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Organic development through tourism in a Nahua community

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Title:
Organic development through tourism in a Nahua community
Creator:
Moreno Contro, Ricardo
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Language:
English
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viii, 103 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Nahuas -- Mexico -- Ticla ( lcsh )
Tourism -- Mexico -- Ticla ( lcsh )
Tourism -- Social aspects -- Mexico -- Ticla ( lcsh )
Economic conditions -- Ticla (Mexico) ( lcsh )
Social conditions -- Ticla (Mexico) ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 98-103).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Ricardo Moreno Contro.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
182519236 ( OCLC )
ocn182519236
Classification:
LD1193.L65 2007m C66 ( lcc )

Full Text
ORGANIC DEVELOPMENT THROUGH TOURISM IN A
NAHUA COMMUNITY
by
Ricardo Moreno Contro
B.S. Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente 2004
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters in Social Sciences
2007
I-


This Thesis for Masters in Social Sciences
degree by
Ricardo Moreno Contro
has been approved
by
RafaeKMorem
Date
lames
oe


Ricardo Moreno Contro
Organic Development through Tourism in a Rural Nahua Village
Thesis directed by Professor John A Brett
ABSTRACT
The intention of this thesis is to analyze the role that tourism plays as a
development tool in Mexico, particularly in coastal areas, by discussing its socio-
economic impact on these regions through a case study where a rural
community, which was historically isolated developed an unusual tourism
industry. This study will look into characteristics of this tourism scheme,
particularly how it avoids McCannel's (1999) authenticity dilemmas of native
culture, and the pitfalls of ecotourism trends. These seem to be avoided because
its competitive business infrastructure emerged by exploiting natural assets, such
as location, and a peculiar type of tourists, instead of relaying on nature
conservancy or local customs. The economy in this community has been
successful as a community-empowering tool, because profits from the industry
are limited to its members. Outside-private investment is prohibited due to a
unique set of historical and legal circumstances, so any produced wealth stays
within the community, and thus the 'trickle-down' effect benefits more families.
There also appear to be social and environmental benefits due to the self-
regulating consequences of this scheme, specially when compared with
traditional tourism projects that require large macro-economic enterprises to lure
investors and their funds, which ultimately drain produced wealth from local
regions, displace local populations, and demand more natural resources.
This thesis attempts to dissect the prevalent tourism-as-development paradigm
in Mexico to understand a unique phenomenon that developed in this indigenous
rural village. The events in this community reveal that there is a need to
reconfigure how tourism can create sources of income for the rural regions of
Mexico by exploring new methods that emphasize benefits for host communities.
This abstract accurately represents the contents of this
recommend its publication
candidate's thesis. I
Signed


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures.......................................................vi
Tables.......................................................vii
CHAPTER
1.INTRODUCTION.................................................1
l.lBackground..................................................1
1.2 Research Questions.........................................5
1.3 Significance of the Research...............................6
2. LITERATURE REVIEW...........................................8
2.1 What's being developed again...............................9
2.2 Mexico, tourism, and modernity............................13
2.3 Alternate methods to use tourism as development...........18
2.3.1 The green monopoly in alternative tourism...............27
2.4 Tourism and anthropology..................................30
2.5 Literature synthesis......................................32
3. BACKGROUND TO CASE STUDY...................................33
3.1 Defining tourism as an activity.........................33
3.2 Tourism as development in Mexico..........................34
3.3 Indigenous rights in Mexico...............................42
4. METHODOLOGY................................................50
IV


4.1 Tlcla
5
4.2 Data gathering and interpretation..........................54
5. ORGANIC DEVELOPMENT.......:..................................58
5.1 History of Ticla and Ostula.................................58
5.2 The county of Aquila in the Mexican era....................61
5.3 Ticla and surfers..........................................64
5.4 Community initiatives and symbiotic relationships..........72
5.5 Frictions and a Wedding....................................74
6. CONCLUSIONS..................................................79
6.1 Shifts from research design................................79
6.2 Tourism in Ticla and the larger picture....................82
6.2.1 Local ownership in rural communities......................87
6.2.2 The Ejido and Organic Development.........................90
6.3 Research Questions.........................................92
6.4 Future research and further outlook........................95
BIBLIOGRAPHY....................................................98
v


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure
1. LADDER OF COMMUNITY INFLUENCE..................31
2. TOURIST MAP OF OSTULA..........................50
3. TICLA AND THE OSTULA RIVER DELTA...............51
4. NAHUATL SPEAKING HOUSEHOLDS....................60
5. NINETEENTH CENTURY NAHUA FAMILY................61
6. ENTRANCE SIGN AT TICLA.........................64
vi


LIST OF TABLES
Table
1. Three premises of structural adjustment programs................18
2. Propositions to empower sustainable development.................26
3. Definitions of ecotourism.......................................28
4. Social practices defining tourism...............................33
5. Ecotourism and adventure tourism................................39
vii


viii


1 INTRODUCTION
l.lBackground
Tourism has become an integral part of developing nations that depend on the
income earned through this industry to earn vital foreign currency, however, this
search for economic profits through tourism has led to dramatic changes, particularly
along tropical coastlines, where the first and some of largest resorts emerged.
(Clancy 2001:128). Multinational agencies still promote tourism as a viable method
to replace traditional industries lost to new market trends, yet tourism has a dubious
record when it comes to benefiting the original inhabitants of a tourist attraction
(Reis 2003); tourism projects in the twentieth century benefited mostly trans-
national corporations and entrepreneurs, while local communities seemed to "bear
the cost of that development without adequate reward" (Reid 2003:1).
The tendency to use tourism as an economic instigator can be traced the political
model that President Truman, through his inauguration speech, put into the global
spotlight. Mexico's government gradually embraced this trend, which among other
projects meant large-scale tourist attractions to cash in on the post-war prosperity of
its northern neighbor. However, Mexican politicians and entrepreneurs where not
exactly altruistic in their pursuits, or fully aware of long-term impacts, most large-
scale developments were plagued by favoritism, corruption, nepotism, and very little
intake from local populations (Clancy 2001, Cruz 2005). One of the largest projects,
Cancun, is commonly used in tourism literature to describe what notto do when
creating a major resort (Fennel 1999:8). The social and ecological impacts of this
city have been well documented, with beaches and lagoons being heavily polluted
due to a lack of appropriate sewage management, and the creation of a
1


marginalized economy between the few "who are able to capture economic rewards
from tourism and the many...who have been displaced from traditional
industries"(Fennel 1999:129). Today even Mexican government officials from
tourism boards "SECTUR and FONATUR...openly admit that they overbuilt in Cancun"
(Clancy 2001:145). The most common critiques of Cancun, summarized by Clancy
are the lack of community intake, monopoly of the industry by foreign corporations
that drain profits from the area, irreversible environmental damage, and
displacement of native populations, among many others (2005:152).
Most major beach destinations in Mexico were first envisioned during the "Mexican
economic miracle" of the late '60s. Several coastal towns became cosmopolitan
attractions; places like Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta became the main attractions in
the "Mexican Riviera", while others like the "Mayan Riviera" and the Cabo- San Lucas
corridor, where artificially manufactured in nearly deserted spots.
The proximity to the U.S. meant that the tourism culture that evolved in America
during the first half of the twentieth century could find welcoming communities in
the "exotic" regions of the Mexican coast (Clancy 2001:132). After the initial
economic success of these destinations, the Mexican government embraced tourism
as a part of the national project to develop the country by creating federal agencies
with sole purpose of promoting and managing tourism, eventually culminating in
what Clancy describes as "[a] predominant form of tourism [that is] export oriented,
large scale, mass based, and centered around beaches" (2001:132).
Today every state on the pacific coast of Mexico, except Chiapas and Michoacan,
has a major beach resort1. Tourism is a widely used development tool, with large
experiments dominating planning boards. Currently the federal government has a
1 Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guerrero and Oaxaca, all have major
beach destinations.
2


project planned for the Baja Peninsula and the Gulf of Cortez called "Escalera
Nautica", which consists of creating marinas and resorts along the coast. However
this project, like previous ones, is founded on dubious research or biased
investigations that favor the neo-liberal approach, with several shaky connections to
previous state government officials already starting to emerge (Gamez & Montano
2004)
Mexico, under its "emerging-economy" status will likely continue to be attracted to
the economic benefits that this type of tourism provides. Yet the justification to
these projects is based on a utilitarian approach with benefits to the national
economy rather than to local communities. (Clancy 2001, Honey 1999, Gardner &
Lewis 1996, Chambers 1983)
Traditionally in Mexico, tourism-development projects came from outside the
community, most designed by federal agencies, with a smaller fraction by local
states (Clancy 2001:132-37). The federal government planned and developed most
major beach destinations in Mexico, yet success for distant politicians, economists,
and investors does not translate as success for local communities, meaning that
even if macro-economic indicators show promising numbers, a community can be
devastated and local culture and identity completely absorbed, particularly when all
that is used to rate the prosperity of a project is rigid quantitative data.
The idea of sustainability emerged to bridge the gap between global, national, and
local needs, by juggling economic, social and, biophysical factors to satisfy local
demands, such as standard of living, while integrating them into larger political
projects that emerged after the welfare state went out of fashion. However, due to
the many elements need to come together for a community to reach the chimera of
sustainability, there are "few, if any, rigorous definitions of the concept of
3


sustainable tourism...[where] scientific analysis [is] hampered, and policy imprecise
and confusing" (Tisdell & Wen 1997:1).
The trend of sustainable tourism gained popularity in late '80s, when several
attempts to harness the economic benefits of tourism on a smaller scale started to
emerge. The most widespread project by far was Ecotourism, which became
established internationally by the mid '90s (Honey 1999). In Mexico, due to the work
of Ceballos-Lascurain, a global pioneer of the concept, it also became the only
alternative to mass-produced tourism. Thanks to the work of PRONATURA, one of
the largest environmental NGO's in Mexico and founded by Ceballos-Lascurain in the
late '80s, Ecotourism became the only actual viable method to practice sustainable
tourism (Fennel 1999:30). The basic proposal of this concept relied on ecological
conservation that would give local communities a source of income, prioritizing
environmental conservation, which is promoted as the attraction itself.
Ecotourism it self grew out of a major paradigm shift in the late eighties; the idea
of sustainable development, which was catapulted to global fame by the Brundtland
Report, emitted by the World Commission on Environment and Development
(WGED) in 1987 (Hoff 1998, Honey 1999, Clancy 2001). This report, named after the
former Norwegian prime minister who headed the commission, describes
sustainability as "...development that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Hoff
1998:6). Ecotourism, arguably, became the most practical implementation of
sustainable-tourism development-programs, mainly because it was based on
conserving resources, while creating a business environment that would activate
rural economies. Ceballos-Lascurain defined it back in 1983 as "traveling to relatively
undisturbed areas...with the specific objective of studying, admiring, and enjoying
the scenery and its wild plants and animals as well as any existing cultural
manifestations" (Fennel 1999:30).
4


1.2 Research Questions
If traditional and environmentally-based tourism-development projects, have a
questionable record alleviating poverty in rural communities, including "cultural" side
effects like those documented in "cannibal tours" (O'Rourke 1987), should tourism
be discarded as a viable development tool for these ostracized communities?
The argument of this thesis will try to answer this question by presenting a unique
case study that found a different path to empower their community through tourism.
This small indigenous community has autonomously crafted a symbiotic relationship
with tourism that proved more successful than all previous "artificial" development
projects implemented before in this region (Gledhill 2003). Another benefit of this
particular tourism industry is that it avoids becoming a tourist attraction revolving
around Ceballos-Lascurain's voyeuristic exhibition of "cultural manifestations", or the
environment.
The literature widely acknowledges that if a rural community is to reach
sustainability, many elements have to synchronize. However, one of them, arguably
the most important one, or a reliable method to acquire capital that can withstand
the whimsical nature of a neo-liberal and global economy, is still widely displaced by
environmental and even cultural conservancy goals (Tisdell 1997:2). Alternative
tourism-development programs promote local economic benefits, but through the
trickle-down effect of low wage employment, or in the best case scenario, through
local ownership that must compete with foreigners or outsiders who are better
prepared to manage tourist-based enterprises.
The case-study presented in this thesis, an indigenous community, appears to
clear these obstacles through local ownership and excluding external investment and
5


competition, producing an industry with high levels of sustainability and local
empowerment. Yet what happens if this "development" materializes in an unplanned
manner? Would it still be called development? Would it be something else? Is it a
consequence of a regional and national trickle-down effect into unsuspected areas?
Do successful development projects happen only under the strict supervision of
technical guidance and government planning? Could a rural tourist-economy that
appears to be growing, and seems sustainable, be labeled after the fact as
"sustainable development'? The focus of this thesis will be to present the case study
in the rural coast of Mexico, that raised these questions, and present the possibility
of seeing, and thus analyzing, sustainable development from what seems to be a
different perspective. A perspective based on a locally produced, spontaneous
emergence, of a locally managed industry that could be labeled after the fact, as
"sustainable development". Because the rise of this industry did not follow a
premeditated model guided by traditional planning forces, labeling it as "organic"
better describes the unique process of its emergence. However this label also
emphasizes the nature of the local economy, where external or "artificial"
management and control is nearly absent.
1.3 Significance of the Research
This thesis studies previous notions of development, such as sustainable
development, but specifically, development through tourism, and its success, or lack
thereof, in improving the livelihood of rural communities in Mexico. The idea of using
tourism to develop rural communities is almost as old as the notion of economic
development. Unsurprisingly then the current paradigm to develop through tourism
is based on models that rely on market forces to activate local economies (Clancy
2001). Any generated wealth is first absorbed by the insatiable capitalist enterprise,
with the remaining surplus expected to eventually trickle down to host populations.
6


In the traditional tourism-as-development model, as well as with most alternative
implementations based on tourism, empowering local communities can easily
become secondary to creating wealth for investors, which for the most part are not
native members of the host community.
Still tourism is a powerful tool that if used correctly can empower rural areas, and
not only improve their standard of living, but also help maintain an identity, and
sense of communal self in the face of homogenizing globalization forces. One such
case appears to have taken place in a small village on the remote coast of the
Mexican state of Michoacan. This development approach, which this thesis labels
"Organic Development", will be dissected through this unique case, where this
"Organic Development" based on tourism seems to have grown and taken root,
independent of traditional developing interference.
7


2 LITERATURE REVIEW
This thesis is concerned with the role that tourism plays as an agent of
development in Mexico and how it has historically been managed and exploited,
especially in the last twenty-five years. Traditionally in Mexico the most common
method has been to use tourism as national asset and thus managed in macro
economic terms. This is due to two major reasons. First as mentioned earlier, due to
the global paradigm popularized by the Marshal Plan and then the Truman
administration, added to the unprecedented growth of the tourism industry in the
post-war era. And also due to political and historical factors in Mexico, where natural
resources are seen as national assets to be managed by the state, mainly as a
consequence of the 1910 Revolution, its distribution of private landholdings, and the
expropriation of oil wells in 1938, which nationalized natural resources. Tourism in
the early days was managed like banana crops, oil wells, or mines, in politicians'
desks from centralized and distant headquarters (Clancy 2001) with strong utilitarian
and nationalistic undertones.
Tourism became a major global industry with the help of the rising middle class in
post war America, with unique social traits, among them the adoption of holidaying
as a valuable social asset and source of social capital (Mowforth 8i Munt 1998:34).
The lowering costs of air travel meant that major beach destinations in Mexico were
easy to access. The western notion of traveling to exotic lands, added to Fordism
and its separation of work and recreation, led to large numbers first world tourists
traveling to underdeveloped nations bringing with them foreign currency that could
not be rejected in poverty stricken regions (Inskeep 1991). The evolution of tourism
as a development tool, grew out of the need to harness this source of income that
foreigners where bringing into economically poor regions of the world. By the early
8


90s, 400 million-traveling tourists (Butler 1991:289) have turned the tourist industry
into a primary source of foreign exchange for many emerging economies. However
this exponential and uncontrolled growth of the industry also meant that many
destinations are loved to death by tourists, because ultimately the environment "in
its widest sense [was] the focus and raison d'etre of tourism" (Butler 1991:204).
In the 70s environmentalists began calling the tourism industry the "scourge of
the environment, similar to the Mongol hordes or Vikings of ancient times" (Butler
1991:206). The social and environmental impact that the unchecked growth of the
industry was having on ecological and culturally fragile regions led to paradigm shifts
were the role of tourism as development was put into doubt (Mowforth and Munt
1998). Out of these paradigm shifts grew the idea of sustainable tourism and
ecotourism.
2.1 What's being developed again?
Mexico's tourism planning sector is still largely centrally regulated reflecting the
overall national political structure. This centralism tends to produce large
development projects financed with foreign aid dollars in accordance to IMF and
World Bank standards. But how is it that this macro-approach became the norm for
exploiting tourism revenues? How did Mexico's development discourse reach its
current state?
Modern ideas of development materialized and emerged as a political discourse
after the reconstruction of post WWII Europe. Due to the success of the Marshall
Plan in Europe, the macro-economic shock- therapy became the Holy Grail in the
search to develop democracy and economic prosperity, in so called
"underdeveloped", and war torn nations. Yet the physical, economic, and political
impossibility of occupying all nations to be developed, (as in the case of Japan and
9


