Week of April 17, 2000
  Snapshot from the Field

Update: Mexico's Whale of a Controversy
Flip-Flops into Eco-Friendliness

To paraphrase that grand (inflated) dame, Barbara Streisand, color us stupefied.

But here it is: An eco-friendly ending seems to be shaping up for Mexico's whale of an environmental controversy, that lollapalooza of a project we profiled in a previous column (see March 20's installment in the "Snapshot from the Field" archive).

To briefly recap our reportage, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo (www.presidencia.gob.mx) recently ordered a halt to a proposed US$150 million expansion of the world's largest salt plant in the southern Baja lagoon.

To many observers, Zedillo's order came as a sort of welcome euthanasia. A joint venture between the Mexican government and Mitsubishi Corp. (www.mitsubishi.co.jp), the project for half a decade had been stir-frying in a sea of withering charges and countercharges. Apparently, the Mexico/Mitsubishi decision to at last junk the plan was spurred by environmentalists' nonstop charges that the project would've despoiled a World Heritage site. Making the project's location even more problematic was the fact that the proposed site was located in an area that's a breeding ground for gray whales.

Criticized Ideas Now Championed

Now, mere weeks later, comes a supremely ironic twist in the project's long, winding and windy road.

After years of its president's sometimes-heated dismissals of environmentalists' charges, the Mexican government has apparently decided that their ideas weren't so bad after all.

Speaking at a national legislative commission, Mexican Environmental Secretary Julia Carabias Lillo announced that the proposed San Ignacio lagoon expansion site will be used instead for what she called "eco-tourism and nature-friendly businesses."

"What we have to do is help the 45,000 people who live in this area live well, with dignity," Carabias told the commission. "We are going to work on a development process involving productive projects that will allow the people to improve their living conditions."

Carabias also noted that the San Ignacio lagoon forms part of the environmentally sensitive Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, which UNESCO declared a World Heritage Site in 1993. Funny, that was one of the main points that environmentalists repeatedly hammered.

In addition, Carabias pointed out that the area in which the salt plant expansion would've occurred is home to some of Mexico's most valuable exportable fish. Local residents will be educated in how to take advantage of those aquatic resources, she explained.

Mexico's top environmental official also said that the area is ripe with potential for eco-tourism, though a complete plan for that industry hasn't yet been formulated, she explained.

'Desperately Needed Jobs'?
Well, Perhaps Not

The legislative commission meeting also yielded one final irony in a project that's been as stuffed full of them as a Thanksgiving turkey on steroids.

One of President Zedillo's most frequent refrains in defending the salt plant project was that the local area "desperately needed" the 200-250 new jobs the expansion would've created.

Carabias, however, told the legislative commission, that most of those jobs would've gone to "outside specialists" -- not to local residents.

So there you have it. Not even a beached giant killer whale, it seems, could match a flip-flop of these dimensions. To be fair, it's always possible that a government official finally got to have her public say here and called it exactly as she saw it.

And in the final analysis, perhaps all's well that ends inconsistently. After all, maybe the upside of healthy skepticism is that you're always pleasantly surprised.



©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.