State Government Construction Endangers the ‘Last Lung’ of the Mexican City of Oaxaca


Image from the construction site on El Fortín Hill (Cierro Fortín), tha last green space in Oaxaca. The construction has been carried out without public consultation and against expert advice. Photo: Masde131

The Fortín Hill is well known for hosting the Guelaguetza, the most important traditional festival organized by the government of Oaxaca, which welcomes thousands of tourists every year. It is also the last green space in the city of Oaxaca, according to the Board for Defense of Cultural and Natural Heritage of the state of Oaxaca (Pro-Oaxaca).

And now, it is under threat due to government-sanctioned construction of a convention center.

The Fortín Hill was declared a “natural protected area” by the government of Oaxaca in 2004 and has the status of a State Park. Sprawling over an area of 87 hectares (215 acres), the park has plenty of evergreen holm oak trees, eucalyptus trees, and jacarandas, among other plant species, all of which are now endangered by the construction project.

The project is set to cost 600 million pesos (around 35 million dollars)—133 times the housing expenditure in the city of Oaxaca. The statistic is provided by the Front for Defence of El Fortín, a movement bringing together over 50 organizations, hundreds of Oaxacan people, and artists like the painter Francisco Toledo and artist Markoa Vasquez. Movement participants have been protesting against the hill's environmental destruction through a symbolic closure of the site, monumental signs and posters placed in front of the city’s Cathedral, and hunger strikes.

The state governor Gabino Cue has responded aggressively to protesters’ demands and has said that the Convention Center construction will go ahead. After construction workers on the site reportedly attacked peaceful protesters with fireworks during a rally, the activists said the governor was ultimately responsible for condoning the violence.

Members of the Front for the Defense of El Fortín Hill (FDCF) held the state government responsible for the violent events that took place where a woman get injured…

Citizens in the neighborhood have also reported on the excessive militarization of the city. Since the 2015 federal elections, state troops have been strategically positioned in the capital of Oaxaca and, it seems, the military is there to stay, after teachers from the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) of Oaxaca, the country's largest dissident teachers’ movement known as Section 22, organized an electoral boycott all over the state, preventing the installation of ballot boxes.

The state of Oaxaca has one the largest indigenous populations in Mexico and plenty of natural resources (with more than 300 mining concessions on its territory), and the state has been historically ruled by indigenous customary law, a system of self-governance, know as “usos y costumbres“.

Voices and testimonies

On the first days of June 2015, without warning, construction machinery started arriving at El Fortín. According to Odilia Sanchez, a resident in the area, there was no prior consultation before the work was started.

Several residents have organized themselves to fight the construction of the “Oaxaca Convention and Culture Center.” They tell stories about the many families that had lived in the area and were displaced in the 70s during the building of the Guelaguetza Auditorium, and they claim that something similar is happening again at El Fortín.

“My father, may he rest in peace, planted several trees here, all the neighbors helped to plant trees at El Fortín Hill,” says Irais Tapia, a resident of Oaxaca, adding weight to the testimony of another resident, Emilia Garcia: “I was crying because… the trees!”

According to Juan José Council, director of the Institute for Nature and Society of Oaxaca, Oaxaca's government has not submitted the required environmental impact assessment for the construction project.

Gustavo Esteva, director of the Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca, says:

Es atroz, es una aberración que ese Centro de Convenciones se construya en el Fortín, (…) necesitamos proteger eso que tiene un sentido prácticamente sagrado para nosotros, es el único espacio verde que nos queda en la ciudad.

It is atrocious, it is an aberration to built this Convention Center at El Fortín, (…) we need to protect this space that has a sacred meaning to us, it is the only green area we have left in the city.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) did not authorize the project for the building of the Convention and Culture Center. In a statement, they claim to have issued a recommendation to the state government of Oaxaca advising against the building of the Convention Center at the Fortín Hill as the “proposed architectural structures will severely affect the city's cultural and historical landscape.”

INAH reccomends Oaxaca government not to build in El Fortín

INAH representatives also called on citizens to protect the site, as it represents “an important asset for Oaxaca and the Mexican nation that has been added by UNESCO to its World Heritage List.

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