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Houses demolished in Tijuana

by Beth Bird Sunday, Aug. 18, 2002 at 4:24 PM
ERBPhoenix@aol.com 949-400-3434

On Wednesday, August 7th, the city of Tijuana bulldozed the houses of the community of "Cerro Maravilla, Puerto al Futuro" (Magnificent Hill, Door to the Future). I have been with them 24/7, both at city hall and on their land, and seen first-hand the destruction wrought by the demolition. Below is an account of the past week's events, as well as a few still photos I grabbed from the video I shot.

Houses demolished in...
destruction.jpegu364vw.jpeg, image/jpeg, 360x240

On Wednesday, August 7th, the city of Tijuana bulldozed the houses of the

community of "Cerro Maravilla, Puerto al Futuro" (Magnificent Hill, Door to

the Future). For the past five days I have been in Tijuana, accompanying

members of the community in a sit-in at city hall, documenting their struggle

and their negotiations with the city. I have been with them 24/7, both at

city hall and on their land, and seen first-hand the destruction wrought by

the demolition. Below is an account of the past week's events, as well as a

few still photos I grabbed from the video I shot.



Houses demolished in Tijuana

By Beth Bird

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, were 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.

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