Holbox fire: Conflicts over development vs. conservation may be the cause
HOLBOX, Q. Roo — Three weeks after the fire in Holbox the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) still does not know who caused it; what is a fact is that the incident has generated a new conflict between the island residents who oppose the tourism development of the area and those who favor the growth of the island.
In addition, the fire has generated a war of accusations between the antagonistic groups in the area on who might be behind the incident: On the one hand environmental groups accuse Peninsula Maya Developments (PMD) of having caused the accident, and on the other the company representatives deny it and blame their opponents.
Damage to the 87 hectares has also caused uncertainty about the role of the authorities in the care of the island, located in the Natural Protected Area (ANP) of Yum Balam, after the fire spread for three days without efforts to stop it.
To this the claim is added that the area of Yum Balam continues without a plan for integrated management of environmental resources 22 years after its creation, after being decreed as ANP on June 6, 1994. This opens the door to many activities and tourism projects in the island without a clear order.
The only certainty so far is that after the incident, Profepa forbid the construction of hotels in the disaster area, and the agency continues with investigations to try to locate those responsible for the fire that began on September 19.
Juan Rico, better known in Holbox as “Karateka,” laments not only the fire three weeks ago, but the new conflicts that have arisen on the island, especially among environmental groups that have arisen as a result of the presence of Peninsula Maya Developments (PMD). He said that two years ago a conflict arose with a group of 70 ejidatarios (landowners) in the process of selling their land to the company.
For Rico the problem is that the damaged land closed by Profepa is part of common use lands belonging to 39 landowners, who were affected because for 20 more yeaers they may not change the land use of the 87 destroyed hectares.
This situation has generated rancor because now there are ejidatarios and environmentalists who want the federal government to close down the whole area of La Ensenada, including land belonging to private initiative.
Rico came to Holbox 18 years ago to work as a tour guide. To find him it is only necessary to ask for him by his nickname of “The Karateka” in any establishment.
Rico is pessimistic about what’s next for Holbox. He remembers the first conflict arose because the 70 ejidatarios sold their land to PMD and received five million pesos each for 8-16 hectares. Groups then emerged for and against the development and care for the environment.
Two years later he sees a similar scenario: There is a dispute between those who want the whole island to become a prohibited economic development area and those who do not see a problem in it, while it is carried out in orderly manner and with minimal environmental impact.
Rico’s position is more of a mediator: to give an orderly development, with respect for nature, more focused on eco-tourism, for people in the area to work.