Germany) or reconstructing the infrastructure and reactivating an existing economy
(like most of Western Europe) led to smaller projects. Small of course, only
compared to the magnitude of the Marshall Plan, but largely based on Keynesian
economic principals, particularly that of exponential spending to activate the
economy (Redclift 1997:37).
Escobar argues that the need to expand capitalism, the cold war, the decline of
colonialism and blind faith in science, led to a lineal view of modernity where
"underdeveloped" meant "primitive and uncivilized", where developed translated into
"modern and advanced"(1995:26-30). Modernity theory was quickly embraced by
poor nations, or at least by their political leaders, who wanted to dip into foreign-aid
dollars. Demands by donor nations were based on economic reforms, not democracy
or social benefits, which until recently were long-term (and almost utopist) goals
that would eventually come through the infamous "trickle down" effect (Gardner &
Lewis 1995:6).
For Escobar development is a discourse that creates applications based on the
notion of "underdeveloped" nations, and thus it corners a country into only one
viable solution based on industrialization and economic growth (Escobar 1995).
Social benefits are not addressed directly; in modernization theory the aim is to
improve macro-economic indicators. Any positive social consequences come through
a "trickling down" of capital, by the increase in employment, productivity and
consumption, all ideas first proposed by Henry Ford. This trend has gradually been
losing traction in knowledge cores, yet third world nations still need time for the
contemporary discourse on development to erode decades of macro-economic
focused policies and industrialization (Gardner & Lewis 1997 6-7). These policies
have had little or no impact on the poorest members of already poor countries:
10


Modernization also ignores the political implications of growth on the micro level.
Premised on the notion of "trickle down", it assumes that once economic growth has
been attained, the whole population will reap the rewards. Again, anthropologists and
sociologists have repeatedly shown that social-life is not so simple. Even in regions of
substantial economic growth, poverty levels often remain the same or deteriorate
even further" (Mosley, 1987:155 quoted in Gardner & Lewis 1997:15)
In 1975 the United Nations counted no fewer than 323 existing national
development programs in which the it was involved, all started only since 1951. The
emphasis of these programs was on "industrialization, increased commodity output,
and export-led growth to generate foreign exchange and improve the balance of
trade, rather than on the people involved in this production" (Sofield 2003:4). Not
surprisingly Escobar's position argues that development is colonialism in a different
packaging. Another major critique given to modernization theory was the inability to
differentiate, not only degrees of poverty, but to cluster all marginalized social
groups as if their particular situation was completely inconsequential for successful
development.
National tourism boards in emerging economies still think of tourism in modernity-
development language; Mexico's government tourism board, even while discussing
"eco-adventure tourism" in their literature, is still mostly passive in administering or
regulating it (www.sectur.gob.mx). The most active role in harnessing tourism's
revenues for social development by SECTUR is through modernity-mass projects
justified as such with the creation of new urban areas that produce (low waged)
employment. A major problem with modernization theory is that the economic
wealth created by the macro-economic shock therapy quickly gains a life of its own;
mass- tourism developments in the age of loose economic policies, lobbying, and
transnational corporations, are easily justifiable, whereas small social programs that
are harder to quantify seemed to gather less political attention.
11


In Mexico this meant that tourism planning was limited to a "simplistic process of
encouraging new hotels to open", providing transportation to the area, and
promoting the destination through colorful ads (Inskeep 1991:15). Planning revolved
around infrastructure and promoting the area, very little concern was given to the
environmental or social impact that the new urbanization would have (ibid.).
The negative impacts and the reduced social benefits of modernity-type
development have been well documented since the late '50s. The waves of critiques
on modernization theory and its relationship to tourism started in the late '60s and
described the adverse effects that this economic continuum had on most of the
Third World. Many of these critiques blamed capitalism for "chronic
underdevelopment", while proposing a counter-approach based on Marxist
principles (Sofield 2003). From these emerged Dependency Theory that relied on
notion that industrialized-urban areas are the center of capitalism and from there
they engage their power to control the "periphery" and maintain it perpetually
underdeveloped (Toye 1978, Sofield 2003). While modernization theory looked at
development in the economic arena, the dependency-theorists where concerned
with identifying the causes that kept a region or nation underdeveloped. A basic
premise of argued that underdeveloped nations were under the constant
domination of developed ones, which depend on the resources of underdeveloped
regions to maintain their high standards of living. Because of this, underdeveloped
nations can't reach a developed status through economic and market forces alone.
For tourism this meant that first world tourists, and business, consume both
"physical and cultural resources, while leaving little of benefit behind" (Reid
2003:82); most expenses incurred by tourists are in transportation and hotels,
which for the most part, are owned by foreign companies, excluding the host
population from the major profits.
12


Empirical evidence showed that the economic surplus generated in Latin America [by
foreign corporations] was drained away. Instead of being used for investment in the
country of origin, most of the surplus was transferred to the affluent capitalist
countries, especially the US [where many corporations are based]. [The] basic point
[is] that satellites [nations] would be developed only to the extent and in the respects
which [are] compatible with the interest of their metropolis (Martinussen 1997 quoted
by Reid 2003:86)
By the '80s these development critiques had firmly introduced a "social
dimension" to the development discourse (Sofield 2003:4) while exposing the
manipulative and unequal relationship in traditional development.
However, this social component was absorbed by the rise of Neoliberal policies in
the last decade of the twentieth century. In the seventies, when Mexico finally
decided to actively regulate and promote tourism, the government used international
aid to build infrastructure and a state owned industry. This was justifiable in
capitalist terms because Keynesian economics was still the ongoing economic
paradigm, where active state involvement in national industries was still encouraged.
Following this economic trend, tourism in Mexico was a fully centralized and state
managed activity for most of the 1970s. When neo-liberal policies replaced
Keynesian economics, Mexico privatized and opened its tourism industry to foreign
investment by liberalizing the industry. The social element, actively discussed by
dependency and world systems theories, was thrown out with the Keynesian
regulating-patriarch state, and replaced by the small, neoconservative government
that lets market forces regulate industries.
Mexico saw tourism go from a national endeavor with utilitarian justifications, to a
"liberated" market with more government incentives than regulations. The social
element in tourism projects found in sustainable tourism or ecotourism its only active
agent into the twenty first century (Inskeep 2001).
13


2.2. Mexico, Tourism and Modernity
In Mexico, tourism was originally seen as a national asset as opposed to a local
one. Natural resources in Mexico have oil and its regulatory legal system as
guidelines, thus the tourist industry in Mexico has historically been part of the
political discourse that sees it as a natural national resource. Mexico started to
gradually promote and regulate tourism with the first post-revolutionary wave of
non-military presidents. Starting with president Lopez Mateos in the late '50s, this
meant macro-economic projects based on the idea to "transfer to the Third World a
series of Keynesian models [that could] analyze economic growth" and implement
specific economic actions (Clancy 2001). The '70s saw a national project to exploit
tourism, mainly beaches and archeological sites, with heavy investment and
propaganda from the state, that was based on the patriotic duty of being hospitable
strongly encouraged by the 1968 Summer Olympics and 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
The late '80s saw the rise of neo-liberal economic policies, which meant a
reduction of state interference, deregulating the economy, and large privatizations of
state industries, among them tourism. This led to a rise irr corporately funded
projects in association with federal or state agencies. However tourism as a micro-
local asset did not materialize as a clear entity in Mexico until the '90s, when the
language of ecotourism came around to describe it, and to a certain degree, shape
it.
Tourism today, is still considered a national resource where tourism projects can
be justified on utilitarian principles, even if the state no longer holds a monopoly on
planning and managing the industry (Clancy 2001). Tourism still is a source of
national pride, discussed in patriotic tones by politicians' rhetoric to justify, on
utilitarian grounds, large-scale projects that are mostly foreign owned (Cruz 2005).
14


Currently eco-tourism is the only viable option promoted by government tourism
agencies to large-scale projects, yet it is vaguely defined with hardly any attempts to
regulate it or encourage profits to stay in the hands of local populations.
(www.sectur.gob.mx)
Today the passive role of the neoliberal state, poses several dangers to local
populations: tourism has been gradually replacing agriculture as the major source of
income and employment for rural regions in developing nations (Inskeep 1991,
Clancy 2001, Reid 2003); agriculture once the center of the lifestyle of these
communities has been replaced by industrialization. Even the extractive industries
(fishing and mining) have been displaced by the growth of tourism (Reid 2003).
Many government planners as well as the IMF and the World Bank, still promote
economically unregulated tourism as a viable method to industrialize and develop
remote regions in third world nations (Reid 2003:26). With tourism being the world's
largest industry (Tisdell 2001:3) this trend is unlikely to stop. According to current
development policies there is no reason why emerging economies should stop
attracting the largest number of foreign visitors possible. The only trends in tourism
that realistically presents an alternative to large-scale projects are those based in
nature conservancy policies.
The environmental and social footprint that large-scale planning has on rural
sectors was a major catalyst in rethinking and deconstructing traditional tourism
planning. Most emerging economies, particularly the ones that have benefited from a
period of political stability, or those that possess a highly coveted destinations, have
become highly dependent on the foreign income provided by tourism. In Mexico, the
environmental factor in tourism planning has been around for decades, yet the
government still promotes mega projects that can be funded through international
loans and foreign corporations. The most recent example is taking place in the states
of Baja California and Baja California Sur.
15


The "Los Cabos-San Jose corridor", located in the southernmost tip of the Baja
peninsula in, is the latest mass-tourism center to be promoted as a successful
development plan to industrialize a rural region in Mexico. The "success" is based, of
course, on the possible macro-economic growth of the region. What its not
mentioned are the underlying consequences that the rapid urbanization of a remote
region has on the existing communities surrounding the area (Gamez & Montano,
2004:4). Even by macro-economic standards there are several indicators that
shouldn't be swept under the economic numbers carpet. Because tourism expansion
in Mexico is now de facto regulated by global market forces, through mostly foreign
owned-tourism corporations, profits are sent back to the corporations headquarter
instead of being reinvested in local economies. Meanwhile the urbanization has
stressed natural resources to its limits, and become a magnet for working age
individuals living in the surrounding regions, with the predictable impact that this has
on economies and societies of small rural towns. The lion's share of economic
benefits are drained from the tourist attraction by corporations, while benefits for
the local populations must go through mills of capitalism, before they materialize in
the shape of low wage employment or micro business endeavors.
Gamez and Montano argue that even if the official story calls a tourism project a
success, the social ailments that have emerged as consequence of the unchecked
growth in the tourism sector still need to be diagnosed. Among others these include
health issues, crime rates, loss of local identity and sovereignty, displacement of
local populations by foreign induced gentrification, and dissolution of local political
and social capital. To attack these problems Gamez and Montano propose that it's
necessary to establish a clear model of growth based on long-term benefits for the
local population. To do so it's imperative to strengthen the capacities of local and
state governments, not only so they can provide and regulate basic services, but
16


also to create foundations for an economic growth that is balanced with the social
needs of the region (2004:4-6).
Critics of the traditional tourism approach argue that "post-industrial restructuring
has compelled communities to exploit and promote local tourism attractions,
especially natural amenities, in an attempt to minimize, halt, or reverse decline
induced by collapse or contraction in more conventional resource extraction or
manufacture-based sectors" (Reid 2003:68). In a post-industrial world, tourism is
no longer a local phenomenon, but quite the opposite it is highly influenced by trans-
national forces, contrary to some traditional analysis, which focuses mostly on local
and regional events. Reid argues that a possible explanation for the lack of holistic
analysis is the separation of tourism studies, which discriminate politics from
economics, leading to the exclusion of other academic studies, such as sociology,
from an interdisciplinary analysis of the tourism phenomenon (2003:72).
In Mexico there are two major trends to develop through tourism, first the state-
promoted and corporately funded mega-projects like the "Escalera Nautica" in the
Baja peninsula, and second the small "alternative" based on environmental
preservation, that materializes as "eco-adventure tourism" with very little state
regulation, definition, and void of clear methods to empower local communities. The
Mexican state's tourism board, SECTUR (Secretaria de Turismo), reflects in its
planning literature this trend, where tourism is talked about in "millions of visits",
percentage of gross national product (GNP), and a "national priority" or as "Agenda
21" tourism, referring to the 1992 accord coming of the Earth Summit in Rio. The
next chapter will explore how conservancy-based tourism came to monopolize the
alternatives to large-scale projects.
17


2.3 Alternate Methods to use Tourism as an Agent of Development
Mowforth and Munt (1998) argue that recent changes in tourism-development
were consequence of several emerging phenomena, like globalization, sustainability,
and the environmental movement. Globalization they argue, was important because
now not only "capital and commodities...[could] be transported and transferred
easily across the world, but tourists too" (1998:13). In the global era the travel
industry has become highly organized, and emerging technology like the Internet,
allows for the most remote corners of the world to advertise efficiently. Yet the
strongest impact of globalization on tourism-development came in the form of global
forces like the IMF and the World Bank, which triggered a chain of events that is still
being dealt with. The economic system encouraged by these institutions (along with
others like USAID, Inter- American Development Bank, and the European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development) revolves around free movement of capital and
goods. In such a system tourism is seen as any other cash crop, so these institutions
push national governments to increase its export earnings by boosting production,
for tourism sectors this meant increasing number of foreign visits and foreign
investment.
The debt crisis that the Third World suffered during the '80s led to stronger
regulations by First World nations over emerging economies, so they could fulfill
their debt obligations. These structural adjustment programs imposed by First World
nations, through the IMF and the World Bank, led to larger implementations of
mass-tourism. If previously, Third World nations were only tempted to use mass-
tourism to develop rural regions with vacation spots, now they had no choice. These
structural adjustment programs are based on three premises:
Table 1. Three premises of structural adjustment programs
18


1) Increase earnings of foreign capital
Boost export production
Devalue national currency
Reduce and/or abolish import tariffs
2) Reduce state involvement in the economy
Privatize state involvement in the economy
Cut public spending on activities which can not be privatized
Deregulation
3) Fiscal measures
Reduce inflation
Cut interest rates
Encourage investment rather than saving
(Mowforth and Munt 1998:293)
Eventually these policies spurred a global movement to try to stop development
disasters, such as large damns, roads through sensitive ecosystems, and mono-
cultivation practices. Sustainable development and the Environmental movement's
time had come; after years of local grass-roots efforts, the late '80s and the early
'90s saw them finally reach the global spotlight, leading to acute paradigm shifts in
the study of the tourism industry
It also became evident that unregulated mass tourism was not fulfilling its
developing goals; many analysts now argued that mass tourism had been incorrectly
advocated as a viable means for generating substantial foreign exchange for
developing economies (Marfurt 1999, Mahapatra 1998). Brohman (1996:51-53)
questions the effectiveness of mass tourism as a development tool because this
model often leads to economic dependency upon an industry dominated by foreign
interests, socio-economic and spatial polarization of host communities,
environmental destruction, cultural alienation and loss of identity.
19


Traditional societies rely on what Reid calls an "economic system based on direct
commodity exchange and not on currency exchange" (2003:80). Such societies are
often considered by observers not to be modern. "Traditional societies...maintain
social systems based on kinship practices, or a variant of them. In spite of their
adherence...to these practices, tourism is still viewed by many national governments
and business as a legitimate activity for these societies". Tourism acts to move these
groups away from traditional way of life towards a more modern model of society"
(Reid 2003:80). Development, in the shape of tourism, has a record of being
exploitative rather than empowering, and manufactured through a top-down
approach, instead of coming from within the consumers of development.
Governments deploy tourism as method to integrate these societies into the overall
national modernizing economy, yet they fail to take into account the traditional
lifestyle of these communities, which can be far from the "modern" seven-day
workweek, and currency based, that is the norm in the industrialized world.
A major challenge for traditional development models turned out to be its inability
to adapt to specific regions, and changing needs. Modernity based development
needs massive consumption of natural resources to create and maintain large
resorts, to activate regional economies, and start a domino effect that culminated in
modernity. It is based on the notion that once it is rooted and set up, it would start
its trickle down process and do so in a relative short period of time. Yet the
problems that development must deal with are mutating on a constant basis; the
concept of sustainable development grew to fill out the void left by the rigidity of
traditional models. The most popularized notion of this concept is that of the
Brundtland Report (1987) that argues that a project should aim to fulfill current
needs while being able to adapt to future ones.
20


Sustainability started its global era after the now famous Brundtland Report (1987)
came out. This is usually considered the landmark starting point of the sustainable
development movement2 (Pointing 2001, Victor 2006, Hoff 1998). This report is
named after the Norwegian Prime Minister who headed the UN appointed
commission called World Commission on Environment and Development or WCED.
The commission's goal was to find "ways to improve human well-being in the short
term without threatening the local and global environment in the long term".
Brohman (1996:310) argues that sustainable development has traditionally been
given a "rather narrow technical definition, which focuses on the ability of
ecosystems to maintain levels of productions" (1996:310). The Brundtland Report
(1987), tries to widen the concept beyond eco-conservation; "sustainability means
more than just ecological and agricultural stability particularly in the context of
polarized Third World countries, it has a strong political element linked to the needs,
without which conservation objectives cannot be attained" (Brohman 1996:312). Yet
there is a clear acknowledgment that conserving future resources is a high priority;
"...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Hoff 1998:6)
Following the momentum initiated by the Brundtland Report, several alternatives
to the traditional development model gained traction in knowledge and planning
cores. Among these were Sustainable Tourism and Green Tourism, which were
catapulted into a global phenomenon by the environmental movement in the early
'90s, through the likes of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (1992) and the
emission of statements like Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration.
2 Reid (1995) mentions that the term sustainable development first came to prominence in the World
Conservation Strategy (WCS)...published by the World Conservation Union in 1980...[with] credit
for the invention of the term variously accorded to Eva Balfour... [of] the International Institute for
Environment and Development (IIED), and Wes Jackson, an American geneticist and biodynamic
farmer.
21


