Nest' Surrounded by Poverty|
CANCUN, Mexico, (IPS) - This Mexican
resort city on the Caribbean coast was
all decked out Wednesday for the
arrival of 146 trade ministers and
their entourages, but in the poor
neighbourhoods just beyond the
luxurious hotels nothing had changed.
Hotels are at 100-percent capacity
this week in the ”serpents nest”,
the English translation of the Maya
Posters and stickers repeating the
slogans ”Our life is tourism” and
”Take care of Cancun” popped up
throughout the city in the last few
days, in preparation for the World
Trade Organisation's Fifth Ministerial
Conference, Sep. 10 to 14.
Giving the 33-year-old Cancun that
extra shine are new layers of paint on
buildings and recently pruned trees in
parks and along avenues.
Every year, more than three million
tourists come to this beach town to
take in the sun and enjoy the white
sands and the turquoise-coloured sea.
But today its imposing hotels hold
thousands of government delegates and
civil society representatives
attending the WTO official meeting.
Also in Cancun are thousands of
activists, who are gathering in parks
and plazas, out of view of the heavily
guarded official conference venue.
These non-governmental organisation
campaigners are discussing the effects
of the neoliberal economic
globalisation model now in force, and
strategies to change its course.
But the local residents are not
reporting many benefits from the event
that has filled the city to
overflowing. They are complaining.
”There is no way to circulate in the
area of the hotels. Everything is
under heavy security, and the shops
can't operate normally,” taxi driver
Cristóbal Trinidad told IPS.
And the tourist activities that made
Cancun famous are limited, also for
security reasons. No boats are allowed
near the coast, sea tours have been
cancelled, and even vehicular traffic
is sharply limited on area streets.
The entire hotel zone is surrounded by
hundreds of police and by temporary
Construction began here in 1970 as
part of the government's Cancun-Rivera
Maya project for a 150-km stretch of
nearly virgin Caribbean beaches.
Numerous archaeological sites and
ruins form the millenniums-old Maya
culture can still be found in the
region, which now also holds 26,000
The project could be considered a
great success, if not for the poverty
of the communities living not far from
the major tourist spots.
Just 10 km from Cancun's hotel
district, where the WTO conference is
taking place, live some 750,000
people: 60 percent are poor, with 39
percent considered indigent.
Most residents have moved here from
other points in Mexico with the aim of
finding work in the international
Many have indeed found jobs, and work
during the day and into the evening,
returning home at night to their small
wooden houses, located in
neighbourhoods with unpaved streets
and no potable water or electricity.
”Cancun is the model of success in
global tourism, but also the
reflection of worst poverty. Here
misery exists alongside great wealth,
and one only has to take a short walk
around the city to see it,” Marco
Origel, an activist with environmental
watchdog Greenpeace and participant in
the civil society forum, told IPS.
According to figures from the Mexican
government, the average monthly income
of Cancun's poor population is around
400 dollars, while those considered
extremely poor earn less than 250
In contrast, for the tourists staying
at the luxury hotels in Cancun,
spending 250 or 400 dollars per night
on a room is considered relatively
economical. In some of the best
hotels, a suite can cost more than
5,000 dollars a night.
South of Cancun, two hours by car, is
the municipality of Solidaridad,
founded in 1993. It is another of the
examples of poverty that tourists are
not likely to see when they visit the
region, arriving via commercial
airlines and cruise ships.
Many of Solidaridad's 110,000
residents work in the hotels and
tourism services along the coast. But
at home, 30,000 people do not have
electricity and 70,000 do not have
The Cancun-Rivera Maya project
focussed on tourism, but not on the
people who would be drawn to the area
in search of work, Agustín Cruz, of
the local environmental group Society
for Vital Ecology, said in a
conversation with IPS.
Population growth in urban Cancun and
in Solidaridad is more than 20 percent
a year, far above the national average
of less than five percent in this
country of 100 million people.
”Cancun is one of the best examples
of the globalisation of tourism: a lot
of money and rich people enjoying
vacations on the shores of misery,”
said Greenpeace activist Origel.
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