Until 1992, foreigners could not legally own land in Mexico and ejido land could not be sold. Then, under former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Article 27 of the Constitution was amended to facilitate the modernization of agriculture. The redistribution of land through governmental expropriation was prohibited; parcelized communal lands can now be rented and, in some instances, sold to other farmers or multinational corporations. Corporations, both domestic and foreign, can now own land. This was a significant repudiation of the Mexican Revolution and a defining moment in Mexico’s land use policy.
Ejido members began to privatize collective lands--and then sell plots of that land to pretty much anyone. However, because Mexican federal agricultural officials often took up to a decade to survey and title ejidal lands throughout the Baja California peninsula, many have come on the market only in the past few years.
Ejido members tend to be land rich and cash poor, so when developers offer them quick cash for their acreage, many jump at the chance to bring in income. The buyers very often represent land speculators and developer syndicates. The result is the potential destruction of many of the peninsula’s most scenic and ecologically significant natural sites, especially along the coast.
Contributing to the boom is the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, which eased restrictions on trans-border commerce. Some of the world’s largest corporations began looking at Baja California as a possible location for industrial projects--especially those that cannot easily be built north of the border because they are considered hazardous or potentially polluting. The fact that coastal real estate is much cheaper there than in the United States was definitely a plus. Areas that have been targeted for development include some of the finest remaining examples of coastal desert and coastal sage scrub ecosystems left on earth.
Eighty miles south of Ensenada, at Punta Colonet, a network of Mexican and Asian investors is planning to build a new 27,000-acre megaport industrial complex, complete with a new city for 250,000 residents. The Ministry of the Environment of Mexico recently rejected the environmental impact assessment of the project as inadequate, but the document will be revised and resubmitted. The proposed port is designed to compete with the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
In Bahía de los Ángeles, on the Sea of Cortez, the Mexican National Trust Fund for Tourism Development (FONATUR) is proposing to build a new mega-resort around what is now a remote and rural fishing community that fronts a network of islands, Santos de los Coronados, that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Plans for the project include expanding a port already built at the remote fishing village of Santa Rosalillita, on the Pacific Coast, and building a “land bridge” or superhighway from there to Bahía de los Ángeles to allow yachts to be hauled by large trucks across the peninsula to facilitate yachting in the Sea of Cortez.
Farther south, a number of large development projects have been proposed for the now-tranquil embayment of Bahía Concepción, which contains white-sand beaches, beautiful islands, and some of the the most ecologically sensitive coastal mangrove wetlands in the Sea of Cortez.
Aware that time is running out for Baja’s coastline, a network of Mexican and American conservationists has formed in hopes of putting the brakes on anything-goes development and preserving at least some of Baja’s wildest and most ecologically pristine coastal areas.