Ecotourism became a solution which sustainable development advocates and
environmentalists could join forces; however these two movements have different
agendas and priorities. Sustainable development definitions are few and not very
concise, even while the Brundtland Report made a good attempt. Most literature on
the subject, either avoids giving a precise description (Mowforth and Munt 1998,
Sayer and Campbell 2004), or describes the hardship in reaching a consensus:
"Sustainable development is in real danger of becoming a cliche like appropriate
technology -a fashionable phrase that everyone pays homage to but nobody cares
to define" (Hoff 1998:5). Hoff maintains that part of the dilemma as to why
definitions don't come easy, is due to key elements that advocates want to prioritize;
environmentalists argue for "environmental sustainability, while workers and
economic development experts, focus on economic sustainability, and those in
human development work stress cultural and social sustainability" (1998:5).
Sustainability is increasingly cited as an explicit goal of development efforts and
remains a widely-touted global concern in spite of the fact that it is an inherently
"complex and contested concept for which precise and absolute definitions are
impossible" (Mog 2004:2139 with quote from Pretty 1995:1248)
Hoff adds that a holistic definition needs to integrate the concerns of all these into
one viable "process of sustainable development". Sustainability was developed to be
more than a solution, it was a method to keep development programs adapting in
the face of mutating social dilemmas. Mog (2004) describes it as a highly difficult to
pin down because its specific meaning and practical applications are:
(a) highly dynamic-as a result of constantly seeking balance in the face of shifting
background conditions; (b) largely indefinite-as a result of being based on necessarily
abstract, context-specific, and very long term goals; and (c) highly contested-as a
22


result of the many human values perceptions and competing political interests evoked
by the concept (p2139).
Another approach in explaining sustainable development comes from those that
link it with the rise of the environmental discourse. Falling into an "egg or chicken
first" predicament, several authors describe the rise of the concept of sustainable
development as a consequence of the same issues that catalyzed the environmental
movement (Hank et al 1997, Mog 2004, Hoff 1998, Pointing 2001,). Mowforth and
Munt go as far as to argue that:
[S]ustainability [is] a notion that at its most basic encapsulates the growing concern
for the environment and natural resources... [because] as processes of globalization
are implicated in the drawing of Third World destinations into sphere of tourism, so
too notions of sustainability are closely related and disproportionately reflected in the
Third World as concern for the health of the planet [that] has resulted in the
emergence of globalized environmental politics" (1998:22)
The pressing issues which began to be exposed by scientists in the early '60s
ultimately led to more than just conservation efforts but also to a search for
methods to support economic growth and alleviate world poverty while at same time
not depleting the globe's natural resources. Rachel Carson's publication Silent Spring
(1962) and The Limits of Growth (Meadows et al. 1974) are usually considered two
of the most influential starting points for both the environmental and the
sustainability movement (Hoff 1998:6). Carson's book described the harmful effects
of synthetic chemicals on wildlife and nature, while Limits of Growth is a neo-
Malthusian reflection on the links between the environment, poverty, malnutrition
and world's politics. These two started a chain that eventually culminated in the
publication of Our Common Future a.k.a. The Brundtiand Report (1987) by the
WCED, which "represented another important step in establishing the linkages
23


between environmental depletion and prospects for economic and social
development" (Hoff 1998:7)
The sustainability and the environmental movement grew parallel to the same
issues, yet their priorities are not the same. Environmentalism traditionally
prioritizes conservation, while sustainability prioritizes concepts like "carrying
capacity", "adaptation", and "long term". Sustainability is commonly used by
environmentalists to create programs where humans and an ecological niche can co-
exist in a symbiotic relationship, yet there are more types of sustainability, not only
environmental. As stated earlier, Hoff (1998) talks about environmental, economic,
and cultural-social, sustainability. Adapted to tourism these have taken many shapes
and forms, they take part in what's now called New Tourism. Mowforth and Munt
(1998:100) have compiled some of the most common terms used in this new trend:
Academic tourism, adventure tourism, tourism, appropriate tourism, archaeo-tourism, contact tourism, cottage tourism,
culture tourism, aro-tourism, ecological tourism, environmentally friendly tourism,
ethnic tourism, green tourism, nature tourism, risk tourism, safari tourism, scientific
tourism, soft tourism, sustainable tourism, trekking tourism, truck tourism, wilderness
_ tourism, wildlife tourism. Additionally, terms used to describe markets include: niche,
individuated, specialized, flexible, personalized, customized, and designer.
Tourism, which can become a "voracious consumer of resources", represents a real
challenge for sustainable development. This has led to "considerable disagreement"
as to how the industry should become sustainable (Fyall and Garrod 1997:372). Or
in other words how is sustainable tourism practiced?
It comes as no surprise that if a consensus on sustainability has been elusive, a
definition on sustainable tourism should be at least as vague. The WTO's (World
24


Tourism Organization) definition of sustainable tourism borrows heavily from the
Brundtland Report and prioritizes bio-conservation.
Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of present tourists and host
regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future. It is envisaged as
leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and
aesthetics needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential
ecological processes, biological biodiversity, and life support systems (Vaughan
2000:286).
Fyall and Garrod (1997) describe most literature on sustainable tourism as
focusing on how sustainable development can be established in the industry, and
based on guidelines or "codes of good practice". This, they argue, should only be the
tip of the iceberg, defining and establishing it as an objective of the industry is only
the first step towards genuine sustainable tourism. They propose that its time to
move on from finding a working definition of sustainability, into finding howto
implement it (1997:372-75). Right now sustainability serves to bridge the gap
between tourism developers, who are growth oriented and in need of resources, and
environmentalists who focus on conservation and stopping growth. Both camps use
it to legitimize their existing policies, even when they can be mutually exclusive.
Poverty reduction or other forms of social empowerment tactics in sustainable
development or tourism, gravitate towards degree of control by locals. Sustainable
development enterprises, that prioritize community welfare, have experimented with
a greater role for host communities. Most of this efforts started in the '90s,
influenced by a growing trend among researchers that argued for a localized
decision-making process (Peluso 1992, Gardner and Lewis 1996, Tsing, Brosius and
Zerner 1999, Ntsime 2004) which would hand locals more control over tourism
forces and thus in meeting their most urgent needs. Yet there are those who argue
that this does not translate into greater social justice or better capital re-distribution
25


among host communities. Purcel and Brown call it the "Local Trap...in which
researchers assume that local-scale decision making is inherently more likely to yield
outcomes that are socially just or ecologically sustainable than decision-making at
other scales" (2005:280).
For Purcel and Brown decision-making scales are no guarantee of a specific
outcome; decision-making by locals is bound to replicate the injustices, dilemmas
and fallacies existing in society at large, just on a rural-smaller scenario.
Scales should not be seen as things in themselves with inherent qualities, but rather
as strategies that are pursued by and benefit social groups with particular social and
environmental agendas. For example, localization which is rescaling of decision-
making control over development, should be seen as a strategy that will empower
specific interests at the expense of others (2005:208).
In Empowerment for Sustainable Tourism Development, Sofield (2003) sets out
the ambitious task of incorporating the concept of empowerment into the
development discourse. To do so he postulates five propositions:
Table 2. Propositions to empower sustainable development.
That without the element of empowerment tourism development at the level of community will
have difficulty achieving sustainability
That the exercise of traditional or legitimate empowerment by traditionally oriented
communities will itself be an ineffectual mechanism for attempting sustainable tourism
development
That such traditional empowerment must be transformed into legal empowerment if
sustainable tourism development is to be achieved.
That empowerment for such communities will usually require environmental or institutional
change to allow a genuine reallocation of power to ensure appropriate changes in the
asymmetrical relationship of the community to the wider society
26


That conversely, empowerment of indigenous communities cannot be "taken" by the
communities concerned drawing only upon their own traditional resources, but will require
support and sanction by the state, if it is to avoid being short- lived
Nevertheless, literature on sustainability ultimately describes the environmental
movement as the strongest influence on this school of development (Sharpley 2000,
Fyall and Garrod 1997, Hoff 1995, Honey 1999, Pointing 2001, Deluca 2002,
Mowforth and Munt 1998, Sofield 2003). The widest application of sustainable
tourism would logically then be green, or environmental tourism, popularized under
the term Ecotourism.
2.3.1 The Green Monopoly in Alternative Tourism
Around the world, ecotourism has been hailed as a panacea: a way to fund
conservation and scientific research, protect fragile and pristine ecosystems, benefit
rural economies, promote development in poor countries, enhance ecological and
cultural sensitivity, instill environmental awareness and social conscience in the travel
industry, satisfy and educate the discriminating tourist, and some claim, build world
peace." (Honey 1999:4)
The first consensus on the term Ecotourism came in 1991, when The Ecotourism
Society coined what Honey describes as "the most encompassing definition" so far:
"Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves
the well-being of local peopld' (italics Honey 1999:6). However she argues that the
guidelines established by the traveling magazine Conde Nast Traveler Ko rate
different ecotourism projects make a better, yet utopian, benchmark to study
ecotourism. These guidelines or "seven golden rules" are:
27


Eco-operators should (1) link commercial tourism with local conservation programs;
(2) provide money and other tangible support for development of parks and
management of natural resources: (3) support indigenous business by buying local
goods and services: (4) arrange and promote meaningful contact between travelers
and local people; (5) promote ecological research programs; (6) develop sustainable
tourist facilities that minimize environmental damage; and (7) help to repair the
damage done by others (Honey 1999:66).
Ceballos-Lascurain, one of the first popularize the term, describes ecotourism as
"traveling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific
objective of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery, and its wild plants and
animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations found in these areas"
(Diamantis 2004). Other popular definitions summarized by Diamantis include:
Table 3 Definitions of ecotourism.
Ziffer (1989) "Ecotourism is a form of tourism inspired primarily by the natural history of an
area, including its indigenous cultures. The ecotourist visits relatively undeveloped areas in the
spirit of appreciation, participation and sensitivity. The ecotourist practices a non-consumptive
use of wildlife and natural resources and contributes to the visited area through labor or
financial means aimed at directly benefiting the conservation of the site and the economic
well-being of the local residents". [His] idea highlights] the conservation, natural based,
economic and cultural components of ecotourism.
Boo (1991) "Ecotourism is a nature tourism that contributes to conservation, through
generating funds for protected areas, creating employment opportunities for local
communities, and offering environmental education". [His] view [of] ecotourism [is] not... only
[based on] natural and conservation components, but also the economic and educational
elements.
Forestry Tasmania (1994) "Nature based tourism that is focused on provision of learning
opportunities while providing local and regional benefits, while demonstrating environmental,
social, cultural, and economic, sustainability" [This definition] emphasize[s] the nature-based,
educational, social and sustainability components of ecotourism by distinguishing between
ecotourism and nature-based tourism
28


Blarney (1995) "An ecotourist is anyone who undertakes at least one ecotourism experience in
a specified region during a specified period of time" [Here Blarney's] dimensions of ecotourism
included four main components: nature based, environmentally educated, sustainability
managed and distance/bme
Lindbergh and McKercher (1997) "Ecotourism is tourism and recreation that is both nature-
based and sustainable" [This] definition highlights the natural-based and sustainability
components (Diamantis 2004:5 his italics).
Diamantis uses these definitions to bring to the surface what he believes are the
three main components of ecotourism; natural-based, educational, and sustainable
management, which includes economic, social, cultural and ethical issues (2004:5)
The concept of ecotourism then is intimately linked with conservationism, almost to
the point where sustainable tourism and ecotourism have become synonyms.
Diamantis' compendium reflects the current paradigm, where ecotourism has
become the most widely used method to apply sustainable development in a tourism
setting. Nevertheless not all ecotourism is the same, as presented earlier in
Mowforth and Munts compilation of alternative tourism terms, there are different
types of tourism that can also indicate levels of commitment to specific priorities
(Honey 1999). The widest "use (and abuse!) of the term [ecotourism] is in the travel
industry" (Carter and Lowman 1994:4).
This environmental trend became that largest growing sector in the tourist
industry by the mid '90s (ibid.), and while there are many benefits connected to the
growth of ecotourism destinations, this unregulated expansion has also meant decay
in priorities and practices among operators (Honey 1999). Yet the biggest challenge
to sustainable tourism lays in its ability to attract the efforts of host communities.
The literature seems to reach some level of consensus on this; if development in
rural communities is to happen at all it must be with support and cooperation with
local members (Fennel 1999:24, Burrl995).
29


2.4. Tourism and Anthropology
Anthropology was hesitant at first in embracing the study of tourism among
"natives". Nunez (1978) is usually credited in the literature (DeLuca 2002, Clancy
2001) as providing the first study of "tourism, tradition and acculturation" (DeLuca
2002:32). Before, anthropologists would purposely ignore tourists, missionaries, and
other agents of modernity, if anything they would be bothered by their visits
suspecting intrusion and contamination of their data, based on the traditional views
of Boas and his commitment to study "untainted" cultures (DeLuca 2002 30-36).
DeLuca argues that there are three prevailing perspectives today when studying
tourism through the eyes of anthropology. The first studies the guest's "rite of
passage". The second analyses the home culture that produces the visitors or
guests. And the third, examines the economic and cultural impact on the host
community (2002: 34). DeLuca who adds to the literature in the third perspective,
argues that it is not enough to measure the impact that tourism has, but
anthropology must go beyond "community conservation initiatives". To do so she
compares tourism to agriculture, another form of "livelihood activity among the
Maasai [being used to] supplement pastoralism". By doing so she is studying tourism
primarily from the perspective of the host and assessing it through a holistic vision of
the phenomenon.
Tourism's negative impacts have also been taken into account; Butler and Hinch
(1996:16) have an interesting approach to understanding tourism in cultural
sensitive communities, primarily indigenous populations in underdeveloped nations.
Their ethnography is based on the premise that:
Western-based rationale underlies much of the argument to use tourism as a
mechanism for finding solutions to the challenges facing indigenous people...the
30


essence of the economic argument [for tourism] is that income generated through
tourism represents a fair exchange of value between indigenous and non-indigenous
people (1996:16).
Their basic thesis is that tourism is a new form of colonialism, or "the new sugar",
because it involves "a form of exploitation of indigenous populations by external
forces". Their ethnography aims to give a "critical advocacy for indigenous people
[and an] analysis from a policy and economic development strategy perspective."
Swarbrooke (1999) developed a "ladder of community influence". This ladder
describes the levels on which communities get involved in local tourism, the higher
the community is on the ladder, the stronger its grip on the direction of the local
tourism industry. This ladder can help to eliminate doubts over the oppressive nature
of a given tourism industry, particularly in cultural sensitive communities that are
exposed to tourism and its economic downpour.
The community is consulted but its views do not significantly
lf(TOe(^i^(i^§dl^ia|3§0e^ol of strategic policy and tactical
decisions in relation tOtourism in thearea-----------------
Communities have a veto on all tourism policies and decisions that
are in the hands of public sector bodies
Communities set the priorities and parameters for public sector policy
and/or decisions
Communities are permitted to select a policy or strategy from a small
number of options all of which have been generated by public sector
policy-makers
Community views are used to help justify decisions taken by public
sector bodies
31


Figure 1 LADDER OF COMMUNITY INFLUENCE (Swarbrooke 1999)
2.5 Literature Synthesis
This chapter critically reviewed the theoretical backgrounds to the major themes
approached by this thesis. It tried to link several analysis and theories, while
presenting the major critiques and paradigm shifts. If available there has been an
emphasis on literature concerning Latin America and Mexico (Chapter 3 elaborates
further). The major themes discussed and used to build the argument of this thesis
are: precedents to the current paradigm of development, the evolution of
development, contemporary development discourse, with an emphasis on tourism as
a sustainable-development tool, and the rise of eco-tourism. By presenting this I
hope to set a theoretical setting to present and build the case study and its
uncommon tourism industry.
32


3. TOURISM AND RURAL COMMUNITIES AT THE END OF THE MILLENIUM
3.1 Defining Tourism as an Activity
What is usually considered tourism? What social activities constitute it? Should
religious pilgrimages and all-inclusive packages be in the same category? A "rigorous
definition of tourism is, at best, an elusive goal, writes Reid (2003:102), yet there
are certain practices and customs that are undeniably part of this phenomenon. John
Urry sees tourism as a:
Complex social and psychological relationship between the individual and society,
having a great deal to do with extricating the familiar from the novel...[I]eisure
behavior is used to explain social behavior more generally rather than being seen
simply as an escape from the more serious events of everyday. [L]ife...[t]ourism
provides an important component in the debate on the contributions of work and
leisure to the individual and society (1990:103-5).
To better understand the complex nature of social activities falling under the concept
of tourism Urry (1990) designed a table that compiles practices ascribed to tourism.
Table 4. Social practices defining tourism
1. Tourism is a leisure activity which presupposes its opposite, namely regulated and organized work. It is
one manifestation of how work and leisure are organized as separate and regulated spheres of social
practice in 'modem' societies. Indeed acting as a tourist is one of the defining characteristics of being
'modem' and is bound up with major transformations in paid work. This has come to be organized within
particular places and to occur for regularized periods of time.
33


