Activists stop opaque work of 2.3 billion pesos in Chiapas

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TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ, Chis (Proceso).– In the midst of a series of irregularities, such as lack of transparency and allegations of corruption, the Secretariat of Public Works (SOP) of the government of Chiapas insists on building a major work budgeted at 2,300 million pesos, called “Chiapas de Corazón Interior Circuit” in the state capital, which has faced citizen resistance that for now keeps it in a series of litigations.

Since March 2022, human rights activists from the Menos Puentes Más Ciudad collective discovered that the government of Chiapas, through the SOP, intends to build a triple bridge in the north-west area of Tuxtla, specifically in the section called the Reloj Floral, but that would affect three parks, Tuchtlán, Joyo Mayu and the Caña Hueca sports recreation center.

The civil organization sought more official information about the project, as the state government was building elevated bridges in some other parts of the city such as the North Bypass and the South Bypass, but they encountered a lack of transparency.

Without success, a group of specialists sought to present to the head of Public Works, Ángel Torres Culebro, a counterproposal that on October 5, 2022 won third national place in the #MejoresCallesMX Contest, made up of experts in mobility, architecture and sustainable urban development.

That project, “Redesign of the extension of the 5th Norte Poniente in Tuxtla Gutiérrez”, by the Menos Puentes Más Ciudad collective, via the Citizen Laboratory, includes redesigning the extension of the 5th Norte Poniente in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, as a counterproposal to the initiative of the government of Chiapas to build vehicular bridges to create an internal road circuit.

This project shows that, with the work proposed by the government, the automobile would be disproportionately favored, and social and environmental damage would be caused, as well as impacts on public space, existing parks and the mobility of an important segment of the people residing in the area.

The alternative proposal also sought to solve problems such as flooding, high wind chill, and improve road safety and connectivity in an area of the Sabinal River, which is home to at least 43 species of trees and 126 species of birds, of which six are protected.

Porfirio Gómez Ojeda, human development consultant and activist of the Less Bridge More City Collective, denounced that opacity has always prevailed in the project, even when the authorities were bombarded with various requests for access to information.

Given the government’s narrative in favor of the construction of elevated bridges or underpasses throughout the city, the NGO began an information campaign and citizen assemblies in which many people joined to protest against the government project that cost 2.8 billion pesos, paid to a construction company called Socton Construcciones.

Since February 2023, the protesters began with greater intensity with recreational activities, campaigns on social networks, sit-ins, hanging out flyers, hanging tarps and brigading on intersections, among other peaceful actions to express their disagreement with the project that “never included the principle of citizen participation ”, especially due to its impact on the spaces used by thousands of Tuxtlecos, explains Gómez Ojeda.

The state government has already built three bridges and is in the process of building another one for which it has spent at least one billion pesos and intends to spend an additional three thousand 800 million on vehicular bridges. The amount represents almost 50% of the public works budget for the entire six-year period.

The group has indicated that these projects do not constitute an adequate solution for the mobility of the state capital; On the contrary, it is a non-inclusive investment in infrastructure, since it prioritizes the vehicle instead of other mobility options or investments aimed at the largest percentage of the population.

Retaliation

Along with the citizen actions of the Collective, lawyer Manuel de Jesús Cruz Espinosa filed an appeal for protection before a federal judge, after the Tuxtleco council authorized the SOP to cut down more than 587 trees for the Interior Circuit.

They granted him the provisional suspension, then the definitive suspension, but the government changed the concept in the project from “demolition” to “transplantation”, to avoid that litigation.

Without being part of the civil organization, lawyer Espinosa joined in defense of the environment, since he always comes to those parks to walk or do his exercise routines, and he alleged that, as a user of those parks, the alleged circuit affected him.

That brought him threats, harassment and persecution. His son was unjustifiably fired from a state government agency where he worked, which he considers retaliation for his legal activism.

In total, he said, around 40 appeals for protection were promoted; Of those 40 there have been grants of suspension and denials, another 20 are in the review.

“This is the most legally contested work in the history of Chiapas,” says the lawyer.

The defects of the project

On August 2, the SOP issued the call for public bidding SOP-907005975-E15-2023, for the construction of the Chiapas de Corazón Interior Circuit, whose investment was stipulated at 700 million pesos of this year’s budget and 1.6 billion of pesos for fiscal year 2024.

