularities in public works during his time as governor. The accusations range from anomalies in the construction of the Queretero Intercontinental Airport and the Manuel Gomez Morin Cultural Center to the 420,000 pesos spent on the purchase of clocks. After an appearance before the local Tax Office, – which ended in insults and aggressive behavior between the ex-governor’s people and a legislature member from the Convergencia Party – that was investigating more than 70 irregularities in the last three months of his government and revealed an overdraft of 350 million pesos, Loyola Vera complained that he was a victim of “friendly fire” from his own party.

Because of its multiple structural deficiencies, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center of Queretero (CRIQ), considered by Loyola Vera to be the major achievement of his administration, had to be demolished and the scrap sold for one peso and seventy centavos per kilo. This brought in 800,000 pesos, out of the 53,000,000 spent in the construction, sufficient to buy a garbage recycling machine. The person who inaugurated the building in March of 2003, Marta Sahagun de Fox, was not present at the auction. Her foundation, Vamos Mexico, had provided 1,000,000 pesos to buy medical equipment. Although the present state administration exonerated the ex-governor of responsibility on grounds that he was not the executive director of the project, one asks oneself, is not the captain of the ship responsible for the actions of his crew? Or, how about the example of Vicente Fox, who has allowed members of his cabinet to act as they please, and has served as an alibi for other PANista public servants? So what can we expect from this official with no knowledge whatsoever of the environmental problems if, following the criteria of the previous minister, he is condemned to repeat his behavior? And what can we do, prosecute the prosecutor? Doubtless, there is a moral duplicity on the part of Vicente Fox or Marta Sahagun, his alter ego in a skirt.

From the time of his entry into the Ministry, Alberto Cardenas sought to “PANisize” both SEMARNAT and PROFEPA, placing PAN delegates like political peons in different states, thereby providing evidence of how he perverted the ministry to serve his political ends. The appointment of Loyola Vera is no doubt another move in the three party (PAN, PRI &PRD) chess game that began on July 3, 2000 and whose prize will be the presidential chair in 2006. As was well put by Alejandro Calvillo, Director of Greenpeace Mexico, SEMARNAT is a “political trampoline”. Meanwhile we need President Fox to define his environmental policy, since little time is left and this is the last call. Should he not do so, his administration will disappear in the night as far as solving the countries’ great environmental problems is concerned. However, I fear the environmental agenda has been given up for dead, since in these moments of political and moral confusion that Mexico is undergoing, everything can be sacrificed for the sake of getting votes.

But, returning to the Cardenas pronouncement about the work record of political candidates, we should be reminded that barely one month before he resigned, a coalition of thirty Mexican organizations dedicated to defend the environment denounced his administration for “lack of prosecution, retreat, deterioration and dismantling in and of environmental regulations and policies”.

Among so many pending environmental and cultural situations whose favorable resolution would help improve the deteriorated image of the current misgovernment, is that of the ex convent of Santa Cataline de Siena, situated in the currently besieged Centro Historico of Oaxaca. In spite of the fact that this building from the XVI century is a national treasure, just like the Palacio Nacional, Teotihuacan, the Chapultepec Forest, etc., President Miguel de la Madrid (1982 – 1988) had revoked a trust created under President Luis Echevarria (1968 – 1976) to restore the convent for use as a hotel in the national chain, and he, de la Madrid, decreed that the properties of the trust be transferred to the National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (FONATUR). Then, by a fraudulent agreement the property became FONATUR’s own. Now the contract granted twelve years ago to administer the Camino Real Hotel is about to expire and the Council for the Defense of the Cultural and Natural Heritage of Oaxaca (PRO-OAX), whose president is the artist Francisco Toledo, a great defender of the natural and cultural heritage of his state and his country, is asking that “the property be restored as a national treasure and that FONATUR’s title deed be annulled. If the Federal Government wishes to continue using it as a hotel, it should be done through a concession which is how the law stipulates that the property of the nation be popularly enjoyed”.

Something similar is occurring on the coast of Oaxaca, where SEMARNAT authorized a tourist development promoted by FONATUR in the Parque Nacional Huatulco, an ecological reserve and a protected zone. The 63 hectares of Punta Maguey will be handed over to the Operator of Entertainment and Special Events in order to build a 39 room hotel, with a restaurant and a theme park, supposedly educational. The FONATUR authority in Huatulco insists that FONATUR can sell this land because it owns it and, as an owner, can decide whether to sell it or not, and to whomever and for whatever purpose. However some investigators have determined that the project would impact negatively on the ecosystems and the flora and fauna of the zone. These include wetlands, coral reefs, marine turtle populations of Olive Ridley, Hawkesbill and Leatherback turtles, and the purple snail. Leonardo and Agar da Jandra, the writer and the artist who have lived in Cacaluta, Oaxaca for twenty-five years, have lead the battle for the Parque nacional Huatulco to be transferred from FONATUR to the National Commission of Green Protected Areas. Why does Fox permit John McCarthy, director of FONATUR, to dispose of properties that belong to all Mexicans as if they were his own. And why is SEMARNAT always so quick to give their permission to national and international businessmen to make hay with tourist developments? Are these more of the “achievements” of the “sexenio perdido” (wasted six year presidential term)?