Residents concerned freeway could damagecultural heritage

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

In December 2010, the state government announced an agreement was signed with the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation to build the “AutopistaBicentenario”(Bicentennial Freeway) from Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende. Recently, inhabitants of communities who live near where the freeway will be constructed gathered to request that the authorities restructuretheir plans. According to several social activists, if the road passes through the rural communities of San Miguel de Allendeit will cause irreversible social, cultural and environmental damage. Representatives of the municipality responded that even if freewaydoes cause an impact, residents should weigh the effectsagainst the benefits that this road would bring to San Miguel in terms of tourism.

The Bicentennial Freeway
The agreement was signed by Juan ManuelOlivaRamírez, then governor of Guanajuato, who explained that the two-lane freewaywillbe 80 kilometers long. The road will begin at the community of Menores in the municipality of Silaooff Freeway 45, will pass through the city of Guanajuato and the community of Trinidad and connect with the road to Juventino Rosas,continuing on to San Miguel de Allende, where it will connect with federal road 51 (the San Miguel–Dolores Hidalgo road), near theTaboada hot springs. Oliva, who was governor of Guanajuato until March 2012, explained during the signing of the agreement that “this is a project that the tourism industry has been waiting for. Now it is a reality.” He also said that the infrastructure will improve the “golden triangle” of tourism in Guanajuato, made up ofthe city of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo.

Damage to San Miguel’s heritage?
A few weeks ago, social activists and inhabitants from the rural communities of Banda, Oaxaca and Cruz del Palmar, among others near where the road will cross, released a letter in which they “warned” authorities and the general public about the damage that the construction of the road will bring. According to the letter, the road would pass through the site of the first settled agricultural community in the area. The inhabitants of those early communities had their own astronomically based observations, myths and rites that they performed at sites called “coecillos” (small mountains). There is also civic architecture from the period of the viceroyalty, a paleontological zone and a zone appointed as a World Heritage sitethat will be impacted. The letter also states that the wetlands of the San Damian-LajaRiver, which cross through Taboada, Xoté and la Cieneguita, will also be affected,as well as the migratory route of American storks, which come to the northern area of the PresaAllende during the summer. Residents say the freeway also will have an impact on the geologic border between volcanic Mesoamerica and semi-desert Aridoamerica and the largest paleontological site in North America, covering more than 3,000 acres, which contains offers fossils dating from 50 million years ago.A videoin Spanish postedon YouTube by Arturo Morales explains how the construction of the freeway would break the bond between the San Miguel de Allende–Atotonilco World Heritage sites and the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Inland Road), the first routecreated by the Europeans in America. San Miguel de Allende was the last city it crossed before it reached the volcanoes near Mexico City.This route crossed 12 states and ended in Santa Fe,New Mexico; ithas also been given World Heritage status by UNESCO. The video is available

A meeting to change the plans
On Wednesday, July 11, inhabitants of the communities that will be “damaged” by the construction of the new road organized a meeting at the Calvary in Cruz del Palmar. At the meeting, Doña Catalina Melendez, president of COCIRA (Rural Citizens’ Council on Water), explained the reason for the meeting. “We do not want to cancel the construction of the freeway,” she said. “We want to ask them to redesign the route to avoid affecting our lands and our cultural richness. This is a fight for a better quality of life.” According to Catalina, if the road passed through the area, the water will be contaminated and the environment and also historical architecture will be damaged.She also said, “More houses will be constructed on the edge of the road, and hotels and stores, bringing people who have plans for the area we won’t know about.”

A federal and state project
The public relations department at city hall issued a notice to inform residents that the freeway is a state and federal project, but that reason municipal authorities have checked over the plansfrom the beginning to ascertain that nopart of the cultural heritage of the communities will be negatively affected. It also stated that the INAH approved the project and that the construction will be in accordance with the environment of the area.Édgar Bautista, director of Urban Development, said that originallythe freeway was planned to pass through the communities of Oaxaca, Banda and Nuevo Banda, which would have to be relocated. For that reason, the plans were redrawn to position the road 50 meters from Oaxaca. Later, the municipal leaders proposed a route crossing through Atotonilco, which would have been worse because the paleontological zone is located nearby. Then they asked for help from INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History), and representatives indicated the areas the freeway could or could not cross, taking into account the archeological and paleontological sites as well as historic architecture. “The current plan respects every single archeological, civil and symbolic remains.We followed the observations made by the INAH,” commented Bautista.The director of Urban Development added that “of course the Santa Rosa Dam will not be demolished, as people have said.” He also made it clear that “we want them to rest easy.There will be impacts, but they must strike a balance between the impacts and the benefits that this road will bring to the municipality through tourism, which will be greater.” According to Bautista, the freeway is projected to have four lanes in 20 years, and it will not pass though the paleontological zone, connecting as it will to the San Miguel–Dolores Hidalgo road near Taboada. The director finishing by saying that “the current plansare not set in stone; there is a planned 200-meter buffer zone alongside the freeway, so it could be moved.The date for construction to begin has not been confirmed.

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