The Mexican Government is Partnering with Singapore to Build a Shipping Yard on a World Class Point Break, Punta Conejo
Punta Conejo is a sand-bottom point break heaven. But that could change dramatically.
Located in southern Mexico on the pacific coast, in the state of Oaxaca, Punta Conejo is is practically an untouched paradise. Just a few hours south of the big wave Mecca of Puerto Escondido, what makes this area of Oaxaca so special is that the beaches face due south, meaning they produce flawless waves on almost any south swell.
It also geographically special because it is located in the narrowest part of the entire country of Mexico, making it an isthmus. As such, it is the perfect location for a trans-country highway, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Atlantic on the other.
A few hundred fishermen and their families inhabit the immediate area surrounding Punta Conejo. The access is by dirt road. Reaching the point break itself requires a long walk down the beach. The remote location makes this place absolutely perfect for scoring 200-300 yard rights all to yourself.
A development consultancy, Surbana Jurong, owned by the government of Singapore, is behind the project. The Mexican state governments of Veracruz and Oaxaca have agreed to the project. They have provided financial backing to the tune of $150 Million US dollars.
Called the “Interoceanic Corridor”, this 337 km long highway will connect the port of Salinas Cruz on the Pacific coast to the port of Coatzacoalcos on the Atlantic. The project also calls for other “economic development” including a wind farm, an industrial park and a rail system.
This Interoceanic Corridor is part of 84 infrastructure projects the federal government has proposed for economic development zones. The project would undoubtedly provide thousands of jobs in an area where jobs are hard to come by.
But this raises an interesting question. How are the local people doing without these jobs? Do they want economic development?
The local economy in this area includes many families who participate in a subsistence economy. Basically that means the people live off the land. In this area, some people opt to fish and build their structures from natural resources. This is an incredibly important fact to keep in mind when it comes to proposed “economic development.” In a subsistence economy, the definition of economic “development” that politicians use might actually turn out more like economic “destruction” for those who still choose to subsist.
For most Westerners, a subsistence economy is a foreign idea. How people can live without money? In the state of Oaxaca as well as many areas of Mexico, the government titled land to the people who first settled it. The land has been handed down for generations. There is a nominal fee for a permit which allows locals to harvest as much natural material as needed for construction. Even indigenous nature-based medical systems have been functioning well for generations.
Progress is not equal to environmental destruction. We will be grateful when [the government] considers the people that LIVE and WORK their lands. Nature gives us the most important abundance.
-A statement from the Facebook page “Save Punta Conejo”
My experience of the people who live near Punta Conejo
Over the last couple of years I have spent several months in this area, living among local families. In my experience, people who choose to subsist have more control of their time and the way they spend their days. Fishermen and young adults spend the mornings catching food for the day while other family members prepare tortillas and salsas to accompany the day’s catch. Many people spend hot afternoons lounging in hammocks near family. Cooler evening may be spent doing light construction or again, just passing time with loved ones.
Food comes mostly from the sea and gardens. Shelter and medicine comes from the land. Love comes from families. People live simply in the subsistence economy in many coastal areas of Oaxaca. It is my personal opinion that many of the people I interacted with seemed far happier than my peers back in the States who have more “economic opportunities”.
It is true that many of the indigenous people in the area don’t have “jobs” like we think of jobs. Instead they spend their days eating healthy food, hanging out with loved ones and playing in the ocean. Sounds like the dream to me.
For some of these people “progress” would translate into working long hours away from family in a shipping yard, trying to keep up with an increased cost of living.
Do the indigenous people want the Interoceanic Corridor?
A group called The Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus (Ucizoni) opposes the Interoceanic Corridor. They have held marches against the project. Carlos Beas Torres, coordinator of the Union of Ucizoni stated “The rights of indigenous communities are being violated”.
Locals have also taken to Facebook, creating a page Salvemos Punta Conejo. This page states,
“Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that millions of plant and animal species are in danger of extinction, which poses a serious threat to ecosystems from which people from all over the world depend for their survival”
As for the proposed changes to the waves, locals have this to say,
“Nature and surfing allow an essential education for a sustainable society that is difficult to achieve surrounded by concrete. Surfing is for everyone, and we are proud and proud to see how the next generation of the local community continues to grow!”
What can we do?
Communication, education and teamwork.
“[Local people] were not allowed to have voice or vote,” says Torres of Ucizoni. And this really needs to be the bottom line. The people living in and working this land for centuries need to be included in this conversation. It seems the conversation has been one sided thus far.
This isn’t the first time entire communities of indigenous people have been wiped out by globalization. Pretty much anyone who lives in an industrialized nation has been a part of this kind of destruction in some way. A conversation is a decent place to start doing our parts.
Have you been to Salina Cruz or had experiences with subsistence economies? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!