Squatters confront developers on Mexico’s Caribbean coast

TULUM, Mexico (AP) — Developers are eager to build condos and hotels in the slums as uncontrolled development hits this once-idyllic seaside town on Mexico’s Caribbean coast and even desperate.

Police are trying to evict the squatters so they can build towering condos next to timber and tar paper huts, but residents are resisting, and foreigners are excluding locals from their shores. People say they’re sick of investors.

In the latest clash on July 27, police accompanied a backhoe, fired tear gas, and attempted to demolish a squatter’s house in the shadow of a new condo building with balconies. The attempt ended as the wind forced the gas back onto the officer, who retreated under a hail of rocks.

The contrast between rich and poor is striking. Gleaming white four-story condos with vaguely Mayan-sounding names and English slogans like ‘dwell in the luscious jungle’ and ‘immersive spiritual experience’ stand next to huts made of sticks. Standing and packing boxes. Tarpaulin and tin roof.

There are only a few public access points along the 80 miles (130 km) of the coast, known as the Riviera Maya, where most public access to the beach has already been closed due to uncontrolled resort development. Ask if poor Mexicans are allowed here.

Quintana Roo officials pledged on October 2 to relocate or evict about 12,000 residents of the 340-acre (137-hectare) settlement. Founded in 2016 on highly prized, former public land, a few blocks from the town’s main street and about 2 kilometers from the coast.

Such land encroachments are common throughout Mexico. Many are quickly eradicated. However, there are those who gradually blend into the city. As many as 250,000 people are believed to live in the squatter community outside Cancun.

Officials say “invaders” have created a semi-lawless zone, tarnishing Tulum’s reputation for growing violence and threatening a vital tourism industry.

The leader of the squatters, José Antonio Leon Mendes, is a welder who has lived in Cancun and Tulum for about 30 years, and many squatters who work as cooks, gardeners and bricklayers in the surrounding condominiums and hotels. Similarly, he says he was fed up with the fact that he would never be able to do it. I can afford to buy a house in a town with more and more foreigners.

“How can Mexicans be ‘invaders’ in their own country? It doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying someone is stealing their stuff,” said Leon Mendes. These people are not thieves. They are Tulum’s workforce. ”

“We don’t have personal problems with foreigners, but they should respect our rights,” he said, noting that Oct. 2 will mark the price cuts for Mexicans from their own shores. He added that it represented the last position to take.

The settlement is part of 500 acres (200 hectares) of public land that was sold by the city authorities in the 2000s, primarily to foreign developers.

The condos at the edge of the camp and those inside are currently priced between $100,000 and $150,000 and are advertised in US dollars, as are many seaside resort entrance fees. Around Tulum, $20 per day is considered a reasonable wage. So it would take decades for the average Mexican worker to buy one of his.

Quintana Roo Attorney General Oscar Montes de Oca vows to evict squatters. “We even have a court order for eviction,” Montes de Oca said. “But no matter how many times they try, they just gather together and block the road.”

Many of these obstacles remain. Heaps of stones, tires and scrap wood are 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, sports an angry bruise on his thigh that he says was hit with a police tear gas canister.

“They came and said we had to go out and take our stuff,” Cruise said of the July 27 eviction attempt. The land is directly below a brand new 4 story condominium.

“What were they thinking while firing tear gas in front of a crowd of people?” Cruz said.

Montes de Oca says authorities are planning to relocate squatters. … a businessman is about to donate money to build a house. ”

“This will make 70% of these people willing to leave with the confidence that they will be able to secure adequate housing,” said Montes de Oca. When asked what he would do, he replied, “Apply other means.”

Leon Mendes rejects such offers.

“We are not going to let locals who have lived in Quintana Roo for 15, 20 or 30 years live in the woods 20 kilometers away while they continue to sell their land to foreigners. ‘ he said. He said. “It’s non-negotiable.”

Given the cost of taxis and bus routes for tourists, commuting from new settlements can cost workers a quarter of their daily wages.

But officials have other claims.

As with the rest of Tulum, street-level drug trafficking is behind many of the October 2nd camp killings. In October, two tourists—one an Indian-born California travel blogger, the other German—were caught in a shootout of rival drug dealers while walking along Tulum’s boulevard. Murdered in a restaurant.

State Police Chief Lucio Hernández said government security cameras detected many of Tulum’s drug dealers using the squatter camps as hideouts.

Squatter leader Rafael Hernández Juárez has admitted that the area has become more violent, with drug sales and killings frequent.

“We try not to get involved with them,” said the amiable former tourist shuttle driver, pointing out that reporting drug dealers is dangerous.

Tulum resident Victor Reyes, who works in real estate, estimates that about 70% of condominium investments come from foreign developers.

He echoes the suspicions some locals have about squatters. “Their group became the mafia,” said Reyes. “These organizations are rallying people and using women and children as cannon fodder to avoid eviction.” “They won the lottery,” he says, by squatting on such precious land.

The squatters are clearly a political group, now aligned with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party. And in a way, many see their humble hut as winning the lottery.

Many build a second set of rooms and rent out the original shack to locals. Some squatters sold his spacious 10 x 20 yard (meter) lot for $8,000 to $12,000 for him. They all have enough savings for materials that they seem to invest any amount of money in building rooms.

However, all condos built in the same camp do not have water or sewer connections. Some condos also have pools. Squatters have installed temporary electrical connections and dug wells and rudimentary septic tanks into rocky soil, but the combination is problematic.

For the majority of squatters, everyday life is still a struggle, despite living in expensive properties.

Construction worker Lenin Solis Vega is building his house one cement block at a time. He was evicted twice from his previous plot of settlement. One of them is about to be built in a new condo he’s 20 yards from his current home.

“Now they say, ‘Why are you building?’ They want us out,” he said. “But how? We are Mexicans and we have nothing.”

Some squatters even take advantage of wealthy neighbors who come to buy cheap meals from residents.

A native of Campeche, Lorena spent years cooking for tourists in hotels and restaurants, but at one time she was forbidden to speak her native language, Maya. She asked not to use her surname to avoid problems with her authorities.

And since building a shack made of wood and tarpaulin (she planted trees and built a goldfish pond in the back), she was able to set up her own street food stand outside the house.

She even learned to recite the menu in English for the “beef, chicken and pork” empanadas she sells to tourists who drop by from her condo.

“We welcome all investors,” said Lorena.

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