The Tail that Wags the Dog

E Cuatro Cieegas la diosa del agua guarda su secreto e la tierra – H.A
(In Cuatro Cienegas theWater Godess keeps her secret in the Earth.)

Whilst a number of civil servants are proclaiming the achievements of their administration – as if that was all we needed – with funds from the agencies under their authority, or are making use of the media outlets at their disposal; and public skepticism of that same administration increases proportionally, one ministry in particular, the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) provokes criticism for its inefficiency.

During the six year term of Vicente Fox environmental problems have intensified; such as the pollution of soils, rivers and oceans caused by PEMEX1, the destruction of reefs and mangrove swamps, the logging of woods and forests, the loss of animal and vegetable species and the increasing shortage and low quality of water. Plastic bags and bottles litter the beaches and countryside, and at the same time, the “sanitary landfills” are overflowing with garbage.

This term has been characterized by an attitude of contempt for environmental policy. After six years, three million six hundred thousand hectares of woodland are gone so that Mexico can boast of holding fifth place in the world for deforestation. In many areas illegal logging continues, as in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere. During 2005 – 2006 season 576 hectares were lost in the core zone of the Reserve, where, supposedly, it is forbidden to cut one tree, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The most logging occurred in the Cresencio Morales ejido in Michoacan. Loss of forest cover increased by 140% – in relation to the two previous years – and to continue like this will place the survival of the migratory phenomenon at risk. Two weeks ago, four members of the forest police and a PROFEPA2 inspector were ambushed by armed loggers in a forest near the El Rosario ejido. It is time to listen to the ejido members and owners of the woods who are demanding that a permanent military presence be established, at least in the core zone, and that checkpoints be placed at strategic points. It is necessary for loggers and buyers of illegal lumber (throughout the country) to be punished by imprisonment, and for protection of the Reserve to be strengthened with more personnel and money. Action taken by Felipe Calderon will determine, not only whether the Monarch butterfly’s presence will continue in Mexico, but whether it will survive as a species.

SEMARNAT has not understood the relationship between trees and water. Allowing the forests to disappear is accelerating the water crisis in Mexico, which is becoming more acute due to global warming. An unavoidable priority for the next government should be a clearly defined water policy, starting with a strict defense of the country’s forests and bodies of water; oceans, rivers, lakes, lagoons. Calderon spoke about a 100% increase in waste water treatment. Water in a question of national security.

The fisheries are stretched to their limit, with many populations in decline.

Throughout the six year term we have been working for a regulation for the fishing of sharks and manta rays, both protect several species at risk such as the shark, sierra mackerel and giant manta ray, and to rescue from extinction other species that die in the nets and are impacted by the shark fishery. These include: marine turtles, whales, dolphins and seals. As Juan Carlos Cantu, who has worked with the regulation points out, “one of the greatest dangers faced by species like the striped turtle, which is in serious danger of becoming extinct, is the by-catch” The environmental community is calling for the publication of the regulation 029 to regulate shark fishing in the Gulf of California and the Mexican Pacific coast. This will also prohibit “finning”, an atrocious practice that consists of cutting the sharks’ fins, leaving them to a slow death in the sea.

The valley of Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila, an oasis in the desert in whose wells the stromatolites3 hold the keys for understanding the origin of life on this planet, find themselves under siege because of a few people’s greed. According to the biologist Valeria Souza, their main researcher, CONAGUA (the National Water Commission), is “the architect of the ecocide”, granting permits to extract water to irrigate thousands of hectares of alfalfa that feed the cows of two milk corporations.. Under what legal right does CONAGUA sell Cuatro Cienegas to the highest bidder?

Mexico has complied little with the international treaties she has signed, most notably the Convention of Ramsar that deals with wetlands. Under pressure from the tourist industry, modification of Regulation NOM-022, which would require 95% of the mangroves to be protected where tourist or real estate projects are planned, has been stopped. By evading its responsibilities SEMARNAT has been a servile accomplice of the piratical projects of the ill-fated FONATUR4, such as the re-baptized “Nautical Ladder”, the Costa Cancun and Puerto Cancun projects which favor the unbridled destruction of mangroves and wetlands in the Gulf of California and the coasts of the Caribbean. Mexican environmental organizations stress the importance of mangrove woods as protection against hurricanes and coastal erosion, as water purifiers and as shelters for a vast bio-diversity which includes almost 80% of fish and crustaceans at some moment in their lives.

In a last minute assault, SEMARNAT is endorsing an offensive by SAGARPA5 to legalize the planting of genetically modified corn in Mexico. According to Greenpeace, which has closely monitored the problem of genetically modified organisms, they are seeking permission for transnational corporations to plant in a number of northern states before the end of Vicente Fox’s presidency, disregarding the research of National Ministry of Ecology that shows that domesticated native corn is found throughout the country. Greenpeace warns that: “the authorities would open the doors to the genetic pollution of native corn, allowing the privatization of the germ plasma of Mexican corns”.

Let us hope that the SEMARNAT of the government of Felipe Calderon will not allow itself to be the tail that wags the dogs of a pillaging development; let us hope that it will be led by someone with experience in environmental affairs, and that it has the ability, the authority and the strength to apply the law to other ministries whose actions and activities affect the environment. Likewise, let us hope that the new Minister has enough character to resist political and corporate pressures that harm the environment, and keep those projects within the law.

In short, it should be understood that the concept of “sustainable development” is not an excuse to annihilate biodiversity and assault the natural heritage of Mexicans.

1. PEMEX is the Mexican national oil company dating from the expropriation of foreign firms by PresideLazaro Cardenas in 1938. It is a monopoly.
2. PROFEPA is the Federal Attorney General’s police force for SEMARNAT, the Ministry for the Environment.
3. STROMATOLITES. Fossilizes structures, found almost nowhere else on Earth, that house bacteria so ancient that NASA has studied them with a view to discovering life on other planets.
4. FONATUR.National Tourism Foundation.
5.SAGARPA. Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.