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Houses Demolished in Tijuana's Cerro Maravilla Community

by Beth Bird Friday, Aug. 16, 2002 at 3:31 PM

The city government of Tijuana has demolished the 250 houses that make up the working class community of Cerro Maravilla, Puerto al Futuro (Magnificent Hill, Door to the Future).

On Wednesday, August 7th, without any prior warning to the community, bulldozers accompanied by dozens of police in riot gear destroyed all the houses in the community of "Cerro Maravilla, Puerto al Futuro," in Tijuana.

As families watched, their houses were demolished, in many cases without giving people time to remove their furniture and personal belongings. People affected include many children, mothers with newborns, and elderly people, as well as working parents. Some of the houses were poorly constructed, but others were sturdy structures of cinderblock with cement foundations. In total about 250 houses were destroyed.

Cerro Maravilla is a relatively new community, and has incorporated as a "civil association," which is one way groups can incorporate to establish a residential community. Over 1000 families were part of the "civil association," and owned plots of land in the community, but only about 250 families had finished construction of their houses. There were not yet services, like electricity and running water in the community, which is not uncommon in Tijuana, the fastest growing city in Mexico, where the government cannot keep up with the infrastructural needs of the rapidly expanding population.

The mayor claims he ordered the demolition because the houses were in a "high risk area," in danger of landslide during the rainy season, but no natural disaster would have caused greater destruction than that brought on by the bulldozers. The area now looks like it was hit by a tornado, with every single house in ruins.

Residents of the community, and other observers familiar with land issues in Baja California, say that the destruction has nothing to do with the area being "high risk," but rather that powerful land interests were the real reason behind the government action. The people of the community of Cerro Maravilla have title to their land, but that title is being contested by powerful developers, and is currently in litigation. This is not uncommon in Baja California, especially in Tijuana, where real estate values are sky rocketing due to that city's location on the border with the U.S., which leads to rapid development of commercial properties and industrial parks for multinational factories or "maquiladoras." Cerro Maravilla is centrally located, and on a hill commanding a beautiful view of Tijuana. At the base of the hill are several Korean owned maquiladoras and commercial housing developments. This makes the land very valuable.

Legal titles to land in Baja California, especially for poor people, are often very fragile. The only real way to secure that title is de facto, by occupying the land. By building on the land, the community was securing their title to it. By destroying the houses, the city government is rolling back that security, making it easier to expropriate the land from its current owners.

Because of the litigation, members of the community of Cerro Maravilla had an injunction from the federal government prohibiting their removal from the land. The mayor claims he did not go against this federal injunction. He claims he did not remove them from the land, he only destroyed their houses. He says he is not contesting their ownership of the property, but that he will not permit them to build there.

From the morning of Thursday, August 8th, until the evening of Monday, August 12th, members of the community occupied city hall, demanding payment for the damages to their houses. The mayor offered as "payment" to relocate them to an area an hour outside of the city, where they would receive houses with electricity and running water. He said that by doing this they would not lose title to their land on Cerro Maravilla. This offer was only good for those community members whose houses had been bulldozed. Property owners that had not yet completed construction of their houses and would receive

nothing. After several days of negotiation, the community rejected the offer. They know that if they accept it they will eventually lose the land, because the only way to really secure their title to it is by occupying it. They have no interest in living so far outside of the city when their work and their children's schools are in Tijuana. Many of the residents of the community work in the maquiladoras at the base of the hill, and in the nearby neighborhood of Otay Mesa.

Seeing that their negotiation was going nowhere, members of the community left city hall and returned to their land, where they are now camping out on the rubble of their houses, with little protection from the elements. Some have tarps to offer some shade from the beating sun. They have set up a communal kitchen at the base of the hill, and plan to continue their struggle from there. They have returned to federal court in the hope that a federal judge will find that the mayor violated the injunction prohibiting their removal from the land and order reparation for the damages to their property.

They are seeking indemnification and the right to construct on their land.

For more information about the situation at Cerro Maravilla, contact Beth Bird, 949-400-3434 or

And check out the American Friends Service Cmte of SD's call for humanitarian aid at:

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