Message by César Guerrero, Executive Director
We have worked toward the conservation and protection of the natural ecosystems and wildlife of the Baja California peninsula for fifteen years. To date, we have managed to permanently protect over 22,000 hectares (54,363 acres) of dunes, beaches, wetlands, forest, and coastal scrub in Baja California.
Throughout this time, we have had the active and ongoing support of researchers, scholars, community members, business owners, government representatives and donors.
Today, our most prominent conservation project is being threatened and it’s extremely important for us to share with you the background of this situation and the steps we are taking in order to protect the natural heritage of the peninsula for the Mexican people and to defend the work of our organization.
In 2012, Terra Peninsular, thanks to the support from Mexican and international conservationists and donors, was able to acquire a property of 830 hectares (2,050 acres) in the San Quintín Bay known as Punta Mazo Nature Reserve. Likewise, early this year we managed to protect Monte Ceniza, an 860 hectares (2,125 acres) land in central San Quintín Bay, known as Monte Ceniza Nature Reserve
Together, they form and protect the bay, which is home of endemic species such as Anthony’s live-forever (Dudleya anthonyi) and the fascinating legless lizard (Anniella geronimensis). Its vegetation includes some of the richest and most intact coastal scrub in the region, and it is the winter home to nearly 25,000 migratory birds.
As with any other land purchase for conservation purposes, the legal research of the property titles was conducted with due diligence and extreme precaution. In 2012, Terra Peninsular became the official guardian of this natural space, which was certified as an Area Voluntarily Destined for Conservation (Área Destinada Voluntariamente a la Conservación, ADVC) by the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) in 2014. We also seek to certify Monte Ceniza with the same category.
Conservation actions have been conducted in the nature reserve, such as continuous biological monitoring and the construction of two interpretive stations. We have involved the surrounding communities in activities regarding sustainable development, festivals and workshops that have raised local awareness and community support for conservation projects.
On May 17, 2016, we went to the local Land Registration Office to pay the annual property taxes. To our surprise, we were informed that the property office codes (claves catastro) we have been using to pay our taxes ever since we acquired the property had been cancelled and ten new codes had been created. In addition, 10 false property titles of these lands had been issued, in November 2015, to 9 individuals who have no relation to us.
These false titles were issued without the proper order of a judge and were signed by the Secretariat of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Agrario, Territorial y Urbano SEDATU). This is an act of corruption, impunity and cynicism that jeopardizes any conservation project in the bay.
We know the names of these individuals because in 1995, the same nine men requested these property titles to themselves, claiming that they belonged to national territories. At that time, after a long legal process of ten years, in 2011, the Superior Collegiate Tribunal, the highest judicial authority below the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, ruled in favor of Rafael Orendain, the owner of the land at that time. It was because of this ruling that Terra was ultimately able to acquire Punta Mazo.
In the present case, there is not any legal basis to dispossess Terra Peninsular of this land; we have all the documents that confirm that we are the sole owner of this property. We are confident that we will succeed because all of our actions have been carried out with honesty and strict adherence to the Mexican laws, and are in accordance with our primary objectives of conserving and protecting the natural ecosystems of the peninsula of Baja California. We are working very hard to solve this situation and we will take all the necessary measures to ensure that Punta Mazo remain as a nature reserve.
As friends and allies of our organization, it is important for us to inform you about the following actions we are being forced to take in the next few days:
- We have submitted an amparo (a legal proceeding for the protection of constitutional rights in Mexico) to a District Court in Mexico City to plead that SEDATU void the property titles and that the Land Registration Office remove these false titles from the records.
- We have also submitted a civil lawsuit seeking to hold the responsible authorities liable for any damages.
- Once the amparo and the civil lawsuit are completed, we will consider the possibility of filing a criminal complaint against the responsible authorities and the nine individuals that appear in the false property titles for fraud, dispossession and forgery.
As an additional action to our legal defense, we are building a boundary fence with permanent security at the entrance to Punta Mazo Nature Reserve. This action was never in our plans, but today we feel it is necessary to make clear that we possess the land. We want to make clear that visitors who want to respectfully enjoy the Punta Mazo Nature Reserve will continue to be welcomed; we only intend to control access to those who mean no good.
Please, don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like more information, or if you have any recommendations that might strengthen our case.