sábado, 17 de marzo de 2007

Proposals and partnership, not protests

Strategy suggests increased collaboration with authorities and accountability
By Jesús Ibarra,
Mar 16, 2007
Atencion San Miguel

A partnership between citizens and the municipal government that is based on the law and transparency is essential to protect San Miguel’s colonial heritage and its natural and cultural resources, according to Alberto Székely, an international legal expert on development and the environment.
Former ambassador Székely, a lawyer from Mexico City, told more than 200 people on March 9 at the Museo Allende that the future of San Miguel cannot be discussed in an atmosphere of confrontation between authorities and the citizenry, such as that fueled by the authorization of legally questionable urban development projects.

Székely introduced and discussed a 27-point strategy that offers guidance on enhancing cooperation between citizens, City Hall and the state congress; on protecting the environment and San Miguel’s cultural heritage; regulating urban development; and increasing transparency and accountability in local government, among other issues. The complete document is available at www.vaporsanmiguel.blogspot.com.

“The only way [to avoid confrontation] is to ensure that the government does not act alone,” he said. According to Székely, authorities must act with transparency and “perform their duties in plain sight…. This can only be ensured if citizens are also responsible and committed to participate.”

Several members of the city government, including assistant mayor Rodolfo Jurado and city council secretary Christopher Finkelstein Franyuti, as well as prominent developer Raul Araiza, owner of the El Caracol condo project that spurred protests against uncontrolled development, were in attendance. Mayor Jesús Correa was not present.

Authorities generally responded favorably to the meeting. “I am glad to see a more organized proposal for citizen participation,” said Jurado. For Finkelstein, the proposal was a positive exercise in democracy. “It was time to see more serious and analytical proposals. Together, authorities and citizens can achieve important advances for the benefit of San Miguel,” he commented. “This situation sends a message to the authorities that improving communication with the public is important.”

Székely first visited San Miguel in January 2007 at the invitation of the newly formed citizens’ group Basta Ya to discuss the importance of citizens’ participating to protect local resources. In this second visit, he reiterated that he was not “coming to confront, but to propose alternatives for cooperation—for citizens to substitute proposals for protests; for developers to have clear legal guidelines for investing in city development; and for authorities to become open to collaboration with citizens.”

Székely emphasized that he is not influenced by the interests of any political party.

He and his team of legal advisors will advise both citizens and authorities to work within established legal parameters and demonstrate it is an unclear legal framework that inhibits employment and investment. “We do not want to add fuel to the fire, but to extinguish it immediately,” he said.

As for the question of participation of expats, Székely explained that Article 1 of the Mexican Constitution permits participation by foreign residents in Mexico in civic or social acts; however, they may not participate in political activities. “All citizens must behave in a peaceful and respectful way,” he said. “And authorities are not permitted to use any means to inhibit the expression of complaints and demands.”

A 1939 law revisitedA surprise revelation from Székely was a 1939 law that designated San Miguel de Allende as a “pueblo típico” (a typically Mexican town).

The law, published in the Diario Oficial de Guanajuato (a government publication), forbids the construction within the city of buildings that do not conform to its colonial style of architecture and forbids the initiation of any construction project without the written authority of a board of citizens called a “Junta de Vigilancia.” “By reading the law, one can conclude that if it had been respected and applied through the 68 years that it has been in existence, the story and situation of San Miguel’s heritage would be completely different,” said Székely. “It is the only law that includes specific prohibitions that protect San Miguel’s cultural heritage, integrity and urban structure.” This legislation can be consulted on the Basta Ya blog at

Response to the public’s questions

“The ones who violate the law are not the only ones who can ask for lawyers’ assitance. With our help, the citizenship is no longer alone,” said Székely in response to a question during the question period that followed the presentation.

For Székely, the declaration of San Miguel by UNESCO as a World Heritage site is very important. “But we can’t have it both ways. If this designation is already tainted, it will be a loss of prestige for the city,” said the lawyer, referring to construction in discord with the city’s architecture that has already been authorized.

In response to a question about the charge for his services and who would pay for them, Székely remarked that any service deserves economic remuneration. “The legal advice will be paid for by those who believe in this platform. There is a lot of work to be done, and it will depend on the availability of resources to pay for professional services,” he said. However, he added that his nonprofit firm acts in the public interest.

Don Patterson, head of the Ecology Department, denied the rumor that a new Wal-Mart shopping center was being planned. “When we make a protest, we must be careful to have all the necessary information at hand, including plans and explanations,” he said.


The following are among the 27 issues outlined in Székely’s proposal:

· Ensuring that City Hall and the state congress collaborate with citizens

· Strengthening the environmental impact evaluation

· Enhancing protection of the ecological preservation zone of El Charco del Ingenio

· Creating and economically supporting protected ecological areas on privately owned land

· Guidelines for local authorities to abide by the tenets of the 1939 law of “Protection and Conservation of San Miguel de Allende”

· Legal recourse for cases of authorities acting to intimidate citizens for exercising their legal rights

· Modifying the state and local laws of transparency

· Rendering adherence to legal guidelines regarding environmental, urban development and cultural heritage issues obligatory rather than discretionary

· Petitioning City Hall to fulfill the objectives of the Law of Cultural Heritage of the State of Guanajuato

· Instituting legal actions against government employees who violate, through acts or omissions, the rules governing ecological, urban development or cultural heritage issues.

· Actions regarding water issues

· Organizing citizens in an association with jurisdictional power

· Publishing an informative gazette though which the citizens can be informed of all governmental activities and decisions

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