|Most visitors to Catemaco will bring home photos of being packaged like sardines on boat trips to see monkeys and good
looks at the supposedly destroyed environment of Los Tuxtlas.
In actuality, the immediate hills surrounding Catemaco are so called cinder cones, composed primarily of gravel and rocks,
and obviously almost nothing grows on them.
The few remaining neighboring hills that have a little bit of forest cover that cows did not eat, have been and are being
exploited by gravel miners.
When first entering Catemaco from the southern carretera, the first impression is of a panorama of astounding beauty.
Most eyes will not notice that most hills around Catemaco have been gnawed on.
The gnawers were not interplanetary rats, these gnawers were citizens of Catemaco abetted by their municipal, federal
and state government.
Because of massive deforestation, Catemaco and Mexico lack replaceable resources like wood, or even bamboo.
Concrete, composed of gravel and sand, has become the favorite substitute. Economic advance depends on new roads,
buildings and houses. A local gravel mine is therefore seen as a necessary evil to further development.
Blessed by the exuberant, almost rain forest like foliage of Los Tuxtlas, dozens of large and small gravel mine operations
have disappeared below blankets of weeds that could find some remaining soil to bury roots. Meanwhile the larger
excavations stand naked, exposing their innards to locals and tourists alike.
|The Gravel Mines
everywhere in Catemaco, Veracruz
|The former major destroyer of the Catemaco landscape is now almost at a standstill. The gravera Gracia is now almost
inoperational after taking a huge chunk out of the Catemaco panorama, as seen in the topmost photo. Left behind are 10
meter deep holes along Catemaco streets, and believe it or not, a subdivision of future hovels among the remaining pits and
mounds of gravel.
|Catemaco, located at the heart of the massive deforestation of the Los Tuxtlas has gone one step beyond. Abetted by
SEMARNAT (the equivalent of the US Environmental Protection Agency), hundreds of giant trucks daily haul some of the
remaining surface of Catemaco to the neighboring cities of San Andrés Tuxtla, Santiago and as far away as Acayucan.
Most civilized municipalities demand of their gravel miners to restore their digs to a semblance of natural surroundings. And
previous municipal administrations have made valiant efforts to control the rats gnawing on Catemaco without success.
The current administration has taken the opposite direction and has now gone so far as to open its own gravel mine along
Cerro Escuinapan, to layer surrounding roads with red gravel on contracts that are known to produce hefty kickbacks. To
add more injury, the gravel is also filling a piece of swampland that the current mayor supposedly bought along Laguna
Catemaco in La Victoria.
|The heart of Montepio
|My family owns neighboring property and is affected by a dispute over who has access to a road between
our properties. I also would like to borrow the gravel mine's bulldozer and get a good deal on a supply of
gravel. I also like his 20 thousand peso burro.
|abandoned gravel pit
|The 20 thousand peso burro
|The disappearing Biosphere Reserve
|Most all of the above information is verifiable on the DEMATAC pages: Unfortunately their articles are distributed all over
their website, but you can start here:
DEMATAC - Defenders of the Los Tuxtlas environment
|The current king of gravel is the Gravera Mendez (Mendez gravel pit).
Apparently in 1998, the Mendéz family purchased 20 hectares out of a 26 hectare property all now located within the
amortization area of the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve.
In 2002, 4 years AFTER the declaration of the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, its guardian agency, SEMARNAT, issued a
permit to extract gravel on 5 of the 20 hectares for the next 15 years.
|In 2004, Jess Swanson, daughter of a local gringo, and neighbor of the gravel pit, who was then a student at the
Universidad de las Americas, began a campaign to either shut down the "gravera" or at least have the company abide by
the regulations the Mexican environmental agency SEMARNAT had imposed when issuing the permit.
politicians and environmental groups. She consequently founded DEMATAC, an acronym for "Defenders of the Los
Her first victory was a response from PROFEPA, the enforcement arm of SEMARNAT, which inspected the site and found
violations resulting in a 67 thousand peso fine and an order to reforest. Even the local mayor jumped on the bandwagon,
proclaiming "If it's the last thing I do, I will close the gravel companies that exist in the municipality". Of course he failed.
There is just too much money to be spread around from a successful gravel pit.
The Gravera - DEMATAC war then took a strange twist. The gravel miners tried to jail the young lady for allegedly stealing
parts from a tractor. They were in turn fined again for an illegal construction on their terrain. That resulted in their official
accusation that Jess had stolen their dog. And a new batch of environmental complaints hit the mail.
PROFEPA returned, but this time, probably angered by DEMATAC's aggressive tactics, white washed the gravel
operations and, like an infantile bully, passed along an unnecssary tidbit about a job application that Jess had made in
previous years. Now the witches cauldron is really burning!