viernes, 12 de enero de 2007

Residents act to protect city from uncontrolled development

By Jesús Ibarra, Jan 12, 2007

Controversy over the direction and type of development and growth of the city of San Miguel that resulted in the temporary suspension of a multistory condo project continues to prompt local social activism. Several new groups concerned about citizens’ participation in local development issues have hosted public meetings, the most recent with a specialist in defense of national patrimony.

In response to residents’ demands, Mayor Jesús Correa has scheduled a presentation and discussion on municipal development next Tuesday, January 16, at 6pm in Teatro Santa Ana, which will include input from city authorities and guest specialists.

The civic organizations CiudaDes, short for “Ciudadanos en movimiento para el Desarrollo” (Citizens in Movement for Development), Colectivo Cultural Izquinapan, Ciudadanos en defensa de San Miguel (Citizens in Defense of San Miguel) and Los Tradicionalistas, along with six other groups, joined forces to form the Wide Civic Front (Frente Amplio Cívico Sanmiguelense). Its main objective is to create the post of social comptroller, who would review all City Hall decisions that may affect the city’s development or citizens’ interests.

Another group, Basta Ya, which created the blog, hosted a conference called “Strategy to Defend the Cultural and Natural Heritage of San Miguel de Allende” on January 4. The guest speaker was ambassador and lawyer Alberto Székely Sánchez, who spoke on the importance of citizen participation to protect local natural and cultural resources. Székely and his law firm will present a plan for the San Miguel situation on March 15.

Strategy to defend San Miguel’s heritage

The presentation by Székely on January 4 represents a positive advance for local efforts to defend San Miguel’s cultural and natural heritage. Székely, who received a Ph.D. in Law from the University of London, represented Mexico before the United Nations and was a legal consultant to the secretary of foreign relations. His Mexico-based firm dedicated to environmental defense has successfully stopped destructive projects on the Jalisco coast and in Baja California and Sayulita, Nayarit, thanks to the active participation of local residents.

“Society must be organized in an association with legal support,” said Székely. “If citizens do not organize or form splinter groups, the destructive progress will succeed and San Miguel would become drastically different in a few years.”

According to Székely, citizens’ organizations must work along with and supervise authorities who make such decisions. “We must not only solve the current cases, but look to the future and promote, with specific proposals, the changing of laws. Now, citizens are not alone. Our legal team will support them, but all the groups that have already mobilized must continue with their activity.”

Székely also clarified the confusing issue of participation by foreigners. He stated that foreigners can participate in this movement, because according to Article 1 of the Mexican Constitution they have the same rights as Mexicans. “Under Mexican Law we are all the same, foreigners and Mexicans. Equality is the first of the human rights. Foreigners are only restricted in the area of politics. They cannot become involved in national politics, political party issues and elections,” he said.

“They have the right to join the group and fight to defend San Miguel from destructive progress, and I want to invite them to do so.”

Székely said that on March 15 he will present sanmiguelenses with a strategy for organizing the citizen group and for demanding authorities also negotiate with the citizenry to promote a change in the law.

The Wide Civic Sanmiguelense Front meets

Representatives of the different groups forming the Wide Civic Front met at El Recreo last Monday, January 8. Members of other groups such as Basta Ya and the Commission for Patrimony were present but “just as individuals, not as representatives of their own groups,” explained Lorea San Martín, head of Basta Ya.

The meeting was presided over by Miguel Chávez and Eleazar Romero, and it was agreed that the Front will have a horizontal organization of commissions, with no single leader. The commissions formed included Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage; Transparency; Citizen Participation; Ecology and Environment; Public Relations; Legislation; and Organization, which will convene and preside over the meetings.

Some short-term actions were proposed, such as revoking the 45 percent salary increase for city councilors and halting government actions that would deteriorate San Miguel, among others. Disagreement over which of these proposed actions to take resulted in the conclusion to support all the Basta Ya group’s actions.

The forum: municipal development or UN listing?

Although the forum was initially announced as a presentation and discussion on municipal development plans and issues that form part of the newly created 25-year city plan Cristóbal Finkelstein, City Hall secretary, stated that it will deal with the development of cities that are World Heritage sites. The forum will be presided over by Mayor Jesús Correa; Ángel Gastélum, head of the Urban Development Department; and Finkelstein himself, who will speak on local government projects to have San Miguel recognized as such a site. Special guests Francisco López Morales, a historian and investigator from the Politécnico Nacional who was in charge of developing the presentation for UNESCO, along with other urban developers from the Politécnico, will also attend.

The forum is Tuesday, January 16, in the Biblioteca Pública’s Teatro Santa Ana and is open to the general public, both foreigners and Mexicans. Questions for the forum participants should be sent to by Monday morning, January 15.


“Citizens are not organized to defend their rights,” said Miguel Chávez, former City Hall member and current head of CiudaDes. “There is no representative of the citizens among the City Hall members, so they decide whatever they want.” Chávez added that in the case of Comercial Mexicana the height restriction for buildings in San Miguel was violated, as well as regulations for awnings and signage. “We citizens have to decide what kind of development we want for our city.”

The civil organizations will propose the creation of a plebiscite, according to the articles 15 and 16 from the Municipal Organic Law for the State of Guanajuato, by which means citizens could vote on decisions that may directly affect them, such as the installation of parking meters.

Colectivo Cultural Izquinapan

Most of the 10 members of this group are professionals—teachers, physiologists and sociologists—investigating and promoting popular culture. Abel Hernández and Pepe Ramírez, both former City Hall members; Octavio Bernal, a real estate agent; journalist Héctor Ulloa; poet and writer Olivia Canales; and teachers Antonio Torres and Rosanela Ruvalcaba are some of the members of this group.

According to Abel Hernández, Cultural Izquinapan has collaborated with CuidaDes in organizing two forums on municipal development.

Grupo Ciudadano en Defensa de San Miguel

According to Xavier Rodríguez, this group was formed 10 years ago. “The government wanted to take the stone off the Salida a Querétaro,” said Rodríguez. “Some residents opposed this and asked me to form this group to try to avoid it. And we succeeded.” Afterward, they formed the civic association to get legal representation. Rodríguez was the head of the group for seven years. Currently, the association is headed by Ariel Garibaldi. At this time, Grupo Ciudadano is fighting against the destruction of Puente de la Aurora to build a new residential development.

Grupo Ciudadano publishes a small magazine of opinion, analysis and criticism called Ciudadano Informa, which can be found in any newsstand in San Miguel.

Rodríguez said that his group has joined to the Wide Civic Front to prevent the destruction of San Miguel. “We are not contemplating accepting foreigners in the Front, but they can cooperate by writing in the Ciudadano Informa, expressing their opinion, or helping economically or with the distribution of the magazine,” said Rodríguez, who can be contacted at

Los Tradicionalistas and Studentsof the University of Guanajauto

Rubén Villasana
attends the Front meetings as a representative of the ex-students of the University of Guanajuato, formed 12 years ago by sanmiguelenses who studied at the university. He is also part of the group Los Tradicionalistas, whose main objective is to rescue and preserve San Miguel’s traditions. The group was formed in 1982 by the late Anita Vidargas, whose daughter, Marisol, is still part of the group, as well as Eleazar Romero, former PRI candidate for mayor in the past election.

“We are trying to stop the destruction of San Miguel begun by Luis Alberto Villarreal,” said Villasana. “The developers are saying that they are creating jobs, but that is not true. Most of their workers are outsiders, and they are displacing the local workers. And all the small businesses will soon be closed with those big shopping centers. The local authorities have to understand that they are destroying San Miguel.”

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