2. Tourism relationships arise from a movement of people to, and their stay in, various destinations. This
necessarily involves some movements through space that is the journey, and a period of stay in a new
place or places.
3. The journey and stay are to, and in, sites which are outside the normal places of residence and work.
Periods of residence elsewhere are of short-term and temporary nature. There is a clear intention to
return 'home' within a relatively short period of time.
4. The places gazed upon are for purposes which are not directly connected with paid work and normally
they offer some distinctive contrasts with work (both paid and unpaid).
5. A substantial portion of the population of modem societies engages in such tourist practices; new
socialized forms of provision are developed in order to cope with the mass character of the gaze of tourists
(as opposed to the individual character of 'travel')
6. Places are chosen to be gazed upon because there is anticipation, especially through daydreaming and
fantasy, of intense pleasure, either on a different scale or involving different senses from those
customarily encountered. Such anticipation is constructed and sustained through a variety of non-tourists
practices, such as film, TV, literature, magazines, records, and videos, which construct and reinforce that
gaze.
7. The tourist gaze is directed to features of landscape and townscape which separate them off from
everyday experience. Such aspects are viewed because they are taken to be in some sense out of the
ordinary. The viewing of such tourism sights often involves different forms of social patterning, with a
much greater sensitivity to visual elements of landscape or townscape than is normally found in everyday
life. People linger over such gaze which is then normally visually objectified or captured through
photographs, postcards, films, models, and so on. These enable the gaze to be endlessly reproduced and
recaptured.
8. The gaze is constructed through signs, and tourism involves the collection of signs. When tourists see two
people kissing in Paris what they rapture in the gaze is 'timeless' romantic Paris. When a small village in
England is seen, what they gaze upon is the 'real olde England'. The tourist is is interested in everything
as a sign of itself. All over the world the unsung armies of semioticians, the tourists, are fanning out in
search of the signs French ness, typical Italian behavior, exemplary Oriental scenes, typical American
thruways, traditional English pubs
9. An array of tourist professionals develop, who attempt to reproduce ever-new objects of the tourist gaze.
These objects are located in a complex and changing hierarchy. This depends upon the interplay between,
on the one hand, competition between interests involved in provision of such objects and, on the other
hand, changing class, gender, generational distinctions of taste within the potential population of visitors.
3.2 Tourism as Development in Mexico
Tourism in Mexico grew at an unprecedented pace after 1970, when the Mexican
Government finally decided to embrace the global boom in the industry that begun
34


after the prosperous post-war era (Clancy 2001:130). From 1970 to 1991 arrivals
into Mexico tripled, and foreign exchange earnings from tourism grew nine fold, in
the '80s there were a million Mexican employed by the sector, in 1991 there were 2
million and by 1998 there were more than 3 million (Clancy 2001:131). It seems that
growth shows no signs of peaking, particularly because Mexico benefits from its
northern neighbor which accounts for 85% of foreign visits (Clancy 2001:131). With
only a few exceptions3 today's largest beach resorts are the result of a three-year
study done in the early '70s. This study came up with 5 locations to create tourism
centers that would enhance Mexico's ability to attract international tourists. These 5
centers were: Cancun, Ixtapa, Huatulco, Los Cabos, and Loreto. All of these were
heavily sponsored by the federal government, which acted as a planner, provided
infrastructure, and was also the entrepreneur and banker (Clancy 2001:132). The
government argued that these five centers were chosen because they would provide
an excellent tourist attraction in the form of beaches and oceans, and bring
necessary economic influx to these regions which were some of the most poor in the
nation. Central planning of these projects was seen as a way to maximize the
benefits of tourism, while minimizing its risks (Clancy 2001:128)
A few years before, in 1969, the government developed an agency to promote the
sector called INFRATUR. When it came time to develop a resort in a deserted region,
like in Cancun for example, where the only thing around was a seasonal fishing
village, this agency would be in charge of planning, building infrastructure,
promoting private investment, developing and selling land, as well as coordinating all
other government agencies involved in the project. This agency eventually
transformed itself into the current FONATUR (Fondo Nacional de Fomento al
Turismo)4 with its governing department eventually reaching cabinet level status in
1974 when the Secretaria de Turismo was created (Clancy 2001:133). Several
3 Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Mazatlan.
4 National Fund to Promote Tourism
35


factors played a key role in the economic success of Cancun, which was hailed as a
success of government tourism agencies. First the government secured a loan from
the Inter American Development Bank in 1971 to develop the first phase of the
infrastructure in Cancun, encouraging the World Bank to do the same for the resort
town of Ixtapa in the state of Guerrero. A direct consequence of this was that the
tourism bureaucracy overtook political power in the areas it developed. In Cancun its
first town-mayor was a senior member of FONATUR, which obviously meant no
restrictions for the resort in the construction and growth process. This included
expropriation of lands, dredging of lagoons and building a complete city from scratch
in less than a decade (Clancy 2001:134).
There is also little or no evidence of participation from the communities that lived
in the area, most of them were displaced, and violent relocations common. In Ixtapa
there were several organized movements opposing the expropriation of lands, and in
the Huatulco area at least one violent death occurred when most of the seven
hundred residents in the town of Santa Cruz opposed (successfully so far) relocation
efforts (Cowan 1987, Long 1991).
Despite local opposition to the development of these resorts, the government has
followed through with the original plans, based on the constantly growing demand
and current economic trends. By the mid '80s Cancun accounted for over 10% of
foreign visitors to Mexico, by 1986 Cancun drew more visitors than Acapulco for the
first time, and by 1989 it passed Mexico City as the most popular destination for
international travelers (Clancy 2001:135).
The four other resorts were developed in different stages and became established
in different decades; Ixtapa by the late '70s, Los Cabos by the mid '80s, and
Huatulco not until the late '80s. Arguably the only destination that has not become a
major "success" is the town of Loreto by the Gulf of Cortez. Yet all these five put
36


together accounted for a quarter of all foreign tourists by the mid '90s (Clancy 2001:
135).
Up to 1985 the state owned some of the major hotels in these resorts. Under the
auspices of the state owned Nacional Hotelera, the Presidente Hotels grew in all
major destinations until eventually they were privatized when Keynesian models
were replaced by neoliberal policies. During the '80s the state also became partners
with Club Med, opening several franchises along Mexico's major tourist attractions
(Clancy 2001:136). Between 1974 and 1992 FONATUR financed the creation of over
a hundred thousand hotel rooms, making Mexico the leader in this sector among
developing nations (Clancy 2001).
A major argument among the critics of mass tourism developments (Pointing
2000, Honey 1999, Clancy 2001) is that the economic benefits rarely make it to local
populations because most of the earnings go to transnational corporations with little
reinvestment into the community. Locals might have employment opportunities, but
they usually involve seasonal low paying jobs, with foreign investors draining most of
the economic benefits of mass tourism developments.
Opposition to mass scale projects is still growing as well as the number of studies
that document the environmental and social degradation these can cause (Clancy
2001, Cruz et al. 2005, Honey 1999). Mexican authorities are following new trends to
deal with these voices and emerging trends in traveling by (very) gradually
embracing new forms of tourism. Finally the government has included them in an
attempt to regulate and promote these, as an "alternative" or complement to resort-
based tourism, under the notion that they can potentially bring direct benefits to
rural communities.
37


SECTUR or the national board of tourism (Secretaria de Turismo) describes
"Alternative Tourism" as:
Trips that have as its goal to participate in recreational activities in direct contact with nature and the
cultural expressions that surround it with an attitude and commitment to understand, respect, enjoy
and participate in the conservation of natural and cultural resources5 (www.sectur.gov.mx).
It also classifies it into three categories: adventure, eco, and rural. Ecotourism
would be "...trips that have as its goal to engage in recreational activities of
appreciation and understanding of nature through interaction with it". Adventure
tourism is considered to be "doing physical-recreational activities to overcome a
challenge set up by nature". Finally, Rural tourism is described as "...engaging in
socializing and interacting activities with a rural community and with all its social,
cultural, and everyday life expressions" (www.sectur.gob.mx).
Mexican authorities are not alone in crafting a definition of alternative models of
tourism; according to Rhodes (2005), of the 25 Latin American nations that decided
to incorporate ecotourism into their tourism boards, 21 came up with their own
definitions. In Mexico the idea of ecotourism has been around for over 20 years, one
of its first advocates Ceballos-Lascurain (1983) is a Mexican architect who became
a global authority on the subject, and is considered one of the "founding fathers" of
ecotourism. Despite the long tradition of the ecotourism discourse in Mexico, the
tourism board (SECTUR) still tends to group together adventure and ecotourism,
particularly when measuring the economic impact and shaping policy (SECTUR
2001).
This could be due to what Honey (1999) describes as the "watering down" of
ecotourism. The case of Mexico seems to follow the same trend as in many other
5 My translation
38


eco-tourism destinations where the need to attract more tourists leads to an offer of
more services that have nothing to do with the interactive and didactical mission
envisioned by the original concept. In a study done by SECTUR in 2001, the
economic downpour of ecotourism is measured together with that of adventure
tourism, perhaps reflecting the actual modus operandiof the industry where one
practice is used to attract clients into the other one.
Ecotourism, as first visualized, included the didactical approach of using the
environment as a living museum, where tourists would learn first hand about fragile
ecosystems. Ecotourism's goal was to protect the environment through education
and low impact interaction. Yet eco-tourism enterprises need to earn a profit; to do
so they "dumb down" the didactical side while offering more "adventure" and
recreational activities to appeal to a wider population. Today most ecotourism
destinations hardly promote the educational side; instead, they use bungee jumping,
zip lines, white water rafting, or other similar activities as their main allure. (Honey
1999)
SECTUR compiled a list in the 2001 study as to what activities fall in each of these
two categories, even if their impact is measured as a single phenomenon.
Table 5. Ecotourism and adventure tourism
442 operators of ecotourism or adventure tourism
64% of the capital spent on these to activities came from foreigners ($486 million Pesos, or
around $45million USD)
This $45 million USD makes up about 0.62% of the $8,295 millions USD brought in by
international travelers in 2000.
39


From the 19 activities described as eco or adventure tourism6, 3 make up 78% of the
participants; Scuba Diving 42%, Butterfly Watching 20%, Ecosystems Observation 16%, all
other make up the remaining 22%.
3 of these practices gather 73.5% of the total revenues; Scuba Diving 47%, Ecosystem
Watching 19%, and Whale Watching 7.5%
However there are differences among the demographics of travelers engaging in
these forms of tourism;
61.8% of ecotourists are national travelers and 38.2% foreigners
42% of ecotourists come from the 25-45 age group, followed by 26.4% from the 46-60
group.
Adventure tourists on the other hand are composed by 26.9% of national travelers and
73.10% are foreign
The largest age group engaging in Adventure tourism are the 25-45 year olds with 66.6% of
participants, followed far behind by the 46-60 age group with 13.6%
Overall tourism accounts for 9% of the national GDP (SECTUR 2001)
Sustainability is still considered a goal of alternative tourism in Mexico, though
mostly focused on environmental and cultural conservationism. Villanueva (2004)
describes sustainable tourism in Mexico as an activity whose purpose is to minimize
the environmental impact of tourism, and conserve culture and traditions of the host
community. Chavez (2003) adds that sustainability in tourism should include "...
justly distributed economic benefits" beside the conservationists' goals. SECTUR
mentions and describes rural tourism, but it hardly gives it the same attention as
eco-adventure tourism.
6 These 19 are; Adventure: Scuba diving, Rafting, Kayaking, Hiking, Spelunking, Mountaineering (including rock climbing,
canyoneering, and rappelling). Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Hot Air Ballooning, Sky Diving, Hang Gliding,
Paragliding, Ultralight Trikes. Ecotourism activities consist of: Ecosystem Observation (Including photographic safaris), Whale
Watching. Turtle Watching, Butterfly Watching. Bird Watching. Geology and Fossil Watching (SECTUR. 2001)
40


Tourism has taken a central role in Mexico's economy, today there are more
Mexicans working in the tourism industry than in any other sector besides
agriculture, it's also the largest service export in the nation (Clancy 2001:129). This
might explain why tourism, when used as development, is still discussed in macro-
economic terms, and sustainability limited mostly to environmental conservation.
Due to the primary role that tourism has, government policies regulate and manage
it from a macro economic perspective; the major economic incentives that this
tourism policy produces have in turn attracted large corporations looking for a share
of the growing pie. Could it be that sustainability-as-conservationism-only emerged
as a counter balance to the environmental degradation and cultural homogenization
caused by these large-scale projects?
The current trend by SECTUR to embrace "alternative" models of tourism seems to
be an acknowledgment by this state agency of the potential benefits that these
models could provide to local populations. Nevertheless, its ability to provide
development opportunities to marginalized sectors of society is still seen as an
indirect consequence of this niche market, not as the main goal.
The case study that this thesis is based on, Ticla, an indigenous community on the
state of Michoacan, caught the eye of state government in the late '90. The success
that Ticla had in crafting a cottage-tourism industry gained the attention of
government officials who were eager in "adopting" as part of their development
projects and thus use it as an example of their successful policies. Currently several
costal towns, including Ticla, have become part of a major tourist project that is
being considered by the state government. If it goes as planned they expect to
create a major resort somewhere along the coast of Michoacan, that would capture
some of the thousands of tourists from Morelia that flock to the neighboring state of
Guerrero and its major destinations of Ixtapa and Acapulco. One major step has
been taken through the completion of a highway from the capital of Morelia to the
41


coastal town of Lazaro Cardenas; future plans call to do the same along the coast.
State officials seem very excited about the project in an anonymous interview, one
of them accepted that land speculation is already taking place among high ranked
bureaucrats. Yet the project, once again is being sold as a plausible model to
develop the neglected coast of a poor and rural area, again without tackling
development head-first but expecting it as a consequence. Except now it has taken a
new twist: it's being marketed as eco and sustainable tourism, using Ticla, and a few
other growing tourist-towns that had a pre-existing tourism industry, as banners to
promote the feasibility and benefits of the project. Yet before heading deeper into
the case study some background on the relationship between the Mexican nation
and indigenous communities.
3.3. Indigenous Rights in Mexico: an introduction to the case study
In January first 1994, just as President Salinas had declared that Mexico was
"joining the first world" with NAFTA coming into effect, a very third world event
happened- guerrillas. In the southeastern state of Chiapas, the Ejercito Zapatista de
Liberacion Nacional (EZLN or Zapatista Army of National Liberation) took to the
streets in the ancient colonial capital of San Cristobal de las Casas. A contrast that
took Mexico and the world by surprise as it exposed the dire situation under which
most indigenous communities still live. The EZLN composed largely by Mayans and
other indigenous groups eventually sat down to negotiate with the government
under the auspice of the Comision de Concordia y Pacificacion (COCOPA), composed
of government officials, EZLN members, indigenous representatives, church leaders,
and human rights activists. From these negotiations the "Acuerdos de San Andres"
emerged (Gledhill 2004). These agreements which took several years of
negotiations, finally recognized and granted indigenous communities an
unprecedented high degree of autonomy (La Jornada April 28, 2001).
42


During the Spanish domination, many native communities managed to live in
relative autonomy as the Spanish-footprint spread followed by the Mexican State,
more and more communities lost their autonomy to centralized rule. Some
communities, as is the case of the Nahuatls in Ostula, were able to retain a large
degree of independence because they settled in distant and rural regions (Gledhill
2004). By the twentieth century, several indigenous groups were able to maintain
their ancestral traditions and ways of life due to an unintended consequence- the
Mexican Revolution- that led to the creation of a legal institution to manage land
called the Ejido (Robins 2003:26).
For different reasons throughout history, either neglect, the centralization of the
federal government, or geography, many indigenous communities were left to fend
for themselves. Yet as time passed autonomy decreased as the ability of the
government to regulate improved, which meant intervention and in many cases
eviction of ancestral land holdings, historically there had been several attempts to
regulate indigenous protection dating back to colonial times. Usually the effort of the
Dominican priest "Tata" Vasco de Quiroga, in the early days of the Spanish
conquest, is considered the starting point of the indigenous rights movement (Robins
2003:35). During the Spanish colony, there was a caste system in effect, where pure
blood Spanish (and born in Spain) would be at the top, followed by Criollos (pure
Spanish although born in the Americas), Mestizos (a mix of Spanish and Indian
blood), Indians, Mulatos (a mix of Indians and Slave blood), and Slaves brought
from Africa at the bottom, among many other variants.
During this time the Spanish Crown set up the "Encomienda" system, where a
Spanish appointee would be granted land that included several Indian villages which
would be under his "care", meaning in theory that he was to look out after their
souls in the form of evangelization, and "provide" them with "protection and good
43


habits". For this hard work the "Encomendero" was supposed to take a tribute from
the Indigenous groups under his "care", which usually meant that they were de facto
slave workers. (Aguirre-Beltran 1957).
In 1821, after the independence when Criollos came into power, there were no
radical changes in the regulation of indigenous communities, their rights, or in their
fight for self-determination. During much of the nineteenth century, the Hacienda
system spread throughout Mexico, which effectively replaced the Encomienda as the
institutionalized form of Indian opression (Robins 2003:41). There was also no legal
distinction between campesinos (peasant groups composed mainly of mestizos living
in extreme poverty) and indigenous groups. Even in the 1850s when Benito Juarez
became president, and was full blooded Zapoteca from Oaxaca, indigenous
communities went largely ignored and ostracized (Robins 2003:40).
The Mexican Revolution had in Emiliano Zapata a leader for indigenous/campesino
rights; his motto "La tierra es de quien la trabaja" or "land belongs to those that
work it" was a cry against the rich Haciendas which possessed most of the arable
land in the country. The post-Revolutionary Constitution of 1917 included this
concept in the creation of the article 27, which led to the creation of the Ejido.
The Ejido is a communal land holding system, which gives the possession of the
land to an individual, however the property remains communal. The individual holder
must give a share of its crop to the community. This possession can be transmitted
from one generation to the next as long as it's being worked. If a crop of land is
neglected or goes without being used, the Ejido can reclaim the land and give the
possession to someone else. (Aguirre Beltran 1957)
However it was not until 1934 that the land was actually expropriated and
redistributed when President Lazaro Cardenas put into effect the law established in
44


