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Airport Extractivist Model Tourism: Peoples’ Voices!
Governments and corporations promote airports as a sign of progress and with promises of ‘development’. In reality, the construction of airports and associated infrastructure drives people off their land, destroys livelihoods, plunders water and fertile soil and devastates ecosystems. Often airports are part of an extractivist economic model and open the door to more mega-projects like the development of tourism, leaving a trace of destruction behind while exploiting the land and its peoples.
A panel co-organized by Stay Grounded at the Climate Justice Week for Latin America and the Caribbean – Peoples’ Voices – shed light on grave examples of this ‘development’ model in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. In her intervention Gabriela Vega Téllez, Indigenous Mexican activist (Stay Grounded / CPOOEM – Coordination of original inhabitants and NGOs from Eastern State of Mexico in defense of land, water and culture) touched the following questions: How do experiences in Mexico connect to the situation in the Dominican republic and what are underlying systemic issues? What are necessary changes in tourism? The visions for a different tourism she presented were developed in an international working group in the Stay Grounded network with comrades from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nepal, Spain and Portugal, among others.
Contribution by Gabriela Vega Téllez (Mexico) – Stay Grounded / CPOOEM
My name is Gabriela Vega Téllez, I am originally from Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico in the center of the country and a member of the Coordinadora de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Oriente del Estado de México en Defensa de la Tierra, el Agua y su Cultura, a non-political parties and anti-capitalist organizational effort, member of the National Indigenous Congress and also – since its founding – of the international network Stay Grounded – “Permanecer en la Tierra”, a link that began with our comrade Heriberto Salas Amac, whose memory, example of struggle and legacy continue to guide our steps and whom we remember two years after his death.
From the Basin of the Valley of Mexico I greet the participants and followers of the Citizens’ Assembly for Climate Justice in Latin America and the Caribbean and its different activities, such as this panel entitled “The Extractivist Model of Airports and Tourism”, which are carried out and transmitted from the Faculty of Legal Sciences of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
I express my recognition and deep gratitude to comrade Dario Solano and to the climate, environmental and social organizations of the Dominican Republic that have made possible this event with the participation of brotherly countries of our continent. Also, I make clear our solidarity to the dignified struggle of the comrades who defend in the province of Pedernales (Domincan Republic), given the government plans subordinated to Capital for the construction of a new international airport and the seaport of Cabo Rojo for the reception of mass tourism in cruise ships, infrastructure works of service such as hotels, highways, real estate projects, etc., which by our own experience in the Anahuac today called Mexico we know that will be to the detriment of Mother Nature and its ancestral guardians the original peoples and indigenous communities.
This is how capitalism works, it exploits the poor to favor the rich, it seeks the commodification of nature and uses governments as facilitators of megaprojects, who to impose them, in turn make use of “laws at their convenience”, declarations or decrees, supplant of traditional authorities, agrarian frauds, the infiltration via paramilitary shock groups, the armed forces and leaders of social movements who corrupt themselves to aspire to benefits or government positions for themselves or their families; hence our campaign to make clear that we do not have representatives and that each people, community, neighborhood, ejido, or paraje, has its own voice.
When I heard about the impressive beauty of Pedernales, in the Dominican Republic, its innumerable natural resources, spectacular white sand beaches, its good people and culture, it came to my mind when 50 years ago the first hotel was inaugurated in Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo, in the south, in the Mexican Caribbean, with which Mexico entered the international tourist market and some fifteen years later achieved an important influx of tourists, which caused an accelerated population growth and over-urbanization, requiring more and more land to the detriment of the jungle, mangroves and cenotes, the exploitation of construction materials, causing a drastic destruction of vegetation, pollution, insecurity and violence, also exacerbating the bipolarity between the rural and indigenous Mayan Quintana Roo of millenary antiquity, to which access to beaches and sacred places was forbidden, and the tourist-urban environment of a few decades ago. Added to all this is the imposition of mega-projects such as the so-called Mayan Train, which two days ago was declared a matter of “national security” in order to absurdly resume work on section 5 and not respect the definitive suspension legally won by communities and NGOs through legal protection procedures (amparos); and the New International Airport of Tulum and its adjacent military city, since in Mexico the administration, security and economic benefit of airports, seaports and railroads is in the hands of the army and the navy through parastatal companies created by the president of the republic himself for this purpose.
