Mexico City – Greenpeace has revealed an alleged pact between Spanish developer Hansa Urbana and the Mexican government prior to the official announcement of an environmental permit for a controversial tourist project, but officials denied any wrongdoing.
The group obtained a series of e-mails under Mexico's freedom of information law that indicate the Environment Secretariat informed Hansa Urbana in February about the approval of its Cabo Cortes project before the news was made public in early March.
Several NGOs object to the project on the grounds it could cause irreparable damage to the only coral reef in the Gulf of California, Cabo Pulmo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hansa has announced plans to build some 8,000 condominiums, 15 hotels, a marina and two 18-hole golf courses on a section of coastline adjacent to the reef, a project it says will create some 19,000 jobs.
In March, the secretariat announced that a permit had been granted for the 4,000-hectare (9,875-acre) resort, albeit with a series of restrictions; it also conditioned approval of some of the work on additional environmental studies.
In statements to Efe, secretariat spokesperson Laura Aguilar Loredo "categorically" rejected the existence of any pact with Hansa and said the department carries out its work transparently and "in strict compliance with the law."
She also accused Greenpeace of distorting the information it obtained and placing it in a context that suits its interests, while also inviting the environmental watchdog to challenge the permits issued for the project in court.
In one e-mail cited by Greenpeace, Mexican investment promotion agency ProMexico's investment projects coordinator, Jose Alfonso Lozano, wrote on Feb. 25 that Juan Rafael Galea, son of Hansa President Rafael Galea, had met with Environment Secretary Rafael Elvira Quesada.
In that alleged meeting - the existence of which Aguilar disputed, saying she would have to "review the secretary's schedule" - an agreement was supposedly reached for Hansa to collect the new environmental permit for the Cabo Cortes project at the secretariat's headquarters.
According to the e-mail, the two parties also arranged that Elvira Quesada's deputy, Mauricio Limon, and the national commissioner of Natural Protected Areas of Mexico, Luis Fueyo, would give a press conference on March 1 to announce the government's decision.
They also allegedly agreed that Hansa officials would give a press conference two days later in which they should state that the restrictions and conditions imposed by the secretariat on the Cabo Cortes project would force the company "to incur additional unexpected costs."
The idea, according to the e-mail, was for the company to distance itself from the government and lend more "credibility" to the process.
Greenpeace had requested copies of all correspondence between high-ranking Mexican government officials and top executives of the Hansa Baja Investments and Hansa Urbana companies.
While the secretariat had denied the existence of the information, the Economy Secretariat handed over the e-mails in question, Greenpeace said.
The 20,000-year-old Cabo Pulmo reef, one of the oldest in the American Pacific, is home to 226 of the 875 fish species that inhabit the Gulf of California, according to official information.