In the Mexico City resort, squatters take a stand against developers | International

MARK STEVENSON Associated Press

TULUM, Mexico — Unchecked development has hit this once laid-back beach town on Mexico’s Caribbean coast so hard that developers are now eager — even desperate — to build condominiums and hotels in a slum.

As police try to evict squatters so towering condos can be built next to wooden and tar paper shacks, locals are fighting back, saying they’re tired of foreign investors excluding local people from their homes. own coast.

In a clash on July 27, officers accompanying a backhoe fired tear gas and attempted to overturn the homes of some squatters in the shade of a new balcony condominium building. The attempt ended when the wind blew the gas back onto the officers, who retreated under a hail of rocks.

The contrast between rich and poor is stark: Shiny white four-story condos with vaguely Mayan-sounding names and English slogans like “Live in the Luscious Jungle” and “An immersive spiritual experience” stand next to shacks made of poles, packing crates, tarpaulins and sheet metal roofing.

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On a coast where uncontrolled resort development has already closed off most public beach access – there are only a few public access points on the 80-mile stretch known as the Riviera Maya – residents of squatter camp may have reason to wonder if poorer Mexicans will be allowed here at all.

Quintana Roo state officials have pledged to relocate or evict approximately 12,000 residents of the 340-acre October 2 Settlement. It was founded in 2016 on very valuable, formerly public land a few blocks from the town’s main street and about 1½ miles from the shore.

Such land invasions are common throughout Mexico. Many are quickly eradicated. But others are gradually integrating into their cities. Up to 250,000 people are thought to live in squatter communities on the outskirts of Cancun.

Officials say the “invaders” have created a semi-lawless enclave that has worsened Tulum’s reputation for growing violence and threatened the vital tourism industry.

Squatter leader Jose Antonio León Méndez, a welder who has lived in Cancun and Tulum for about three decades, says he — like many squatters who work as cooks, gardeners and builders in surrounding condos and hotels — was tired of knowing that he would never be able to afford a home in cities that were increasingly filled with foreigners.

“How can a Mexican be an ‘invader’ in his own country? That does not make any sense. It’s like saying someone steals something that belongs to them,” said León Méndez. “These people are not thieves; they are the workforce of Tulum.

“We have no personal problems with foreigners, but they must respect our rights,” he said, adding that October 2 represents a final battle for Mexicans being deported from their own coast.

The settlement is part of a larger 500-acre stretch of public land that was sold by city officials to largely foreign developers in the 2000s.

Condos on the edge of the camp – and some well inside – now sell for between $100,000 and $150,000 and are advertised in US dollars – as are entrance fees at many resorts. Around Tulum, $20 a day is considered a good wage. So it would take decades of wages for the average Mexican worker to buy one.

Quintana Roo’s attorney general, Oscar Montes de Oca, vows to evict the squatters. “We even have the eviction orders from the court,” Montes de Oca said. “It’s just that every time we tried, they all immediately got together and blocked the roads.”

Many of these roadblocks remain: mounds of stones, tires and scrap wood piled up in the streets, ready to be set on fire.

Mateo Cruz, who rents a room for himself and his two children in the settlement, points to the angry bruise on his thigh where he says he was hit by a police tear gas canister.

“They came and said we had to go out and take our things with us,” Cruz said of the July 27 eviction attempt. The land where he lives is directly under a new four-story condominium building.

“What were they thinking, throwing tear gas among so many people? said Cruz.

Montes de Oca says officials plan to relocate the squatters: “We are going to offer them land away from this area, provided by the state government. … Businessmen will bring money to build houses.

“It will push 70% of these people to leave voluntarily, with the certainty of having decent housing,” said Montes de Oca. Asked what would be done with the remaining 30%, he replied: “Other means will be applied”.

León Méndez rejects such an offer.

“We are not going to allow them to continue selling the land to foreigners while they send us locals, who have lived in Quintana Roo for 15, 20 or 30 years, living 20 kilometers (12 miles) away in the woods. “, did he declare. said. “It’s not negotiable.”

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