On the other hand, in the north of the country and in the face of the indifference of the Mexican State, the Rarámuri indigenous people in the area known as Barrancas del Cobre in the Sierra Tarahumara highlands in the state of Chihuahua – of enormous natural, cultural and historical wealth – continue to face insecurity, violence, the dispossession of their lands, the murder of indigenous environmental defenders, the forced displacement of families and the imposition of a new airport in the indigenous community of Creel, municipality of Bocoyna, which remains impoverished and lacks basic services despite having been declared a “Magical Town” to supposedly improve the living conditions of its inhabitants through tourism.
And in the center, in the territory of the Basin of the Valley of Mexico where the Archaeological Zone of Teotihuacan is located, which is one of the most visited tourist sites in the world; the towns, communities and ejidos such as Santa María Cuevas-Zumpango, San Pablo Tecalco, Tecámac, those in the Texcocan region and even Xochimilco, among many others, are being deprived of clean and potable water through the drilling of corridors of dozens of deep wells to supply the millions of liters of water needed for the construction, operation and maintenance of airports such as the New Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA), the Santa Lucía Military Base #1, its adjoining military city and associated works; offering in exchange for agricultural use, the sale to the peoples of treated water from the artificial aquifer of the Mezquital Valley, which has been for decades the recipient of sewage from Mexico City. Let us also keep in mind that airports need to be supplied with fuel through the introduction of gas pipelines and that these and their associated works generate enormous quantities of garbage, which is why the Eastern Zone of the State of Mexico and surrounding areas have been seeing diverse struggles against incinerators, gigantic garbage dumps, open air dumps that do not comply with sanitary norms, as in the case of the defense in Atitalaquia-Hidalgo, that a month ago cost the life of fellow environmentalist Jesús Bañuelos when they were attacked by an armed group at the sit-in they maintained to prevent the access by trucks and the emptying of waste in the sinkhole.
Despite the cancellation of the project to build a new airport in the area of Lake Texcoco, its complementary works continue continue, as well as the interest in the real estate business of those who, like Grupo Atlacomulco, Grupo Hidalgo and Grupo de Acción Política (GAP), acquired land using their positions in the government and privileged information, by deceiving or threatening to expropriate ejidatarios through the National Water Commission (CONAGUA); or through the illegal granting of land in exchange for political-electoral favors, as in the case of the PRI paramilitary shock group Antorcha Campesina. In our opinion, there are no incorruptible institutions in Mexico. We are also facing a governmental Declaration of Natural Protected Area of this year 2022 for 14,800 hectares, over the Decree already existing since 1971 of Federal Zone for its protection and its non-urbanization for 10,000 hectares, so we are then facing a disguised dispossession of Natural Protected Area (NPA) for 4,800 hectares, which also comes along with an urban and tourist park wrongly called ecological (PELT). Likewise, due to the recent redesign of routes, 3 international airports and 1 national airport (Benito Juarez-CDMX, AIFA, Toluca and Atizapan-EDOMEX) operate simultaneously in the airspace of the Valley of Mexico, with the air and noise pollution and the risks of airplane collisions and the health of the inhabitants that this entails and that contributes negatively to climate change.
And the fact is that airports never come alone, they are detonators of wild urbanization and we know that in order to have managed to attract the investments they boast, governments must first have granted permissions, signed agreements and treaties that favor the economic benefit of investors and their ability to maneuver and minimize their risks based on lax laws. When we hear the Dominican authorities talk about the public-private investment modality and the creation of the Fideicomiso for Pedernales for the sake of transparency, the news of the detection this same week of the millionaire fraud in the Fideicomiso of the tourist zone of Nuevo Nayarit-Mexico for about one million dollars comes to our mind, which is approximately the initial amount of investment foreseen by the Dominican government for Pedernales and we take into account the enormous risk that these governmental plans do not mention the climate, energy, economic-inflationary and food shortage crises, in addition to a new wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is necessary to get back on track and respect people’s right to decide about their lives and to continue fighting for Another Possible World, a World where many Worlds fit.