According to Porfirio Gómez and Joseliny Omar Díaz Torres, founder of the Citizen Laboratory, “legally they cannot complete this bidding process or award it to a contractor, much less start the work due to all pending procedures in the Federal Judicial Branch.”

However, they acknowledged: “We see that there is no political will to rethink the work; On the contrary, harassment and bullying of those who the judges have granted suspensions has increased, and that worries us.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources denied authorization of the Environmental Impact Statement, they added.

Joseliny Díaz asked the state government to respect the suspensions granted by the judges as precautionary measures and to their promoters and demanded that the state government relabel that resource in projects that enhance the vocation of Tuxtla, in accordance with the laws of mobility and road safety, protection and care of the environment, urban planning and public spaces, and good national and international practices in the matter.

After months, the members of the Urban Development Commission of the College of Architects of Chiapas (CACHAC), Carlos León Chanona, Luis Paz and Ricardo Espinosa, had access to the project of the Interior Circuit work, and after doing a thorough analysis, they determined that it did not meet the requirements to be a viable work.

The urban development experts asked the head of said agency, Torres Culebro, to “rethink the project and the investment to maximize the benefits.”

Among the defects of the project, it stands out that it is not linked to the State Development Plan of Chiapas 2019-2024, to the Urban Development plans and programs of the Metropolitan and Urban Zone, to the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (PIMUS) and mainly does not benefit more than 70% of Tuxtleco citizens who travel daily on foot or by public transportation, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

This results in social inequality, in accordance with the provisions of the General Law of Mobility and Road Safety, and the constitutional right of sustainable mobility.

Technically, the project is not justified because at the time of maximum demand it is projected that only 20% of motorists will use the elevated road, and a reduction in lane width is expected, among other aspects.

Environmentally, according to the Environmental Impact Statement approved by the branch secretariat, the following effects were not considered: to the existing vegetation in the Cañahueca, Tuchtlan and Joyyo Mayu parks; to the more than 150 species of birds that inhabit the parks; the contamination of groundwater tables due to the excavation and foundation of footings and piles.

Nor are impacts on air quality, “heat island” due to concrete excess, as well as other negative impacts on the soil being considered.

While in the social and economic aspects, urban development experts foresee conflicts in the accesses and exits of parks and businesses; physical barriers and insecurity generated by underbridges; degradation of the urban image, as well as the loss of built and natural heritage.

By not considering the work viable, the experts from the Urban Development Commission of the Chiapanecos College of Architects, AC, suggested to the Secretary of Public Works of the Government of Chiapas, Angel Torres Culebro, “rethink the project and the investment to maximize the benefits.”.

However, on September 4, the SOP continued with the award process, although it declared “deserted” the public tender for the work (SOP-907005975-E15-2023), which currently continues with a suspension issued by a federal judge.

“The void tender does not imply a legal victory; “It is necessary for federal justice to protect each and every one of the complainants,” clarified lawyer Cruz Espinosa, who, he assures, will maintain his litigation.

At the same time, another bridge is being created on the eastern side of Tuxtla, in the North East Bypass, near the Doctor Gilberto Gómez Maza Hospital; That is another fight that is just beginning.

Torres Culebro denounced that the opponents of the work are “groups that were privileged in the past, that received many canonries.

They are doing some legal tricks. And some judges, not all, who are issuing resolutions that have no basis.

“They are combatable, through higher levels, but they take time,” said Torres Culebro.

In his most recent public statement about the controversial work, the governor, Rutilio Escandón Cadenas, expressed: “Some groups that call themselves environmentalists demonstrated. And then they accused us that we are going to cut down the trees in the Caña Hueca sports park.

“From here I say that that is false. That we are not going to cut down any Caña Hueca trees. On the contrary, we are planting saplings. But they have already reached an agreement with the Federal Judiciary. And all the time there are protections. And they are not right. They have no legal justification. They are doing it illegally.”

“But since they are protections, they stop our work. We won a protection against them, then another comes and they stop our work again (…) because the Judicial Branch of the Federation opposes, opposes and opposes.”

Source: Proceso