Plans for new road met with disapproval
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Plans for a new freeway from San Miguel to Guanajuato are in the works, but indigenous Otomí residents from more than 20 communities, as well as members of civil organizations, have come together to request that the state government change the layout. They say the new road will irreversibly affect the architectural, environmental, religious and cultural heritage of the indigenous communities through which the road will pass. The activists have made it clear that they are not opposed to the road per se, only to its layout.
Ricardo Vidargas, who owns property near the area, said this project started six years ago, when several engineers arrived to survey the land. Those engineers, according to Vidargas, said that the work was being done in preparation for building a road to connect Montecillo with Cruz del Palmar. A year later, different engineers told Vidargas that the measurements were being done to build a freeway to connect Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, with Tampico, Tamaulipas. Vidargas started looking into the proposed road project, and that is how he got involved in the project, along with other residents.
In December 2010, the state government and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation agreed to accept bids for the “Autopista Bicentenario,” at an estimated cost of 2.5 billion pesos. The same month, Juan Manuel Oliva Ramírez, then governor of the state, said that the freeway would have a two-lane extension of 80 kilometers; it would start in Silao, pass through Guanajuato, and connect with the road to Juventino Rosas. Later, it would pass through El Xoconoxtle and finish in San Miguel de Allende near Taboada. Oliva Ramírez said that the new road would strengthen the industrial corridor and would improve the “golden triangle of tourism,” made up of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.
Finally, on July 2 of this year, the Secretariat of Communication and Transportation published a call for bids for the construction of the freeway. Governor Miguel Márquez said that the result would be published this September 17. The construction would begin in January 2014 and the road could be open in 2016.
The road and indigenous communities
After information on the project was made public, residents from the Otomí communities that could be affected by the new road gathered to request a new layout for the road. The Secretariat of Public Works (SOP) had eight drawings, and of those they selected the worst, according to César Arias, one of those opposed to the chosen plan. Based on conclusions published by those in favor of changes to the plans, the option selected by the SOP would affect 70 pre-Hispanic archeological sites, more than 20 paleontological areas, 100 rural communities including 20 indigenous communities and more than seven rivers, streams and natural wetlands.
Arias, president of El Charco del Ingenio, said that a construction like this would be “the beginning of the end of the indigenous communities.” In addition, he remarked that the road also affects the route of Indians’ Chapels, dating from the 16th century. Those chapels, according to local historian Graciela Cruz, are places where the natives venerate not only their gods but also their ancestors. These buildings, said Arias, ought to be protected.
One of the archeological zones that could be affected if plans are not changed is near Cruz del Palmar. The road would pass over it and would function to separate it from the Calvary (hill with a chapel at the top), which connects with other such hills located in nearby communities. “It is an archeological zone with great touristic potential, but who will want to visit a zone like this with trucks driving along on the side?” asked Arias.
Arias said the project could be harmful to the environment and it matches neither the state plan for ecological management nor the municipal one. In addition, he said, there is no ecological impact statement issued by the SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources), and for that reason, according to Arias, the call for bids could be illegal.
Finally, the new road would separate several communities, and according to Arias, the road would pass through the center of Rancho Nuevo de Banda, taking part of the secondary school. The center of the community will be on one side and the church, primary school and even the well would be on the other side, he said.
Letter to state authorities
After the call for bids of July 2, the subject of the freeway was revived by the indigenous people in the area and has put the government on the horns of a dilemma, because governor Márquez even suggested that the indigenous communities must compromise their patrimony for the development of the road. On August 8, Magdaleno Ramírez, president of the State Council for the Indigenous Communities, went before the state authorities to hand over a letter stating that they are conscious of the benefits that the road could bring to San Miguel and the communities. “We have never been against it,” it says, but makes it clear that they are against the layout, because it crosses through some ceremonial spaces, schools and homes. This project, states the letter, would destroy not only physical spaces but also traditions, which although they have been criticized have been preserved. They proposed a new drawing.
The proposed project is based on the first one from the SOP, which also affects some sites. “Nevertheless, it is still minor damage,” said Arturo Morales. The first layout from the SOP would impinge upon an archeological site as important as Cañada de la Virgen in San Antón de Ceballos and another in Las Trojes called Nombre de Dios. The new proposal from the activist (based on the first one from the SOP) would not touch these sites. In the letter, Ramírez asks the permit issued by the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) be revoked and the bidding process be cancelled because of the lack of a permit from the SEMARNAT. Last week, Arias had a meeting in Mexico City with María Teresa Franco, national director of the INAH; Arias gave her a letter showing support from more than 10 civil organizations for the petitions made by the indigenous communities to revoke the permit issued by the INAH, which has several errors.
On Wednesday, August 14, on a visit to Cruz del Palmar, Atención located Professor Ramírez taking care of an archeological site. Ramírez said he goes there every day because he had been informed that state employees would hold an inspection in that area, but nothing has happened. If there is an inspection in the area, he said that it must be with representatives from the CDI (National Commission of Indigenous Communities), SEDESU (Secretariat of Social and Human Development) and the municipality.
Ramírez commented that currently the state government has not issued a response to the documents, although he made it clear that they are being supported by a lawyer. “We urge them to respect the heritage that we have inherited from one generation to the other. Most of the inhabitants of the indigenous communities are not happy with the project, and “we will peacefully fight in order to get the best solution for everyone,” noted Ramírez.
Graciela Cruz told Atención that the oldest historic documents about San Miguel date from 1550 and some of the rural communities are mentioned there. These communities, she said, originated near Atotonilco and are intimately linked to the traditions of San Miguel de Allende. Cruz mentioned that the authorities are more interested in the preservation of Atotonilco and the historic center, but they do not care about the cultures that were the origin of that world heritage. “Without these communities, it is impossible to understand the culture of San Miguel de Allende,” said Cruz. She said that the communities are geographically and territorially integrated, as well as in terms of their traditions, culture, and ways of life, and for that reason there should not be borders among them.
On Saturday, August 19, state authorities including Arturo Durán, Secretary of Public Works, held a reunion with Magdaleno Ramírez in Cruz del Palmar, where the secretary assured that if the layout of the road changes, it would not be constructed. Ramírez, invited Durán to visit one of the archeological sites which would be impacted by the road. According to Arturo Morales, a presentation by archeologist Omar Cruces Cervantes was interrupted by personnel from the SOP, just in the most important part, they alleged that there was very little time for a walk through the area.
A stroll was held in a bus, without members from the press. La Jornada newspaper published that an indigenous who is councilor of the State Indigenous Council, and who participated in the stroll declared “they talk about benefits, but they did not précised which the benefits are”. The SOP informed that after the meeting they reached several agreements; among them the SOP have the commitment to hand over again the whole project to the INAH. If the road is constructed or not depends now on that institution and Morales said that they will respect that decision.
According to the SOP, there were other agreements, nevertheless Magdaleno told Atención that they are just comments but agreements and they will keep fighting to change the project.