1917 (Robins 2003). After that the Ejido and its regulatory laws unintentionally
protected (or neglected) the autonomy of many indigenous communities, allowing
ancestral practices and traditions to survive. Because the Ejido overlaps with some
indigenous administrative practices, such as communal land property, and communal
decision making, besides establishing an administrative system for rural
communities, it also served as an outpost of indigenous forms of government. Yet
the Mexican Constitution minimizes indigenous identity to language, and in some
cases traditions, not to ancestral territories; it was not the intention of the Mexican
government to recognize the rights of specific ethnic groups to specific areas, but to
redistribute land and dismantle large private holdings. The Ejido indirectly gave
some indigenous communities the ability to regulate some internal affairs, yet this
hardly translated into a fair system, these communities were still living on the fringe
of society with hardly any support from the state or society at large.
The uprising of the EZLN in the early '90s, and the subsequent negotiations that
led to the "Acuerdos de San Andres", were a historical landmark that recognized the
historical struggles of native communities for the right to autonomy and self-
determination, with full control over their resources and territories.
However the "Acuerdos de San Andres" were first obstructed by former President
Zedillo, even though they were negotiated by his representatives (La Jornada 2001).
After him, President Fox resuscitated them in 2000 as a campaign promise, just so
they could be butchered by the house of representatives into inconsequential
constitutional amendments that alienated even social groups that had nothing to do
with Indigenous rights7 (Carbonell 2001:16). The senate washed its hand by
including in the constitutional amendments programs with social services directed
7 The senate decreed an amendment that was supposed to protect ethnic communities from discrimination by stating that no one
can be discriminated on the base of religion, race, ethnic background and preferences. Once again to avoid any actual
commitment the senate could not bring itself to add the six letter word that should be attached to preferences; sexual. This led to
an uproar from gay activists across the nation.
45


towards these communities-even though they already existed for the general
population and can be accessed by any individual, not just ethnic minorities (Moguel
& San Juan 2004).
The amendments that the senate elaborated were a watered down version of the
Acuerdos de San Andres and full of useless patriotic and political rhetoric.
Nationalism had to rear its ugly head and the senators somehow felt inclined to add
an unnecessary clause before any indigenous rights are actually discussed, with
nonsense talk about the impossibility to "fracture" the nation. Their argument was
that giving the autonomy negotiated in the Acuerdos de San Andres to indigenous
groups would lead to a slippery slope of national deconstruction, independence
movements, and decomposition of social structure. In the end the senate disposed
this historical opportunity due to unfounded paranoia. The original amendment
proposed by the multi-sided negotiations of the Acuerdos de San Andres came out
like this:
The Mexican nation has a plural cultural composition sustained originally in its
indigenous communities, which are those that descend from the settlers that were
here when the colonization started and before the borders of Mexico were
established, and whichever legal adjudication they may fall under, they still maintain
its social, economic, cultural, and political institutions, or part of them.8
However the actual constitutional amendment to article 2, shown below, left out
any discourse of territory or about groups that existed before the colonial days. In
the amendment the senate's paranoia is evident, setting a system of checks and
balances, that is completely unnecessary because its just repeats ordinances existing
8 La nacidn mexicana tiene una composici6n pluricullural. sustentada originalmente en sus pueblos indi'genas, que son aquellos
que descienden de poblaciones que habitaban en el pai's al iniciarse la colonizacidn y antes de que se establecieran las fronteras
de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, y que cualquiera que sea su situacidn juridica. conservan sus propias instituciones sociales,
economicas, culturales y polfticas, o parte de ellas.
46


in other articles inside the constitution, and was never negotiated by the COCOPA
into San Andres agreements:
The indigenous communities' right to free determination will be exercised under a
constitutional framework of autonomy that should guarantee national unity. The
recognition of indigenous towns and communities will be done in the constitutions
and in the laws of each individual state, which should take into account, besides the
general principles established in the previous paragraphs, ethno-linguistic criteria and
physical settlements.9 (My italics)
This means that autonomy is seen as local matter that should be dealt as such,
lowering it from a federally, or internationally, protected right, such as human rights,
to a local one to be negotiated by regional power struggles. Other amendments
negotiated in the Acuerdos were nullified by hidden checks or by changing the
narrative. One of the most important amendments coming from these Acuerdos de
San Andres was an inclusion that would allow indigenous communities to collectively
access the natural resources that were in their lands or territories, unless they were
under the direct domain of the nation (such as oil). The approved amendment
eliminated any such talk, instead said that individuals of indigenous communities had
preferential access to natural resources in their surrounding habitat.
Indigenous struggles for self-determination and autonomy still face an uphill
battle, however, the amendments, with all their faults and patriotic paranoia,
managed to concede a historical precedent. By attempting to (de)regulate
indigenous autonomy and self determination they At least acknowledged the
demands from these ethnic sectors of society, and that demands exist long before
the nation came into existence. Nevertheless this latest round of amendments
9 El derecho de los pueblos indi'genas a la libre determination se ejercera en un marco constitucional de autonomta que asegure
la unidad national. El reconocimiento de los pueblos y comunidades indi'genas se hard en las constituciones y leyes de las
entidades federativas, las que deberSn tomar en cuenta, adeinas de los principios generates establecidos en los pbrrafos anteriores
de este articulo. criterios etnolingiiisticos y de asentamiento fisico
47


perpetuated exiting practices; where de Acuerdos de San Andres stipulated that the
communities should choose its own county leaders, the amendments said that they
should choose its own representatives to the county authorities, the same way it has
been done for much of the past century without any constitutional amendment to
regulate it.
Government supporters argue that there are several problems with granting
autonomy to indigenous communities, like protection of women and minority rights,
economic dilemmas, confrontations between government spheres, overlapping of
jurisdictions, and the risk of sweeping the "indigenous problem" under the carpet
once full autonomy has been granted because any attempt to intervene would
interfere with autonomy. However many indigenous Ejidos, which are de facto called
"Comunidades Indigenas" because they incorporate traditional forms of
administration and follow ancestral social practices, already exercise a higher degree
of autonomy than the ones granted by these amendments, in a way these
amendments follow the historical line of "granting" rights by regulating existing
practices.
The indigenous community of Ostula, where Ticla is located, is a great example of
how autonomy developed between the gaps of social regulations and actual
administrative practices. Ostula is a community that has fought from its inception in
the sixteenth century to maintain autonomy, while also taking sides in several
national conflicts. During the war of independence Ostula served as an outpost for
rebels, with many locals joining the fight against Spain (Gledhill 2004), after this
they proved to be fierce patriots, joining most armed conflicts of the 20th century.
Indigenous Communities, like Ostula, are not fighting a separatist battle, on the
other hand they want to be able to join the nation on an equal basis, without having
to check their ancestral identity at the door by giving priority to the mestizo-
48


manufactured national ethos. The national discourse today is still debating what
constitutes indigenous and national identity, but one thing is clear, any autonomy
granted by the state needs to be more than a condescending and paternalistic
recognition of practices and dying dialects, it must grant real autonomy based on
self-determination
49


4. METHODOLOGY
4.1 Ticla
The easiest and most common way to reach Ticla is through the north, on the
Colima-Manzanillo highway, which reaches the regional hub of Tecoman. Here a thin
two-lane road begins a winding sweep through bluffs, cliffs, and beaches. An hour's
drive through curves, banana or papaya fields, and mestizo towns finally lead to the
50


county of Aquila. The first town encountered in this county is San Juan de Lima,
followed by La Placita (de Morelos) a small mestizo town that is also the nearest
town with full services in the Ticla area. From there a detour leads inland (Figure 1)
into the town of Aquila10, which is the seat of the local county government. Few
kilometers more down the road is where the historical Nahuatl territory of Ostula
begins, after the road climbs a few more hills, the delta from the Ostula river can
finally be seen (Figure 2) which marks the traditional border of the indigenous
community (which also overlaps with the county of Aquila). At the river, a gravel
road leads northeast to the ancestral town of Ostula (which shares its name with the
river, and the overall indigenous community), in the opposite direction a small dirt
road that follows the river leads to La Ticla (Figure 2).
FIGURE 3. TICLA'S BEACH BREAK AND THE OSTULA RIVER DELTA
The small town of El Guin lies at the cross roads between the highway, the road to
Ticla, and the road to the town of Ostula, however El Guin is normally not
represented in tourist maps, probably due to its size and lack of tourist attractions.
In this town there's a detour for a dirt road that follows the river and after a couple
of kilometers the first papaya fields belonging to Ticla greet visitors at the edge of
the town. Here the dirt road reaches a grain silo and crosses a stone road leading to
10 Aquila is the name of both the county and the town where that serves as head of the county
51


the ever-present "plaza", or Town Square. A few signs painted with spray cans mark
the way to "la playa" (the beach), ground zero for the tourism industry. Along the
way there are several indicators of the growing presence of surfing in this town -
stickers and surf brand logos cover the small Hotel with 3 rooms by the road, and a
"mural", in the main convenience store, painted by a surfer from Guadalajara,
attempts to recreate a surfer in action.
Once at the beach the heart of the industry is exposed, facing the ocean to the
left, on the south end of the beach, the local cooperative formed in the early '90s
has grown to cover almost half of the used beach space. The co-op infrastructure
during research was composed of: One 3 bdr. cabin, one 2 bdr. cabin, 12 individual
cabins, 5 rooms, 4 large palapas11 with concrete foundations used for camping
(fitting around 10+ tents), and 3 large simple palapas with room for over 20+ tents.
The largest building in the center has the bathrooms (when built they were the first
at the beach), and towards the end, each high season since 2000 has seen an
addition of simple wood palapas used for camping, with a new, larger addition on
the way, at the time of the last visit.
On the right (north) side of the beach lay the first palapas, established in the late
'60s or early '70s which have also seen its good share of growth, and now share this
side of the beach with other individual operators that joined the industry in the mid
'90s. This area is composed mostly of palapa space used for camping, there is also
one large and tall asbestos roof used for the same purpose, that resembles a
warehouse without walls, which up until the creation of the co-op in the '90s offered
the only real shelter from rain in the wet season. This side has only 4 to 6 rooms
available for rent (some are rented out only in high season). Yet it has the cheapest
restaurants, 4 established ones with possibly another 2 to3 that pop up in high
11 Structures made out of wood that use palapa or palm leaves as roofing
52


season, as well as the cheapest camping options ($2 to $4 USD per person a day,
compared with $5 to $15 USD a day to camp at the co-op).
The southern side is composed entirely by structures belonging to the co-op but
the right or northern section houses several individual operators that include two of
the original three businesses established in the early days (the owner of the third
abandoned his business when he migrated in the '80s). In the past few years there
has also been an increase in temporary palapas/restaurants that come to life during
high season. In the far north corner, on the other side of the river delta, inaccessible
by car, there are 2 of these new establishments that are empty except during
holidays and high season. The trend so far is for temporary palapas to become
permanent if they become profitable year round, yet it appears now that demand
allows for temporary ones to appear in the road-less area where the river needs to
be crossed by foot.
Not all business lay right in front of the beach, there are also three hotels inside
the town, one with 4 or 5 rooms in an actual building, going back to the late '80s
which made it more popular back then because it provided some shelter from the
armed robberies which routinely took place on the beach. Another hotel consists of
three rooms made completely out of cement complete with ceiling fans, finished in
2003, and the last or most recent one, established by the river on an old papaya
orchard, offers camping and a couple of rooms.
The road leading down to the beach show signs of the expanding industry with a
small convenience store and two restaurants that have emerged recently. There are
also at least 4 local women selling homemade tamales and coconut bread regularly
in the beach, where for over 20 years there was only one.
53


4.2 Data gathering and Interpretation
The fieldwork was based on participant observation, which later on was compared
with previous ethnographic research, particularly that done by John Gledhill (2004),
from the University of Manchester, who has become an authority on Nahuatl
communities in the coast of Michoacan. His book Cu/tura y Desafio en Ostula is a
study of the indigenous community, particularly its main town, also called Ostula,
which serves as head of the comunidad indigena where Ticla is located.
The research for this thesis was done in 3 trips. On the first trip I had a different
goal, originally the research was designed to find other rural coastal communities
that were reaping the benefits of a small-locally owned tourism industry. The original
idea of finding small communities where a locally owned tourism industry emerged
in an organic fashion came from visiting Ticla for over a decade.
I first came across Ticla in the early '90s when I was still in high school, and during
my undergraduate years in college when I visited this community almost every
weekend. It was then that I observed the accelerated growth that tourism in the
region took in the mid to late '90s. When deciding the subject of my thesis in
graduate school I jumped at the opportunity to dissect the relationship between this
host community and the unique kind of tourists that visit it.
Designing the research project, I started with the industry in Ticla as the
benchmark of a symbiotic relationship between tourists and their hosts. After
reducing the scope of my original research design, due to lack of towns that had
these same qualities, I set out to study Ticla, and why it had a fagade of
sustainability. A major part of this thesis revolves around dissecting the factors that
led to this apparent sustainability, and its main symptom or a growing tourism
54


industry. I wanted to dig beneath the surface and see if Ticla's relationship with
tourism and tourists was actually sustainable and empowering, not just a mirage.
To corroborate the initial premise that Ticla's tourism industry is beneficial for the
host community, I did open-ended interviews in the capital of the state, Morelia,
with senior-level members of different state departments in Michoacan's
government. I also conducted interviews on the coast with delegates or
representatives from federal and state's agencies that have Ticla under their
jurisdiction. Through these inquiries I was able to come up with a consensus, if
biased, that the tourism industry in Ticla is "healthy" for the community.
All state officials interviewed in the distant capital of Morelia12 knew about the
town, and its thriving industry in the rural coast, even the highest level member of
government interviewed was aware of it. The consensus stopped there though, no
one had a definite answer as to why the industry in this community seemed to be
thriving13.
In Ticla the research involved participant observation, and 31 open ended
interviews over the course of three trips, with different members of the community,
most of those interviewed were involved with tourism, with a smaller numbers of
interviews done with community members from neighboring towns or with
individuals with no apparent ties to the industry. There were also interviews with
tourists (12), a friend from Guadalajara that now lives part of the year in Ticla, and
several interview sessions with an American expat, a key informant, who has resided
and traveled the area for over 30 years. The intention of these was to compare
multiple perspectives and data from different methods, or as Vogt elaborates;
12
4-6 hour drive from Ticla
In good political form all interviewed argued that it was due to their own departments policies, even though the current
government from the PRD only took power from the perennial winner, PRI, in the past elections.
55


"Comparison forms part of the research process even in single case
studies...[comparison of multiple perspectives and data derived from different
methods are to likely reveal contradictions and make multiple interpretations
plausible" (2002:40).
Data interpretation for this thesis had my previous non-academic visits to Ticla as
a backdrop to contrast and compare the findings done in the research stage. Every
new finding would ultimately be seen through the filter (or bias) of my earlier
encounters with this community. My earlier "participant observations" could be
described as un-methodological evidence, and hopefully could be legitimized by my
secondary analysis. Phenomenology aside, my first experience gave me not only a
bias, but also a privileged historical perspective that led to me to inquire into events
I remembered, and see if those memories would withstand the secondary analysis
and thus be raised from past memories to ethnographic evidence.
To corroborate the comparison done by my un-methodological first experience,
and my secondary, I used external perspectives. I found that these external
perceptions could be classified as: a) Hosts (people directly or indirectly affected by
the local tourism industry), b) Visitors (foreign and national), c) Outsiders (people
with no connections to tourism in Ticla) and d) Privileged opinions from key
informants. It is through this triangulation of, memories, structured observations,
demographic or historical data, and interviews that I attempted to come up with
something of a "thick description" of the case study community and its industry, and
from there tease out the most transcendental elements that led to the unique
symbiotic relationship between hosts and visitors.
I used open-ended interviews to get a sense of the role that tourism plays on the
community with questions that were primarily concerned with economic impact and
influence on influence from the industry. I also used the interviews to diagnose the
56


host-visitor relationship, and the sustainability of the industry, sustainability which I
take to be the ability of the industry to keep on growing without saturating the
demand, and thus maintain at least the current economic influx.
However there were holes in my sampling, I tried to find locals who had a
negative view of the industry, but due to time and budget constrains I had to stop
before I could find someone that had been adversely affected. Most negative
comments came from some tourists who complained that their dollars were not
stretching as far as before. This is true, but only partially due to the rise of prices in
Ticla, what also happened is that the peso has not been devaluated for the first time
in over 10 years, making it stronger against the dollar. Also my sampling was not
systematic or representative of the overall population; most of the individuals I
interviewed were business owners or otherwise making a living through tourism,
which leads to a biased sample. To reduce this bias I corroborated the optimistic
outlook of the hosts by interviewing a smaller group of individuals that were not
directly involved with tourism or lived in adjacent towns. Yet even among these
individuals comments on the industry were strangely still positive.
I used Bernard's "constant validity check" to analyze the data (1994:361). This
check is used to find discrepancies and repetitions among informants, which helped
find several important historical factors that had been unclear about funding sources,
loans, and repayments done to and by the community. This check done in the
interpreting stage also helped to understand basic differences between key
informants.
57


5. ORGANIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE RURAL COAST OF MICHOACAN
5.1 History of Ticla and Ostula
Mexico consolidated its place as a global tourist destination largely thanks to the
many travelers coming from the other side of the border. The leisure activity that
attracted tourists to the rural coast of Michoacan was surfing, an activity know for its
inquisitive nature, and for hardened travelers that care about quality of the activity
with everything else (accommodations, transportation, even safety) being secondary
to the waves. In the late '60s and early '70s the first major migrations of American
surfer-tourists began arriving to this remote area of Michoacan to explore several
surf spots. Due to the quality and consistency of the waves, the Nahua community
of Ticla, soon found itself constantly being visited by exotic foreigners, engaging in
exotic activities, but with money to spend.
The town of Ticla is located on the southwestern coast of Michoacan belongs to
the county of Aquila, with the town of the same name (Aquila) serving as "Cabecera
Municipal". Under Mexican practices Ticla is also considered a member of a
"comunidad indigena", or indigenous community, and under this regiment, besides
the county government, there is also a communal-traditional government that is to a
certain degree autonomous, and is de facto the administrative government of interim
decisions within the indigenous towns that form the community. There are two
governing bodies inside the geographical territory of the county of Aquila. There is
the normal county government, tied to the state and the federation and then there is
the indigenous governing body, which has its roots in pre-colonial practices, and
which makes interim decisions. These are two overlapping spheres of government,
58


and somewhat complicated system, that has evolved overtime to fill the gaps left by
the absence of clear laws in the matter of indigenous autonomy.
The communal head of the internal government is located on the town of Ostula,
whereas the official and state sanctioned government is in the town of Aquila. Ostula
has been traditionally the cultural hub of the region, and it's also located about 10km
inland from the river delta where Ticla is. This town, of Nahuatl ethnicity, was
established in the early stages of the "Conquista" when the forces of Hernan Cortez
were searching for gold in the region. The Spaniards had yet to conquer the
Purepechas, the dominant force in the Tarascan Empire, so they brought Nahua
slaves (Aztecs) from the northern towns of what is now Colima, to work the mines.
However the Spanish abandoned the mines as early as 1537 due to insurrections
from the Nahua. The Nahua village soon evolved into a safe haven for individuals
escaping the Spanish expansion (Gledhill 2003). By the end of the seventeenth
century Nahuatl had displaced the native tongue (Purepecha) as lingua franca for
the coast of Michoacan (ibid..). Due to the geography of the region and the
subsequent political developments, Nahua communities in the coast remained in
relative isolation until the 19th century.
The county of Aquila is the second largest in Michoacan, but paradoxically also one
of the least populated. A map of the state (Figure 2) shows communities with two or
more household where a native dialect is spoken. This map shows that Purepecha is
still dominant in the mountainous north, while Nahuatl dominates the coast.
59


Mdp* B.32. Mtchoacin: kxaiwUdm indigene* con mis dp dos vivtenctai
segun (engua indtgena predormrwr*?, 2000
Uafttt
rwfeadi*
NAttflJ
$ Mluhm
Mfcftse
Otonf
AfMU#
HMCOMAK>apHWdrim£MM*ratocMi'yVW44.2M. iniA^nt pm txaM*L
Figure 4. NAHUATL SPEAKING HOUSEHOLDS ALONG THE COAS
This map demarcates the current political borders of the coast and the surviving
speakers of pre-Hispanic dialects, which serve as evidence to the historical isolation
of the coast. The fact that Nahuatl tongue is still alive and used in similar
proportions to that of Purepecha, by far the dominant dialect in the Tarascan
empire, is an indicator that these communities in the coast were ignored by colonial
and federal governments, and did not receive a full "modernity" treatment until the
twentieth century.
At times, only the evangelization efforts by the Franciscans kept these Nahua
communities attached to the rest of colonies. Ostula, a small village of mine workers
and Indian refugees also became a pilgrimage center for the Christianized Nahua
and was one of the first to be allowed in the sixteenth century a native nahuatl-
speaking chaplain to be in charge of the local church. This provided Ostula with an
60


influential role in the region as well as social and economic influx to weather
centuries of neglect and social and political stress (Gledhill 2003). The Nahuatl
however, were not completely isolated, there were Spanish haciendas in the
adjacent regions that up until the eighteenth century were still demanding labor, as
well as small enclaves of other ethnic groups, particularly Tarascan.
In the late Seventeenth century, plagues caused several sharp declines in the
Nahua population, so the neighboring Spanish haciendas brought African slaves and
"Indios Chinos" (Philippines) to work the cacao and coconut fields, yet most of these
eventually migrated or were absorbed, leaving the decimated Nahua population to
recover and coexist in this forgotten corner of Mexico. The native population in the
coast did not reach its historical population high marks of the sixteenth century, until
the early 1900s (Gledhill 2003).
Figure 5. NINETEENTH CENTURY NAHUATL FAMILY FROM THE COAST OF MICHOACAN
61


5.2 The County of Aquila in the Mexican Era
The nineteenth century saw several attempts to industrialize the region, usually
followed by national conflicts that eroded these efforts. In 1805 an iron factory was
established in the coast, but Spanish forces attacked it in 1811 and 1813 after it
became evident it was supplying insurgents. After these attacks, earthquakes,
famine, and cholera epidemics ravaged the region for the next 20 years, reaching its
most devastating point in 1856 when locusts destroyed much of that year's crop. In
the 1860s American companies begun harvesting precious wood from the coast,
turning the small port of Maruata (located about 80km south of Ticla) into a major
docking point from where these resources could be exported. The end of the
nineteenth century saw large numbers of mestizo and criollo immigrants head into
the northern border of the region to establish cattle ranches (Gledhill 2003).
During this period, indigenous land became attractive to all these recent
immigrants, mainly because it was still undivided by the federal government and
could be used to graze the expanding herds of cattle. Several legal loopholes were
used to take land from indigenous communities and given to Mestizos or Criollos to
be industrially exploited (Gledhill 2003). This process was stopped by the civil war of
1910, but not without the disintegration of several communities in the region.
In the 1920's the coast served as an outpost for "Cristeros", or catholic guerrillas,
fighting the secularization of the state. After the war a Cristero leader became
established in the region and became the cacique of the neighboring indigenous
community of Pomaro. This general, Gregorio Guillen, worked as mediator between
the Nahua and mestizos, leading to mixed land holdings, and some mestizos
admitted as full members in the indigenous community. However the tense peace
between both groups deteriorated after the cacique was assassinated in 1959
(Gledhill 2003).
62


Ostula was one of the few communities that successfully avoided a mestizo
physical and cultural invasion. During the 30's, President Lazaro Cardenas enforced
the constitution of 1917 that established the communal land holding systems, or
Ejido, created in the famous article 27 of the 1917 constitution, and it was then, at
least indirectly, that Ticla and Ostula received some legal protection. Yet in the
southern and northern communities around Ostula, mestizo ranchers became
permanently settled displacing Nahua villagers. In Ostula on the other hand,
mestizos were (mostly) peacefully ejected and a new community law was dictated
prohibiting native women from marrying mestizos if they wanted to remain in the
community (Gledhill 2003).
Ostula has historically been a highly autonomous and protective community, for
example historian Francois Chevalier describes in his 1948 visit during the Corpus
Christi celebrations, that he was asked to leave, citing a local law that prohibited
foreigners from staying for more than 2 days. He also points out the unique
circumstances in a regional lighthouse, where its mestizo controller had to receive all
its meals through boat because he was not allowed to grow or harvest anything
(Gledhill 2003). In 1959, the community of Ostula requested protected status from
the federal government, finally receiving it in 1964. President Lopez Mateo signed
the agreement giving the community the rights to 19,032 acres, nevertheless, the
community has not taken full possession of the land for two main reasons: there are
still border disputes, and the legal status of the land is conceived different by the
federal government and the local community. For locals, the community owns the
land in full, but for the federal government, the nearly 20k acres are a holding which
the current 591 members of the Asamblea Indigena share individual rights to. The
locals don't want to recognize individual claims to the land, to them the community
owns all the land, not the sum of all individual rights.
63


5.3 Ticla and surfers
Figure 7 ENTRANCE SIGN AT TICLA
The coast of Michoacan is one of the most isolated regions in Mexico, this partially
due to the political practice of centralizing governments in state capitals, and the
unique geography where the Sierra Madre creates a natural border separating the
64


rural southern coast, from the established northern half of the state, which has the
industrialized area surrounding the capital Morelia. The coast of Michoacan is
actually closer to the capitals of two other states, that of Colima (Colima) and Jalisco
(Guadalajara), this led to administrative and cultural isolation. Development
programs usually took much longer to reach this area of Michoacan; with limited
funds and several decades of corrupt leaders, the state's capital practically ignored
the whole area for most of the 20th century.
The population in the rural coast is composed of indigenous groups and mestizo
towns. As expected, the indigenous communities went under the radar, with the
mestizo towns usually harboring all, or most, economic trade, turning them into
semi-urban communities, which are industrialized and have larger populations, in
contrast to the rural, agrarian and smaller indigenous communities.
The larger industrialized towns are on both extremes of the coast (Tecoman in the
north and Lazaro Cardenas in the south). These urban hubs have paved roads and
access to larger seaports, in the case of the north there is Manzanillo and in the
south Lazaro Cardenas. A paved road linking these two regions was not completed
until the mid 1970s, when finished it allowed uninterrupted access not only along the
coast of the state, but from the U.S. border to within a few kilometers of Guatemala,
where the roads heads inland to join the Carretera Panamericana that goes into
Central America. This unrestricted travel along the Pacific coast became an
opportunity quickly embraced by California surfers in the '60s and '70s who had
explored the Baja peninsula and were eager to find new surf breaks in the coast of
mainland Mexico.
Gradually the Pacific coast was explored and the best breaks became well known
secrets, some of the most visited were in the northern Baja peninsula. But those
who left the relative security of the peninsula, and managed to reach rural regions in
65


the mainland, were greeted with empty beaches, food for pennies, as well as
hospitable locals eager to socialize. However the trip was (and is) not an easy one,
rain season ravaged roads, (which were under minimum maintenance), gas stations
were few and far between, bandidos and armed assaults were common, there were
hardly any emergency or health services, and head on collisions with cattle were
ordinary (in many places they still are). The latent dangers of traveling in rural areas
of third world nations kept the crowds away, only the determined (or foolish)
embarked on surf trips into rural areas of mainland Mexico before the '90s.
One Expat -who looks like Iggy Pop with a couple of teeth missing, complete with
lizard skin from decades under the sun- described the days before the paved road as
"the good times...before crowds and tourists...[when] you could live on nickels,
literally!" Yet there are also stories of "logs on the middle of the roads...or bastards
[that] would steal a car in Tecoman...roll it in the middle of the road and make it
look like an accident...[then] guys would jump out of the jungle with 22's and
machetes". In the town of Nexpa, one Expat showed me a scar over his shoulder
from a fight; "pissed drunk I thought it was a good idea to fight 3 marinos
(military)...my friends drove me all night looking for a doctor".
In The Surfers Guide To Baja14 "a frequent Mexico surf explorer" is quoted
praising the benefits of super glue "to take place of sewn stitches...its great field
dressing and easy to use. I've even seen it for sale down in Michoacan!(2004:10)".
Baja was the first region in Mexico to be explored and mapped by surfers, Michoacan
on the other hand was always considered as the last region to be tamed in
"mainland" Mexico (as opposed to the Baja Peninsula). Even if this is not completely
14 One of the most sold surf guides in Amazon.com
66


accurate15, this area of Michoacan has no economic, urban, or industrial core of
major size. Tecoman, the largest urban center in the region, is in the state of
Colima, and the next major town, Lazaro Cardenas, marks the border with Guerrero
the next state. Unlike these neighboring states, tourism here was a much smaller
phenomenon. Colima has the resort of Manzanillo, and Guerrero has Acapulco and
Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. Michoacan's coast is composed of small villages, and maybe two
or three large Mestizo towns, sitting at the edge of the Sierra Madre with a single
paved road linking them.
Decades of surfing tourism have slowly had an impact on those communities
possessing constant and quality waves, in this region several towns reached mythical
status in the surfing communities of Southern California. Through word of mouth at
first, and surf specific maps later, these became sought after destinations. One such
mythical surf break on the border between the states of Colima and Michoacan,
called Boca de Pascuales, guaranteed that world class surfers were a permanent
fixture in the area. On the southern border of the state, the town of Nexpa, and
beach breaks in the state of Guerrero and Oaxaca, meant that there was constant
influx of surfers traveling through the coast of Michoacan trying to reach the more
famous breaks of Guerrero and Oaxaca.
In the early days towns like Ticla, which where located between famous surf
regions, were only used as an overnight stop between Boca de Pascuales in the
north, and Rio Nexpa in the south (with Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca, the gem of
Mexican surfing, even further south playing also a key role). Yet the reliability and
visibility of good waves in Tida turned this beach break into a destination. When
reaching Ticla, the highway is a couple hundred of feet above the waves making the
15 Several secret surf spots from Chiapas and southern Oaxaca are becoming famous only now.
Because of proximity with the even more unstable political climate of Central America, Chiapas is by
far the most unexplored surf-region in Mexico.
67


spot impossible to miss by driving surfers. And a privileged location give it a wide
swell window allowing it to capture waves coming from almost any direction.
In the early 70s the only palapa on the beach became an improvised campground
where surfers would occasionally pay to have a meal cooked. After a couple of years
the owner, Don Juvenal16, added another palapa and an enclosed shack were he
installed a small adobe stove "I wouldn't charge the first gringos, I just sold them
[raw] fish...then they wanted me to cook it for them, then they wanted beer, then
they wanted eggs and tortillas for breakfast, no! I stopped fishing [as a main source
of income] more than 20 years ago!"
His neighbor Rosalia, opened her palapa around the same time, for many years
they were the only members of the community directly involved in catering to
tourists. Interviews conflict as to who was the first one, both claim they were, and
other informants also contradict each other, yet its is agreed that they were two of
the first three in the beach in 70s and for most of the '80s.
Rosalia was a middle age woman when I first met her in 1995, during those years
she monopolized most overnight stays with her high palapa made from asbestos,
and was the only restaurant habitually opened, others would only serve prepared
food on weekends, holidays or high seasons.
The global surfing boom of the '80s brought more tourists into the region,
businesses on the beach grew, as well as the local convenience store located in the
center of town. Nevertheless, the economic depression that Mexico experienced for
most of the '80s led to a rise in crimes, to which foreign-surfers (pretty much the
only kind at the time) were particularly vulnerable. Most surfers made the trip
16 Names have been changed to meet the requirements of CUs Humans Research Committee
68


usually in groups composed of males. This determination fueled by the consistency
of the waves in Ticla meant that even in the most dangerous times there were at
least a few surfers camping in the beach.
Expats and locals claim that armed robberies were prevalent through the late '80s
and early '90s, but by then the first generations of national (Mexican) surfers started
coming of age and exploring beach breaks monopolized by tourists. Young locals
also learned to surf on hand me downs, and in a couple of years most kids and
teenagers would hang around the beach hoping to borrow or buy a board, producing
today some great surfers. On the other side of the social spectrum, those upper and
middle class Mexicans that were seduced by the surfing culture and lifestyle, also
begun arriving in la Ticla. By the early '90s surfing was widespread in Mexico, adding
more surfers who were willing to stay at Ticla despite the dangers involved. Once
urban nationals begun visiting Ticla, it was sure to become a destination during the
Holy Week holidays, when millions of Mexicans saturate any available beach space
unlike any other time of the year. These massive migrations during this holiday are
usually some of the most productive days of the year for the tourism industry in
Mexico. Ticla became no exception, temporary palapas and small restaurants
duplicate for two or three weeks every Easter, just to be abandoned or opened
randomly through out the year. By 1993 this trend to cash in for a couple of weeks
every year slowly convinced more families to create permanent palapas that would
be open (almost) year round.
In 1994, when Mexico joined NAFTA, stronger environmental regulations came
into effect to curb down poaching of endangered species. A side effect of this was
the implementation of military checkpoints, and random visits to rural beaches to
protect turtles and other marine species. At first there was a spike in violence,
particularly in Ticla, where being held up at gunpoint became such a routine that
69


seasoned travelers would leave a pesos in sight at night so they would not violently
woken up.
By the mid '90s there were more locals involved in one way or another with the
tourism industry. Dona Paz who would randomly sell tamales and coconut bread
started doing it daily, the local store bought an electric generator, and a fridge that
assured cold beer on demand, as opposed to the warm beer that had been sitting on
3-day-old ice. Marijuana, historically used by the Nahuatl, became highly profitable.
It was not uncommon to see 6 or 7-year-old kids in old and refurbished Chinese
bikes carrying a grocery bag full of ganja pushing it on whoever came across their
way.
With military convoys patrolling the roads, and pressure from the US to intensify
anti drug programs, several gangs in the area where dismantled. The most powerful
one, which oddly did not revolve around the drug trade, but on robberies, came
down when its infamous and mythical leader, "El Manitas", was killed. The official
story, told by interviewed bureaucrats in the state capital, argue that "El Manitas"
died in a shoot out with federal forces in '94, however locals claim that it was due to
a fallout between a corrupt Lt. Colonel from the army, who was a long time
associate, and this bandido leader. After his death there was temporary spike in
violence from smaller gangs competing to fill the power vacuum.
During this wave of violence in the mid '90s, the community had already invested
a great effort on tourism and was just starting to see real widespread benefits. One
night a local gang of bandidos pushed their luck by kidnapping a tourist and forcing
him to drive his car to rob the local convenience store. The robbers knew that the
storeowner was influential and had powerful friends in the region, yet in spite of
these dangers, they decided to criminalize the store. They used the car and its
scared owner to flee and once in a safe area they released the tourist and his car.
70


