Pressure forces Mexico to can tourist project

By David Alire Garcia ,Reuters

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced the cancellation of a US$2 billion tourist development in Baja California on Friday, bowing to opposition by environmentalists that said the plan was a threat to a nearby coral reef. Planned by Spanish developer Hansa Urbana, the Cabo Cortes project was to have built on the southeastern tip of the Baja California peninsula and due to include lots for 15 hotels, golf courses, a large marina and jet strip. But the development, which Hansa Urbana had valued at US$2 billion, was only 6 miles (11 km) from the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park and its renowned coral reef system. “The Cabo Cortes project will not be carried out,” Calderon said on Friday, citing its uncertain environmental impact. He pledged to help investors develop a sustainable new project in its place.

Hansa Urbana said it plans to submit a revised proposal that would strike a balance between economic development and “environmental sustainability.” It did not provide a timetable. Hansa’s original proposal envisioned a roughly 4,000 hectare (10,000 acre) development covering a picturesque landscape of white sand beaches edged by mountains and desert about an hour’s drive from the Los Cabos International Airport. The Environment Ministry first approved the project in 2008 and Calderon’s announcement caps years of legal battles over permits for it that were granted and then revoked due to environmental concerns. The decision by Calderon, who hosts a summit of leaders from the Group of 20 economies in Los Cabos on Monday, was hailed by environmental groups that have campaigned against Cabo Cortes due to threats to the area’s clean water supply and marine life. “We consider it a great achievement for all the citizens who voted for the conservation of Cabo Pulmo,” said Alejandro Olivera of Greenpeace Mexico. Calderon, a conservative, is in his final year as president and legally barred from seeking re-election. The fate of any new development likely will fall to his successor.