Position of Stay Grounded “Permancer en la Tierra” Tourism and Aviation Working Group
And now, with the assignment that is rotating but that was entrusted to me for this occasion by the Working Group “Tourism and Aviation” of the international network Stay Grounded “Permanecer en la Tierra”, in which we participate with Dominican activist comrade Dario Solano, me who speaks to you from Mexico and comrades from Nepal, Spain and Portugal, among others, I transmit the following positioning, resulting from our collective effort:
In the framework of our participation in the Citizens’ Assembly for Climate Justice in Latin America and the Caribbean Voices from the Peoples!
which in opposition and in parallel to the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW) prior to COP-27, is taking place from July 18-22 of this year 2022 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, we maintain that while we are not anti-tourism nor seek the destruction of tourism, we are aware of the role of the tourism industry in the accumulation and expansion of the capitalist system to the detriment of local communities, ecosystems and the climate; its linkage and dependence on non-essential induced activities such as aviation and the negative consequences of mass tourism on the environment.
From the airport extractivist model derive false ecological or “green” solutions endorsed by the United Nations (UN) itself, such as the use of agrofuels that lead to the loss of biodiversity, the dispossession of land and water from original peoples, the forced displacement of indigenous communities and the destruction of huge tracts of rainforest in African territories, America and Asia for the cultivation and production of inputs such as soybean oil, fats from the slaughter of animals for export meat, pongamia oil and palm oil, production that threatens native ecosystems that are the habitat of numerous species of birds and animals, condemning them to extinction; or the purchase of carbon credits by large-scale polluters in the business sector, who believe they can “compensate” with money the large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by their businesses that pollute the planet’s atmosphere and the air that all living beings breathe, to supposedly plant trees or support sustainable projects, which in most cases ends up as a mere simulation.
The initiatives, organizations and activists that make up the Stay Grounded international network work in coordination around the world to promote a fair and environmentally friendly transportation system, to promote alternatives to airplanes, a rapid reduction of air travel, against the expansion of aviation and airport projects and to be aware of what the decision to fly implies. We also understand tourism as a natural consequence of genuine interest between peoples and identify with those who defend ideas such as “prosperity without growth” focused on reducing the number of tourists, travel distances and their frequency, their consumption of natural resources, their contribution to inequality and social segregation; the idea of “slow tourism”, understood as the enjoyment of traveling without schedules, in a more relaxed way, away from speed, frenetic life and agendas full of chores; and the idea of “restorative tourism”.
It is necessary to rethink tourism not as an economic activity but as a human activity, spontaneous, respectful of Nature, of territories and of the rights, culture and identity of the world’s native peoples. It should be a priority to organize and practice tourism in a different way and at different scales, without tourist infrastructures or dependence on air transport, which is possible and was demonstrated in the recent pandemic.
For decades, the tourism model that transnational companies and governments continue to sell to the communities as a development alternative has not fulfilled its promises of improving the quality of life of the populations or guaranteeing them access to education, health and quality nutrition. On the contrary, the Covid-19 crisis exposed the vulnerabilities of this same tourism model, which is controlled by tour operators and hotel chains that exploit people and their territories and demonstrate the danger of depending on tourism to sustain the lives of our communities. The Covid-19 crisis should serve as a warning and alert us to be able to face other crises such as the climate crisis, with alternative models of subsistence that guarantee the autonomy of the communities and do not depend on the monoculture of tourism, which in turn is dependent on aviation, the most polluting and unjust mode of transportation on the planet.
From this Citizens’ Assembly for Climate Justice of Latin America and the Caribbean based in the Dominican Republic, we invite people and communities to imagine, plan and work on alternative models, and to reject the false discourse that tourism brings progress; and we call on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO-OACI) and the International Tourism Organization (MTO-OMT) of the United Nations, the business leaders of the World Travel and Tourism Council and the governments of the world to recognize that human activity is producing greenhouse gas emissions at record levels, which is already resulting in high atmospheric pollution, accelerated global heating, drought and extreme natural phenomena, putting at risk human survival and life on the planet as we know it.
Thank you very much.
The Climate Justice Week “Voices of the Peoples'”
The Climate Justice Week took place in Santo Domingo and online, in opposition and in parallel to the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW) prior to COP-27, from July 18th-22nd. The panel Airport Extractivist Model and Tourism took place on July 20th at the Faculty of Legal Sciences of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and could be followed online via live-stream.
Panel Airport Extractivist Model and Tourism
More information on the panel here
Darío Solano (Dominican Republic) – Red Afrodescendiente de América Latina y el Caribe de Justicia Climática;
Gabriela Vega Tellez (Mexico) – Stay Grounded / Coordinadora de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Oriente del Estado de México en Defensa de la Tierra, el Agua y su Cultura;
Domingo Abreu (Dominican Republic) – Asamblea Nacional Ambiental.