Atotonilquenses versus Centennial Towers
By Jesús Aguado
The problem which has arisen from the clandestine installation of a cell tower in the World Heritage Site of Atotonilco keeps growing, involving not just the local administration and the owners of the property, but also the District Attorney’s Office (Ministerio Público), the residents of Atotonilco, Centennial Towers (the company which installed the antenna) and even penitents of the House of Spiritual Retreats of the Shrine of Jesus the Nazarene in that community.
The clandestine installation of the cell tower occurred in the early morning of Friday, September 13. According to the inhabitants of Atotonilco, after a week of work the local government was unable to close the work down because they did not have access. So, because the local authorities did not give them an answer, they decided to take down a fence made of reeds themselves, so the personnel from the administration could get in. A few weeks later, the Urban Development Department granted a permit to those affected to put up a new fence.
The neighbors, who since September 22 have held a permanent demonstration in front the property, did not allow the company hired to build the new fence because, in addition to the antenna, they have revived an old problem against the “so called” owners of the property where the antenna was installed. The inhabitants claim that the people who own the property stole it from the federation, and in addition they have blocked some waterways that cause flooding during the rainy season.
For that reason, on Tuesday, November 12, when the company tried to install the fence again, the neighbors opposed it and were supported by more than 150 penitents from the House of Spiritual Retreats of the Shrine.
The community is well organized and alert to any work that anyone tries to perform in the area. They have installed an alarm system in a common area in the community called “the independence rail,” and when someone tries to perform work on the antenna or in the area, the rail is rung, and the neighbors rally to support those living in a permanent tent in front the property. In that tent, there is an average of eight people watching over the zone, divided in eight-hour shifts.
The demonstrators are currently facing a legal complaint because of damages. That criminal complaint was filed in the Ministerio Público, which has frequently sent ministerial police officers to investigate the case. However, the demonstrators have denounced abuse of power and intimidation by those public servants. The District Attorney for Zone D, René Urrutia, confirmed that the criminal complaint exists, and made it clear that the Ministerio Público will conduct the investigation in order to discover whether there is a crime or not. He also commented that his department is just performing its work and respecting the law, and invited the Atotonilquenses to cooperate with the authority.
Alí Patlán, legal coordinator of the local government, said that there was an order to remove the structure, but later, the owners of the property demanded that the local government cancel the process and the municipal judge granted them a suspension of the order. For that reason, currently the tower cannot be removed.
Patlán confirmed that the municipality does not own the area of the antenna nor the CONAGUA (National Commission of Water), but he stressed, if the “so called owners” stole the property from the Shrine of Jesus the Nazarene, then the representatives of the church must file their criminal complaint with the competent authorities.
This is the company that installed the antenna. According to its website, they offer services related to cell sites such as Build to Suit, which offers to operators the acquisition of the land, processing of permits and the installation of the towers. “Centennial Towers has roofs and towers, adequate to host multiple operators” states its site.
The contract with the “owners” of the property, was signed for a term of 15 years, and expires in August 8, 2028, with an extension of five more years. Yearly, the company would pay 138,461 pesos plus IVA. The document includes a clause, which states that the company will start the process to get all the needed permits for the placing of the antenna, and also is clear in the part that states that in case of not obtaining the permits, the contract would be cancelled.