Jun 15

Felipe Calderon, president of Mexico, announced today his decision to cancel the project of Cabo Cortes, a Cancun-sized resort planned for Baja California South, in front of a protected coral reef. This project has been quite controversial since the beginning, with environmentalists saying it threatens an area that is a model for environmental recovery.

The announcement is meant to protect the Cabo Pulmo reserve, the only coral reef in the Gulf of California, a formerly over-fished area where marine life has exploded following a decision almost two decades ago by local residents to stop commercial fishing and develop ecotourism activities instead.

But in 2008, federal authorities granted initial permits for a Spanish developer to build about 30,000 hotel rooms, golf courses and a marina on a strip of seaside desert about a 90-minute drive northeast of the Los Cabos resorts. Two years later, in the face of widespread protests, authorities added a series of conditions, including extensive studies of ocean currents, to ensure that sediment, runoff and waste form the planned resort wouldn’t harm the reef, parts of it just 30 feet (10 meters) offshore.

Calderon said Friday the permits were being withdrawn because the developer, which ran into financial problems during Europe’s financial crisis, hadn’t proved the 9,400-acre (3,800-hectare) resort, known as Cabo Cortes, wouldn’t harm the environment.

“Because of its size, we have to be absolutely certain that it (the project) wouldn’t cause irreversible damage, and that absolute certainty simply hasn’t been proved,” Calderon said. “To sum it up, Cabo Cortes won’t be built.”

Fighting the planned resort became one of the main causes of Mexican environmentalists, who staged protests in which demonstrators paraded with tropical fish cutouts, tossed a giant life-ring into the sea and staged petition drives to stop the project.

Omar Vidal, head of the environmental group WWF Mexico, called Friday’s announcement “an important victory, because it shows that when the public organizes, it can achieve great things.”

“This sets an important precedent and sends an important message to Mexican and international investors, that this type of tourist development, based on mass scale and golf courses, is no longer acceptable in Mexico,” Vidal said.

The developer, Madrid-based Hansa Urbana, did not immediately respond to request for comment. The company suffered financial setbacks in part because it overextended in building sprawling resorts along the Spanish coast. In 2011, as part of Spain’s reorganization of troubled assets, it was largely acquired by a regional Spanish bank, Banco Sabadell, which has little experience with such massive resort development. Sabadell’s Mexico office has also not responded to requests for comment on the project.

In the past, supporters of the project had said most of the resort’s land would be left in its natural state.

Calderon said the case showed that “the federal government is sensitive to both the concerns of the inhabitants of the area and the scientific and environmentalist communities, as well as to the needs for legal certainty that any investment requires.”

The fight against the resort has lasted for years, with environmentalists suggesting collusion between government regulators and the developers.

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