TULUM, QUINTANA ROO — Unchecked development has hit this once laid back beach town on Mexico’s Caribbean coast so hard that developers are now eager — even desperate — to build condominiums and hotels in a shantytown.
While police are trying to evict squatters so towering condos can be built next to wood and tarpaper shacks, residents are fighting back, saying they are tired of foreign investors excluding local people from their own coast.
In the latest clash on July 27, police accompanying a backhoe fired tear gas and tried to knock down some squatters’ homes in the shadow of a new, balconied condo building. The attempt ended when the wind shifted the gas back onto officers, who retreated under a hail of rocks.
The contrast between rich and poor is stark: Gleaming white four-story condos with vaguely Mayan-sounding names and English slogans like “Live in the Luscious Jungle” and “An immersive spiritual experience” stand next to shacks made of poles, packing crates, tarps, and tin roofing.
On a coast where unchecked resort development has already closed most public access to beaches — there are only a few public access points on the 80-mile (130 km) stretch known as the Riviera Maya — residents of the squatters’ camp may have reason to ask whether poorer Mexicans will be allowed here at all.
Officials in Quintana Roo state have vowed to relocate or remove about 12,000 inhabitants of the 340-acre (137-hectare) October 2 settlement. It was founded in 2016 on very valuable and once-public land a few blocks off the main street in town and about 1 1/2 miles (2 kilometers) from the shore.
Such land invasions are common across Mexico. Many are quickly rooted out. But others gradually become integrated into their cities. As many as 250,000 people are believed to live in squatter communities on the outskirts of Cancun.
Officials claim the “invaders” have created a semi-lawless enclave that has worsened Tulum’s reputation for growing violence and threatened the vital tourism industry.
Squatter leader Jose Antonio León Méndez, a welder who has lived in Cancun and Tulum for about three decades, says he — like many of the squatters who work as cooks, gardeners, and bricklayers at surrounding condos and hotels — was tired of knowing he could never afford a home in towns increasingly filled with foreigners.
“How can a Mexican be an ‘invader’ in his own country? That makes no sense. It’s like saying someone is stealing something that belongs to him,” said León Méndez. “These people are not thieves; they are Tulum’s workforce.”
Source: La Jornada Maya