Next morning an armed group woke up the kidnapped surfer (a teenager from
Guadalajara) and interrogated him, and he was able to give a description of the
men. In the following months those involved in the crime were eventually found
dead, and a few lucky ones, severely beaten. After that robberies declined, with only
one more known lynching related to habitual robberies in the area. Finally the war
against drugs brought permanent police headquarters into the region that led to the
incarceration and disintegration of these kinds of gangs. However drug cartels in the
region kept a low profile, had more money for bribes, and with no apparent
discernable trend of violence against tourists in tourist towns they posed no danger
to the industry. Several informants corroborated the last death of a foreign tourist in
a robbery to be in 1996.
It was during the mid '90s that I started visiting Ticla, my first trip was in 93', and
I only stayed for a day, slowly I began to come for longer stays. Back then Rosalia
monopolized overnight stays with her high palapa, made from asbestos roofing
sheets, instead of palm leaves that have be to be changed every year. Don Juvenal
and his wife ran a restaurant and hosted a few surfers too. A night, meaning
hanging your hammock or setting a tent, went for around $5 pesos (half a dollar).
Eggs and potatoes cost 15pesos ($1.5USD) and if you asked for it in the morning,
you could get fish and tortillas at dinner for around $30pesos ($3USD).
As cheap and paradisiacal as Ticla might sound, it still needs some getting used to.
For a long time there were hardly any non-surfers visits, the beach is littered with
dead wood during rain season, and in winter, when the wood has been picked by
locals, sand retreats leaving cobblestones. Strong rip tides keep swimmers away,
and the water gets murky brown and brings down trash when the river-mouth opens
in summer.
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One year, in 1996 after a couple of month's absence, I came back to Ticla find a
huge fancy palapa constructed on the southern side. It was the biggest building in
town; this was the first phase of the construction done by the co-op.
5.4 Community initiatives and symbiotic relationships
After Ticla became safer to visit, tourists composition changed as well, the number
of foreign families, as well as tourists from the urban areas of Colima and
Guadalajara, grew rapidly. During the late '90s tourism-based services in Ticla grew
at an unprecedented rate, almost every month there would be a new addition or
some change in the services. The town went from having one reliable restaurant
(that offered two dishes eggs w/ potatoes and fried fish) in the early '90s, to at
least a dozen in the high season of 2000. Even more astounding was the success of
the local cooperative developed by eleven local families that set out to create better
lodging and to promote Ticla as more than a surfing destination. This cooperative
was created in 1996 when an international agency17 provided the indigenous
community of Ostula a grant.
There are different versions as to what was the intention of this international
agency, but the community, through its collective governing body established in the
Ejido regulatory laws, the "Asamblea Comunitaria", and which is composed of all
comuneros18, agreed to use part of this grant to develop tourist services. This is how
Ticla's co-op was formed, when local families decided to take a credit from the
Asamblea Comunitaria, which had received the grant, to build improved
17 Key informants working in political positions all gave different versions on which agency gave the
first economic stimulus to the Indigenous Community of Ostula; The Interamerican Development
Bank and the UN through one of its agencies, were both mentioned on more than one occasion,
however no other evidence has emerged to help corroborate this. The community describes the loan as
coming from an international organization working through the old Instituto Nacional Indigenista.
18 Members of the community who have been granted possession of a plot of land
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infrastructure in the beach. The co-op was also granted permission to rent the plots
of land where the new buildings would be constructed. The construction of
bathrooms in 1996-7 was seen as a radical improvement, some seasoned visitors
claim that this had as much impact on the industry as the decrease in violence,
before 1996 there were not even latrines. After these additions a real cabin with
actual walls was constructed, as well as rain proof palapas with stone floors used for
camping. However money ran out and the project was neglected for a couple of
years, doing business only in high seasons.
In the late '90s the state government decided to encourage "ecotourism" in the
region by promoting beach attractions, particularly turtle reservoirs, this effort gave
the community a loan. Ostula received a "responsibility loan", or a loan that only
would need to be paid back if it was misused. The community, once again used a
portion of this money, to give a credit to the co-op at Ticla to finish the project, this
loan was expected to be paid back to Ostula's treasury.
As tourism increased and revenues with them, the town was able to remodel the
plaza, improve roads and drainage. A trash dumpster was created with a garbage
collection system (that lasted until the driver crashed the truck while drunk). Satellite
TV reached the town a few months after it was available nationally, with the only
receiver and TV set up in the convenience store where crowds would gather at night
to watch soap operas or soccer games. And before telephone lines reached the area,
a satellite phone booth was established linking the community with the global era for
the first time a few years before the turn of the century.
Some benefits to the community were not a direct consequence of established
services, credits or small businesses. For example a local family with 6 sons, all
surfers, started inviting friends to stay at their family house, composed of two adobe
rooms. One room was the kitchen and the parent's bedroom, and the other a palapa
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where all the sons slept in hammocks. When the sons would invite friends, the
matriarch of the family would add water to the beans to feed the urban surfers who
her sons had befriended, the tourists in exchange would try help the family in
different forms.
After a few years of this the family hut grew into several huts, and there were
always surfers staying there for free, in a symbiotic relationship, where they would
bring requests from the city. One of the first gifts from the visiting surfers was a
mechanic corn-mill, which was greatly appreciated by the matriarch who would
usually grind corn by hand in a metate. There were also medicines, fertilizers, a
latrine, clothes, radios, and even a gas stove among others. The native surfers were
also invited into urban centers, and at least one of the brothers lived in Vancouver
after being invited by a group of Canadian surfers. The relationship that this family
had with visiting surfers led to an improvement in their standard of living, as claimed
by the familiy, which in turn is a smaller example of the process that this historically
marginalized town went through after surfers begun visiting.
5.5. Frictions and a Wedding
Interactions between locals and tourists are not all romantic and beneficial though,
there are many cases of friction emerging from tourist-based relations. In the
summer of 1999, a group of American surfers from Texas got involved in a drug deal
with a local surfer from the region. The local, who had a reputation for being a
weasel, tried to fool the Texans, which did not turn out so well. This was during rain
season, when there were not many tourists around, so Rosalia who was aware that I
knew English, called me to mediate between the Texans and the tied up local who
refused to say where the money was hidden. They beat him and dragged him
around all afternoon, when an army convoy came in one of their routine rounds, the
captain only asked for a bribe from the Texans after hearing the story, and left
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without doing anything. The Texans kept the local tied overnight while they drank
and randomly beat him some more. Next morning Rosalia finally convinced the tied
and beat up local to confess where the money was hidden. A few days later he came
back at night and broke all the windows and lights on the Texan's pickup truck while
they were out surfing.
Another conflict over money between one of the best local surfers and a
businessman from Tecoman led to six months in jail for the surfer. We would stop to
visit him in the local jail on our way back to Guadalajara, when we would give one of
his family members a ride there. And of course there is the dilemma faced by the
black market of ganja in the region, with some successful business in town which
are owned by previous sellers, leaving little doubt as to how this new additions were
financed.
However there is one particular event where the relationship between the host
community and tourists is revealed with its underlying power struggles, its uneasy
yet welcomed economic benefits, and the growing role that the village of Ticla is
taking in the region. Before, the main town of Ostula, used to be the place to
celebrate festivities among community members, the local church at Ostula was the
place where most important religious events would take place. Yet the growing
popularity and influence of Ticla has led to a new trend where this village is now the
place hosting festivities.
One day, early in the morning, without notice, one of the main palapas on the
north side of the beach started evicting its visitors. Confused campers packed and
moved their belongings while local women begun decorating and arranging the
restaurant. Word spread that wedding celebrations were taking place right on the
beach. This was an event I hadn't witnessed in over a decade of visiting this town,
usually festivities, when they happened in this village, would take place in the local
75


plaza up in the middle of town, in someone's orchard, or even in the street beside
the very small church. However, this new trend now uses the restaurants at the
beach for celebrations, and what is abnormal about this is that it now reaches
members all across the community of Ostula, not just members of Tida. Before it's
as if villagers wanted to keep celebrations out of the Tourist Gaze, a common
practice among protective indigenous communities, yet today they're staring to
celebrate, literally, besides tourist's tents.
The couple that was to be married this day, belonged to the neighbor village of El
Faro, which also has a beach and restaurants, yet this couple decided to do have
their wedding at Ticla following this new fashion. Around 10 a.m. a couple of trucks
arrived at the beach bringing a bandstand, then several food stands started showing
up. By noon the wedding party walked from the small church, up by the plaza, to
the beach, creating a parade led by the couple, followed by their family members.
This parade crossed the beach with surprised and curious tourists taking
photographs. The party eventually settled in the palapa where campers had been
displaced, which now was completely decorated and had a full band playing. This
was just the beginning of the celebrations, with maybe 50 of the closest family
members, yet as evening approached, more and more members of the community
started to arrive.
By the time the sun set members from all villages that compose the comunidad
were present. A large band was playing, there were over 300 guests dancing, and in
a unique approach, all community members get invited to the party, yet it becomes
like a fair rather than a private wedding, with food and beer sold at food stands. The
bride and groom provide lunch to their closest guests, and they also provide the
band, and then the whole wedding becomes a community event, where merchants
from the region come to do business like they do at fairs or other celebrations. By
the time night arrived the whole beach was engulfed in the celebrations; tourists
76


couldn't escape and had no option but to join the party. Many of those camping
close to where the band was playing, and where the food stands were located, were
surrounded by the event, which lasted until sunrise.
The night was a complete episode where many locals were happy to "take back
the beach" and tourists, for the most part, were astounded and happy to join the
event. The wedding managed to illuminate the rising tensions between tourists and
locals, but it also served to expose the rising status of Ticla in the region. It appears
that Ticla's hierarchy in the community is changing, and by celebrating in front of
the tourists, right on the beach, locals corroborate it. The beach has become a place
where economic and social capital is exchanged and produced, locals seem to
perceive the beach as a source of cosmopolitanism, celebrating with foreigners
coming from all over the world, seems to add to their own status. Yet it also has a
balancing effect, where many locals are happy to retake a place of their community
that has now been lost to the industry. The beach is a place where differences
become highly evident, hosts and visitors are easy to tell apart, and very few locals
join surfers or even patronize the same restaurants. The beach has become a
restricted space for locals, where prices are out of reach, and place safeguarded to
protect the local industry. The wedding, for a night, let the locals dismiss these
emerging social borders and take the beach without worrying about tourists and
their dollars.
Local native surfers worked as mediators during this night, they interpreted the
event for tourists, because they coexist in both worlds. I was able to hang out and
join the celebrations, yet when a question arose, I could ask a local surfer, and he
could inform me about who was from what village, or how far they had traveled.
Many members of the overall community, particularly the largest number who don't
come into contact with visitors, can be very skeptical about foreigners or outsiders.
77


