Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Occupation of Tenacatita: One Year Later

photo © Mark Butkus 2006
¿Qué pasa en Tenacatita?

On August 4, 2010, businessman Andres Villalobos' security force swept through the tiny Pacific coast beach town of Tenacatita, Jalisco, Mexico. Businesses were bulldozed, people evicted, property confiscated and a perimeter fence erected.

Third-world actions occur in third-world countries but the unique circumstances of Tenacatita go beyond what you will find in most Banana Republics.

For starters, according to the Mexican constitution the beaches and shores belong to the Mexican people. You cannot buy what can't be sold. From 200 meters of high-tide the beaches belong to the Mexican people. You cannot legally buy this land. Land can be purchased beyond this point but the local villagers who have title to this ejido land were evicted nonetheless.

As with most places, money talks. And money has kept Tenacatita from the people of Mexico for one year. The disputed lands are being policed by an armed "security" force that answers to no-one but the millionaire from Guadalajara who pays their salary.

The local people seem resigned to their fate, the local bureaucrats who are not in the pocket of the developer are ambivalent at best. Deciphering truth from fiction across language barriers is fraught with false hopes of a settlement so that the villagers can return to their lives and their livelihood.

The once thriving restaurant business in Tenacatita.

Technically, the beach at Tenacatita is open...at a price. It is not a monetary price but a more personal price. It involves surrendering your passport, ID, and vehicle keys. It involves surrendering your dignity and freedom.

August 4, 2011 marked the ignominious first anniversary of the occupation of Tenacatita.

¿Qué pasa?

Having spent the summer traveling, I have visited centuries-old cities in Italy that had been occupied as recently as World War II. I have been to Spain - the original occupying force of Mexico. In Barcelona, Generalissimo Franco tried to eradicate the Catalan culture and language in the 20th century. The trilingual signs that directed me in Catalan, Spanish and French proved Franco's folly and the resilience of the Catalan people. I've been to Africa, speaking French in Morocco - a remnant of another occupying force in North Africa.

I swam in the Adriatic, Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean seas. Dipped my feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa looking east before racing Hurricane Irene back to New York City. On the African coast I looked beyond the vastness of the great big sea, beyond the shores of the distant Gulf of Mexico, past the country of Mexico itself to the Pacific coast of Jalisco and Tenacatita Bay.

Through all of my travels abroad I could not find a peer to the waters and people of Tenacatita.

Prior to my arrival in Africa I scanned the Internet looking hopefully for news of a settlement in Tenacatita. For an end of the occupation. But there was no news. Just forlorn questions; ¿Qué pasa en Tenacatita?

The web sites that sprang to life last summer and the message boards that hummed with activity about the plight of the people in Tenacatita have fallen silent. From early disbelief and outrage these sites kept us connected, kept us informed. Over time the news slowed.

There was news of a symbolic landing party at Christmas, of fundraisers this past spring and in between the lulls of information, ¿Qué pasa en Tenacatita?

Online posts are dated and the occasional query begs for an update. It is hoped that these pages will once again become fertile ground for the dissemination of information and push forward the cause to justice for the residents of Tenacatita.

One year later the people of Tenacatita are no closer to returning home. One year later the people of Tenacatita are no closer to returning to their livelihood. The sporadic doubletalk and hope of elected officials and interested parties alike gave us glimmers of hope or had us shaking our head.

The visitors to Jalisco are denied the opportunity to freely enjoy the Bay, it's people and the opportunity to contribute financially to the vibrant community that was Tenacatita. As the occupation of Tenacatita now enters its second year we are all losers.

Memories of Tenacatita frozen in time.

Our memories of Tenacatita are now fenced off, trapped in time and unable to be renewed as we mourn the loss of our seaside oasis.

In the coming weeks the summer rains will end and the tourists will begin filtering back to Jalisco. A shrug of the shoulders will be the reply to the question, ¿Qué pasa en Tenacatita?

It was T.S. Eliot who wrote that the world ended not with a bang but with a whimper. Had Eliot happened upon the shores of Tenacatita Bay he may have written that the village ended, not with a bang, not with a whimper but with resigned indifference.


  1. Are the hotel and the spa up on the cliff still there? Are they operating?

  2. Anna, it is my understanding that nothing is operational in Tenacatita. The public has use of the beach and that is all.