During this night they were happy to let the powerful tourists with their powerful
dollars know who was in charge (if only for a night).
By the following morning the beach had been cleared of all evidence of the party,
and except for a few individuals who had drunk too much and were still sleeping
under a shade, business was back as usual, yet there was a large quinceanera
(sweet sixteen) party scheduled to take place the following month.
The wedding was a great indicator of change happening in Ticla, and also how the
small industry with it's relative small numbers of guests allows for change to happen
on an equal basis, which gives the local community time to assimilate change
without losing its role as the leading force in the industry, unlike other tourist
destinations, where native capital is diluted or displaced when the region becomes
profitable and starts to attracts outside investments.
In economic terms, the industry seems to be successful, particularly if it is
measured by the growth of tourism infrastructure and number of visitors. By 2005
there were more than 20 rooms with floors and fans, 4 large restaurants, enough
palapasto shelter an army. A police cubicle was also constructed with a policeman in
it most days of the week. Yet the industry seems sustainable in cultural and social
terms, at least so far, if the current gradual expansion continues.
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6. Conclusions
6.1 Shifts from the Research Design
On the research design phase of this thesis I was hoping to find other
communities along the Pacific Mexican coast that would repeat some of Ticla's traits.
I originally thought that the two major components in Ticla's apparent success were
based on geographical isolation and a good tourist attraction (in this case consistent
surfing conditions). My original argument was based on the possibility that the
exploring and adventurous habits of surfing tourists would bring them into distant
corners of the coast where there would be no other accommodations, except those
provided by rural communities, producing tourism industries like the one in Ticla. In
the summer of 2005, 1 researched the Pacific coast of Mexico expecting the Baja
peninsula to be booming with such communities. Californian surfers had been
visiting here at least since the '50s and it contains some of the most rural and
desolate regions in Mexico.
However after traveling for 3 months down this peninsula and rest of the Pacific
coast in Mexico, I came to the conclusion that Ticla was a unique phenomenon.
In Baja there were other factors into play, first the waves are not constant year
round, most of the waves in northern Baja are caused by winter storms, and in
southern Baja major swells come from the hurricane season. This can create large
periods when the ocean lacks waves, particularly in early spring and late fall,
compared to Michoacan's coast where flat spells are rare. In Baja, rural, semi-urban,
and urban surf spots with successful tourism enterprises, are mostly owned by
American expatriates, which are clear majority in the surfing-tourism industry of the
region. The Mexican Constitution prohibits foreigners from owning property by the
coasts or by the borders; however there have always been loopholes around this
technicality (mostly trust funds through Mexican banks).
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Because most rural regions in Mexico are still composed of ejidos or communally
owned land, I thought that there would be at least a few communities where a
locally owned industry emerged. To my surprise, the most common setting in the
peninsula was that of foreign owned businesses, with a few smaller locally owned
places, that catch the overflow of the better managed and promoted, foreign owned
accommodations. This scenario was constant even in the most rural regions; if there
are economic benefits for locals, it is only through this overflow, which includes
convenience stores, restaurants, or a small rent to the ejido where the foreign
business is established.
This lease, I observed in two occasions, was minimal compared to the profits the
business was producing. In a remote corner of central Baja, on Bahia Escorpion (aka
Scorpion Bay), there is a town called San Juanico, 2 hours from the paved road
almost, there is small foreign owned hotel nestled over a cliff, which leases this
privileged spot from the ejido for around $300USD a month. The American owner,
illegally by Mexican law, charges $5USD a person to camp right on the beach,
providing no shelter, just space (in Mexico, technically all beaches are federal public
land). She also charges $25USD to $40USD for small cabins. She also owns a
restaurant and a satellite Internet cafe. The town, a community of over 500 persons,
is a successful fishing cooperative, with a rare permit to harvest clams through
scuba diving with a surface compressor, yet there are only two other businesses that
cater to tourists in this relatively prosperous rural town, a convenience store and a
small taqueria. The overflow is nearly eliminated by the foreign hotel, and locals
don't have the resources or skills to compete. Paradoxically the hotel owes its
success to the privileged location it leases from the community. When I visited, I
counted around a hundred foreign tourists staying in the expat-owned hotel, more
than half campers on federal land, which again technically were illegally being
charged (although this gives them access to showers and restrooms). In this
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community there is hardly any interaction between locals and surfers because the
expat owner tries to keep them from even leaving the cliffs and beach area so they'll
spend most of their money in her hotel.
The unfolding of events in this community turned out to be a good example of
how most of the small-tourism industry evolved in the Baja peninsula. Through field
research I found out that most small business catering to surfers, are owned by
foreigners, which have the unfair advantage of better business skills and strong
entrepreneurial habits common in the U.S.
Other surfing regions of the Pacific, particularly those in the states of Jalisco and
Guerrero were too industrialized, too urbanized, too close to a major resort, or had
become too big themselves, like Puerto Escondido, to evolve into a Ticla-like
community. Yet one community in the state of Oaxaca called Santa Cruz is in the
initial stages of creating a small tourism enterprise that resembles Ticla's experience.
This community provided a major insight because they were not only an ejido but
also a "comunidad indigena". This community became overprotective due to
historical reasons, including a fierce struggle in 1991 when they were threatened
with eviction by FONATUR to expand the resort of Huatulco (Clancy 2001:134)
resulting in at least one death. Today they have constituted a cooperative to
manage accommodations at the surf spot, and at the time I visited there was only
one cabin for rent, and one restaurant managed by the cooperative, yet initial
observations seem to indicate that their communal practices played a role in
developing a locally owned co-op that excludes outsiders from ownership. How
future events unfold in this community, will serve to challenge, or corroborate the
arguments of this thesis.
After the initial research did not meet the expected results, I decided to look into
how Ticla had grown an apparently successful, or sustainable, relationship with
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surfers, in the shape of a unique tourism industry. I found that finding the
determining factors that might have led to the economic success of this town was
not a clear-cut scenario, as well as determining if economic success for the local
tourist industry meant overall success for this community.
6.2 Tourism in Ticla and the Larger Picture
Reid (2003) describes traditional societies as working through an "economic
system based on direct commodity exchange and not on currency
exchange"(2003:80), such societies are often considered by observers not to be
modern. "Traditional societies...maintain social systems based on kinship practices,
or a variant of them. In spite of their adherence...to these practices, tourism is still
viewed by many national governments and business as a legitimate activity for these
societies". Tourism acts to move these groups away from traditional ways of life
toward more modern models of society" (Reid 2003:80).
The organic unfolding of the industry in Ticla, with its somewhat gradual
expansion allowed the community to adapt and integrate the presence of tourists to
avoid Reid's dilemma (to a certain degree). Ticla has been subject to the influence
of a surfers and their foreign culture for over three decades, however change has
been sluggish, not radical and intrusive. Ticla by being part of a "comunidad
indigena" and sharing a different town as seat of indigenous affairs and cultural
hub19, has helped helps Ticla maintain its sense of identity, even while younger
locals are strongly influenced by the surfing culture. Summarizing, Ticla's relationship
with tourism doesn't seem to accelerate the modernizing effect already in place
through national and global forces, particularly when compared to other tourism
approaches. Ticla will inevitably change, yet under current circumstances it will do so
with a clear sense of identity while maintaining local customs and traditions. Unlike
19 The town of Ostula, which is also the name of the overall indigenous community.
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many other communities that either get absorbed and dissolved into expanding
urban centers, or have to turn their local practices into the tourist attraction, which
lead into the dreadful Cannibal Tours scenario, where locals must exist in a timeless
era to appear as the noble savage with folkloric traits expected by visitors.
The unique phenomenon that emerged in Ticla also shows clear advantages over
other types of tourism, particularly Ecotourism, which seems to be the tool of choice
to develop rural areas through tourism by Mexican regulating agencies.
Economic growth that is not centered around human beings is not sustainable; that is
to say that we have to overcome the technocratic and environmentalist vision by
which development is conceptualized and operationalized (Ntsime 2004: 712).
Ecological balance is a necessary requirement of a long-term project, yet
Ecotourism has made it the foremost priority, taking over development programs
while leaving poverty alleviation, once more, to wait for the infamous trickle down
effect. "The concept of sustainable development has conceivably been superseded
by notions of natural resource management, which over the years have acquired a
high conservationist a status" (Ntsime 2004:707). Considering that historically
natural resource management has been one of the primary concerns of development
programs, it comes as no surprise then, that development programs would evolve
into trickle down-nature-conservationist projects. Ntsime argues that the adaptability
of sustainability has now been appropriated by environmental and conservation
forces to such a degree that the term must now be deconstructed and reformulated
to get its priorities straight:
"Politicians get caught up in the application of the most commonly used notions and
principles of sustainable development...the shortcomings of these texts [crafted by
politicians and diplomats] are that they do not consider the context within which
sustainable or unsustainable development takes place" (2004:707).
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The much quoted description of sustainability emitted by the World Commission
on Environment and Development where "development [must] meet the needs of
the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs" (WCED 1987:43), was easily embraced by environmentalists
to mean conservationism above all, instead of poverty alleviation through
responsible resource management.
In the late '80s ecotourism was lauded as an environmental-friendly approach to
develop a sustainable tourist industry. In recent years, new analyses have proved
that this alternative is by no means risk-free (Wong 1993, Honey 1999). It can even
carry greater risks than traditional mass-tourism because the fragile environment on
which it exists. Despite these risks supporters of eco-tourism argued that it could
provide communities in under-developed nations with an economic scheme that
would raise current standards of living as well as having a positive impact in the
environment.
Martha Honey's Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise
(1999) provides one of the most ambitious and holistic analysis published to date on
this model. She proposes ecotourism as an alternative economic development
program, yet she also describes the many setbacks and the dangers inherent in the
very abstract and vague concept of ecological tourism. She corroborates the effect
that the initial success of this model had on its application and the decomposition
that resulted from its wide acceptance in the industry. She describes two major
dilemmas in the concept; first the "utopian" nature of it, and second the
decomposition of the idea that with lack of global standards for the term has
resulted in a notion that can mean many things and nothing at the same time.
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Ecotourism as development has its priorities upside down first it aims to conserve
an ecological niche, create profits for the operators, and then activate the mills of
capitalism so in an indirect and unregulated approach the economy grows and then
trickles down into local hands. In the best-case scenario, where nature preservation
is actually being accomplished, tourist operators still need to make a profit. After the
environmental and capitalist needs have been met, community development is
expected to take place through unregulated market forces. Even in cases of locally
owned business, community development is not a goal, but a consequence of
capitalism. Local businesses usually face unbalanced competition from outsiders with
better skills and resources. Ecotourism as community development, while being
environmentally friendly, can suffer from the same shortcomings when creating
economic wealth for locals as other approaches only through wages, and informal
economy can the natives raise their standard of living. Ecotourism is profit driven,
with no defined method to empower communities, its only clear goal is to protect
the environment.
Then why do development projects insist on empowering locals by making them
compete in the national and global economy in a purely neo-liberal fashion? Words
like "protectionism" and "subsidies" have been eliminated from the development
discourse following trends dictated by First World Nations through agencies like the
IMF and the World Bank. This is why ecotourism can have a negative impact among
host communities, because it presents itself as a viable method of community
development, yet it prioritizes conservation and profits over community
empowerment. Honey describes how by the early '90s almost every "non-
industrialized country was promoting ecotourism as part of its development strategy"
(Honey 1999:18).
Ecotourism, as concept has three priorities the most important obviously is
ecological conservation, second would be education of tourists, and third would be
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benefit for local populations. Nearly every definition and consensus on the term lists
social development as a top priority, only behind resource management of the
environment (Honey 1999). Yet while being clear on environmental conservation and
sharing a thin consensus as to how to protect the environment (conservationism),
there are no guidelines on how to enforce its much lauded community development
priority. Because of this, ecotourism has failed to deliver on its promise of local
empowerment. Its record as social developer seems to be getting worse and worse.
Hall (1994) describes it as a "new form of ecological imperialism" (154) where
western values are imposed on communities in the south pacific "at the expense of
indigenous people"(153). As Povinelli argues (2002), certain cultural traits can be
promoted too much, even at the expense of the recipients of development.
Hall (1994) follows the line of critique presented by Cannibal Tours. In this study
subsistence hunting is looked down by eco-tourists, forcing this practice to obscurity
or in some cases stopped completely. Ecotourism not only brings western tourists
into fragile ecosystems, it also brings with them western values into fragile cultural
landscapes, that can rapidly become dependent on the dollars brought by tourists,
altering lifestyles and entire communities in short periods of time (Hall 1994). This is
where the organic form of development that emerged in Tida seems to have a clear
advantage over other types of sustainable tourism.
Ecotourism can easily become a wolf in disguise, because it is labeled as
ecotourism, it can create a facade of overall sustainability. The term ecotourism has
become a magnet for conscious travelers. Yet it can easily misguide tourists that
want to engage in responsible tourism into thinking that travel to such destinations
is good for local communities. Ecotourism has become a trendy concept that fails to
define itself for fear of offending the market. Honey (1999) labels this practice as the
"travel industry's 'green tricks'" (49). Social development in ecotourism is reduced to
a tourist trap; indigenous communities are visited if they are "savage" and "exotic"
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leading to Povinelli's dilemma where only communities that remain "ancient" and
"traditional" receive social benefits.
In the end, ecotourism has benefited from failing to define how is it that it aims to
"improve the well being of local people" as the Ecotourism Society definition states
(Honey 1999) The tacit agreement seems to be that local communities benefit from
economic growth in their region, yet as in mass-tourism, this is a fallacy used by
neo-liberal investors and developers to justify the profit making eco-endeavor,
without having to directly address a most important aspect of development or
community empowerment. This is why an organic approach to development-
through-tourism could benefit local communities in ways that ecotourism falls shorts.
If tourism is seen as an economic and development tool, empowering a community
is directly addressed instead of expecting it as a side effect of nature conservancy.
The case of Ticla argues in favor of limiting outside investment to keep local capital
from being diluted by opportunistic capitalist investors that by nature want to drain
resources and capital from the community into their pockets.
6.2.1 Local ownership in Rural Communities
One of the most influential factors in the apparent success of the tourism industry
in Ticla is the control the community has over the industry with a monopoly over the
tourist attraction. Locals brag about the inability of outsiders to invest and the
protective practices in the region; in the neighboring village of El Faro, also part of
the indigenous community of Ostula, one local tried to dupe the local assembly by
secretly finding an outsider investor to start its own business. Once finished, this was
the largest restaurant by the beach in the region, but on opening day, the drunken
owner started bragging about its dubious funding sources. In a matter of hours a
mob set fire to the place, and to this day the ruins still stand by the beach with
locals referring to them when discussing outside investors.
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In Ticla, there appears to be a direct link between the indigenous traditional form
of government that excludes outsiders from possessing land, and what a state
official describes as "dollars that stay in the community". My own research along the
coast of Mexico consistently produced examples where ejidos were not enough to
guarantee local control of a tourism industry. The Baja peninsula proved to be a
great example of this; more than a thousand miles of coastline and ejidos, with
world famous surf spots, and more than five decades of surfers visiting the area
failed to materialize, according to my research, one single community with local
monopoly over the tourism industry in their region.
There are several successful surf oriented businesses all along the Mexican coast,
yet communities with local control and ownership are anomalies; whenever outsiders
could displace locals, they have. There are lots restaurants and small hotels owned
by locals, yet they exist only to catch the runoff of the more attractive and better run
expat-owned business. Several cases repeat a scenario where foreigners compete
against locals. In my notes I describe this foreign-owned endeavors as "the large
b[ed] & b[breakfast] cheaply leased on ejido land...internet access...more food, more
variety...expat owner with a gregarious personality that caters to the needs of
surfers...cited on surf maps...[having] American sports on TV's...privileged
location...[and only] footsteps from the waves".
Ultimately, Expat owned accommodations posses the entrepreneurial spirit
inherent in the American ethos. In one extreme case in Sinaloa, an operation owned
by an American even engages in violence to keep away competition and native
surfers from using "his" spots. This individual promotes as part of its attraction
"empty line ups", to do so he sends goons to patrol his "secret" spots, where they
have burned down local palapas that have sprung up, and use fishing harpoons to
force local surfers out of the water. Rural communities are no match for foreign
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investors that want to capitalize and become rich by finding the next world famous
tourist spot.
Western investors have more needs that demand more earnings, like SUV's, boat
payments, mortgages, bank loans, a western family, and the individualistic spirit of
capitalism. Rural communities on the other hand are just finding replacements from
subsistence agriculture, not from a $100k job as software developer in Silicon Valley
(an actual case).
Nevertheless, full control over tourism-oriented enterprises is no guarantee that an
industry will evolve into a successful development tool. Cruz et a/(2005) describe
the conflict that arose in the Lacandon community that provides boat taxis to visit
the Mayan ruins of Yaxchilan in the state of Chiapas. In this community there are
two locally-owned cooperatives running the taxis and the restaurants along the
Usumacinta River. Competition among these two led to local frictions that escalated
into violence. Competition at one point became so strong that both organizations
engaged in price wars leading to substantial losses for the overall community.
In Oaxaca there is another case, the once profitable hot springs of Hierve el Agua,
under full control of the indigenous community, have created so many local
animosity and disputes, that tourism now creates more problems than it solves. One
dissecting fraction in this conflict has gone as far as to carve an alternate 8km dirt
road over a hill to keep tourists from paying the fee that the opposing side charges
for crossing its village.
There are those who argue against the "local trap, in which development
researchers and practitioners falsely assume that localized decision-making is
inherently more socially just" (Purcell and Brown 2005:297); outcomes of localized
decision-making would ultimately only reflect the current status quo. In cases, it can


even exclude local members that are already marginalized (Cruz et al 2005). In Ticla
the cooperative is composed of members who were previously prominent, and the
tourist economy probably does reflect social hierarchies prevalent before tourism
became profitable; but because the industry is entirely locally owned, there is very
little capital drain, and profits reinvested. Even while there are some individuals
"more equal than others", the overall community directly benefits from the rents
charged to the co-op and individual operators, and because profits stay the "trickle
down effect" needs to trickle a shorter distance to reach the most disadvantaged
members. As long as the industry in Ticla is profitable, local control means more
capital staying in Ticla.
Tourism is not without dangers, yet it is hard to dismiss it when it diversifies local
economies by providing more methods to earn income for locals. In Ticla, local
ownership of the industry maximizes the amount of money staying in the
community. This also leads to an industry that grows in accordance with what the
community is earning, and thus cannot afford radical disruptive expansion. In Ticla,
the industry does not only benefit from localized decision-making but also from full
ownership and no competition from outsiders. Mainly because its indirectly protected
as a side effect of two spheres: the ejido land holding system prevalent in rural
areas of Mexico, and the traditional indigenous governing methods, that while not
explicitly regulated by Mexican law, have historically been tolerated by the state.
6.2.2 The Ejido and Organic Development
In the early '90s president Salinas and the PRI party amended article 27 of the
Constitution, the greatest political victory of the 1910 Revolution. This article
regulates the ejido land holding system that President Cardenas enforced with land
expropriation and re-distribution in the 1930's. Article 27 was created after the
revolution to satisfy Zapata's motto of "La tierra es de quien la trabaja"{Land belong
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to those that work it), yet neoliberal restructuring demanded a change from this
socialist inception of land. To do so the amendment to article 27 added a provision
where ejdatarios (land holders in an ejido), through the asamblea (communal
government), could vote to transform the ejido into individual's "pequena
propiedades" or small properties. This meant dismantling the ejido, where property
would go from the communal, into the individual hands of each ejidatario, who could
then do with it as they pleased. Usually this meant selling it to large multinational
agricultural corporations such as Del Monte or Dole, however, the ejido has to
decide by a democratic vote to dismantle the ejido. This is the reason why there are
still thousands of ejidos left in Mexico even while most have been privatized. Many of
them belong to indigenous communities who never saw selling land as a real
possibility, because as I have argued earlier in the case of Ostula, even the ejido
was not communitarian enough for traditional indigenous forms of government.
Indigenous communities have the ejido as the only real legal system that protects
traditions and practices and ancestral territories. Unlike the US, there is no legal
institution, which provides a holistic legal recognition of their unique status; through
the ejido several indigenous communities have been able to maintain their identity.
A great example of the highly communitarian tradition in Ticla comes in the case
of a local member of the community, which after experiencing a back injury in a car
accident, and having no direct family members to provide for him, was given
permission to build a palapa by the beach to start his own business without having
to pay rent or share its profits with the "Asamblea Comunitaria", in a welfare-like
approach.
There are other studies of community led development based on tourism (Reid
1988, Green eta! 1990, Lewis 2001). Lewis describes this as self-development "[or]
a process that utilizes and involves the residents of a community in the development
process, and emphasizes building on the existent strengths and capacity of the
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community" (2001:178). Lewis' study cases are set in rural Indiana and Reid's in
rural southern US, both revolving around tourism initiatives, and have in common
development boards, a convention and visitor bureau, or a chamber of commerce,
which were all influential agents in the promoting respective tourism industries.
Another study led by Green, was conducted in rural communities through out the US
and defines self-development as:
The implementation of a project or the creation or expansion of a firm that increases
income to the community, and/or generates a net increase in jobs. In addition, a self-
development project must include the following three characteristics: (1) involvement
by a local organization (in most cases, a local government); (2) investment of
substantial local resources (this does not preclude the use of outside resources); and
(3) local control of the enterprise or activity (Green eta!., 1990:56).
At first glance this notion seems to fit the industry in Ticla, however upon closer
inspection there are some fundamental differences between the industries in these
studies and Ticla. A major difference is the conscious and systematized effort of self-
development, in which not only tourism is embraced, but the tourist attraction needs
to be fabricated or promoted, in some cases from scratch (Lewis 2001). In these first
world rural communities, tourists must be diverted from their trip, because the
towns are usually not the destinations themselves. The case of Ticla was a "found"
source of income that gradually grew into an industry and a destination and so,
could be assimilated by the community. Other major difference is the ethnic
composition; Tida's population is exclusively native Nahua, with a short history (if
any) of capitalist habits such as wages, seven-day weeks, and bank loans. Also in
Ticla, not only is there a local control of the enterprise or activity, but an active
exclusion of outsiders and resources (except government or NGO's grants and
loans). The industry in Ticla grew almost unintentionally, in a symbiotic relation with
tourists, where the industry was crafted according to the growing demand and the
unique set of socio-historical circumstances. Self-development so far has been
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