A thin dirt road divides a luxury real estate development from the 2 de Octubre neighborhood in Tulum. On one side, workers are building apartments with modern glass finishes, beige walls and turquoise pools. At the end of the day, they cross the road to their homes, dirt-floored shacks without walls, drainage or running water. The scene has become ubiquitous throughout the town where well-heeled tourists ride Vespa motorcycles past illegal settlements where thousands live in poverty.
Tulum, the new jewel of the Riviera Maya, is the municipality where poverty has increased the most in recent years in the country, according to the most recent data from Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL). The rate went from 32% in 2015 to 62% in 2020. The increase is linked to high rates of migration from poorer states. As a result of the tourism boom, people from Veracruz, Tabasco and Chiapas, among others, have been coming to Tulum in growing numbers to find work. According to the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (INEGI), the state of Quintana Roo, where Tulum is located, has a population growth rate of 3.5%, the highest in the country.
The 2 de Octubre neighborhood is not recognized by the authorities. It is named after the date in 2016 when its residents took the land in the center of the city by force, says Jessica, an inhabitant of the settlement who asked to withhold her last name for fear of retaliation. Originally from the center of the country, the mother of three came to Tulum after fleeing organized crime in Playa del Carmen.
“We had a store there, but protection money became a problem,” says Jessica, 33. “There came a day when, as they were extorting us, the cartel demanded that we leave. At that time, people were having a meeting to organize themselves to come here, on this land, and we came here.” Jessica and her husband live in the settlement, where they set up a grocery store to cater to their neighbors, most of whom are hotel, restaurant, condominium and construction workers. Despite the investment that those businesses bring in, the jobs are informal.
To access electricity, the residents hang improvised devices that connect to the fuse boxes of nearby neighborhoods that do have electricity. They draw water with pumps from a well they dug themselves, and they bathe in a nearby cenote, where families also spend time. 2 de Octubre was the first neighborhood of its kind. It was followed by at least two others that were originally miles away from the hotel zone. Today, all of the neighborhoods have been surrounded by real estate development.
“When we got here, there was no one. It was like a ghost town,” says Jessica, as she sells a kilo of tortillas to a neighbor. “There were a few palapas, but little by little people started taking over the lots and building more palapas. When there are roofs, people who want to work start arriving. Up to 15 people live inside one single palapa. And they will keep coming.”
Not even the pandemic slowed the growth in Tulum. From 2019 to date, jobs registered with social security have increased by 74%, according to data compiled by the Government of Quintana Roo. The growth of the coastal city has been rapid and, due to the absence of an urban development plan, chaotic. Luxury apartments and condominiums are being built, but there are not enough homes for workers. There are a few opportunities for subsidized low-income housing, but workers making between 5,000 and 5,600 pesos a month, without benefits because of the work’s informal nature, cannot afford them.
For large companies that build hotels and vacation homes in this part of the country, both foreign and national, Tulum’s appeal lies in the low price of labor, says Salvador Ramos, founder of the Quintana Roo College of Economists and a professor at the state’s Autonomous University, UQRoo. “Who are the big winners? The winners are the owners,” the specialist says over the phone. “Some time ago, a study was done that concluded that for every dollar generated, investors take 0.80 and only 0.20 remains in the population,” he says. “Life is very expensive, housing is very expensive and jobs are very poorly paid. That is why we have this problem.”
According to local media, the municipality reported in September that between 5,000 and 6,000 people live in this type of settlement in Tulum. The number represents just under 10% of the population. However, municipal authorities told EL PAÍS that they do not keep a record. It is difficult to know precisely how many people live in the irregular neighborhoods, since, according to the neighbors, more arrive every day.
María López, 29, arrived in Tulum from Chiapas three weeks ago. Her husband, Pedro, already worked in the seaside town. The couple has four children between the ages of 5 and 10, who, like their mother, speak little Spanish, since their native tongue is Tseltal. After being separated for years, the family decided to rent a one-room house in one of the “invasions,” as illegal settlements are known. The walls are made of cement blocks, the roof is made of tin and the floor is dirt. The fan’s hum mixes with the dialogue of the soap opera on television, which sits next to a refrigerator and in front of the family’s shared bed. To live there, they pay more than 1,000 pesos a month to the person who took over the piece of land in 2016.
“I like it here,” says María, while playing with her youngest son, Eric, on the bed. “In Chiapas there is nothing, there is no work, there is no money.” She knows how to write because her brother taught her, but she has no math skills because she never went to school. This limits her job opportunities in a city where tourist services represent a large part of the labor market. But María moved to Tulum to work too, she says, because everything went up in price, and now a single income is not enough. Inflation in Mexico is close to 8%, levels not seen in 20 years. Her children do not go to school and are waiting for the arrival of Maria’s cousin, who will take care of them while her mother works.
The kids play with a deflated ball outside under the shade of a leaky roof. Throughout the neighborhood, plastic bottles and bags pile up in front of shacks and on street corners. An ice cream vendor passes by on his motorcycle advertising his products. A few blocks away, two advertisements adorn the main road: one offering land for sale near the sea and the other, in English, offering temazcales and spiritual healing rituals.
In the development in front of 2 de Octubre, only a few apartments are available. Although construction has yet to be completed, almost all of them have already been sold, according to an employee. The complex offers a gym, spa and yoga classes and welcomes both foreigners and domestic tourists. Prices are around $300,000 per unit, and owners can sublet or list them on Airbnb. When asked about the illegal settlement just across the street, the employee replies: “We don’t have a plan to build on that land and we’re not sure [what will happen]. According to the Government they are going to move them,” he says, “but we are used to it and the people there are easy-going. We don’t have any problem with them.”
Carlos Salas, the municipality’s Director of Urban Development, said in a telephone interview that there is no plan to regularize or move the residents of the illegal settlements, since a lawsuit by the land’s private owners is pending resolution. “There is a problem there between individuals, the invaders and the owners of the land. There are trials and pending sentences. We cannot enter or make any decision until that lawsuit is concluded,” says Salas. Nor is there a plan to offer housing to the thousands of workers who come to the municipality from other places, he admits. The mayor did not respond to interview requests.
Meanwhile, Jessica lives in fear of eviction or losing access to the electricity that allows her to run a business and earn an income. “They treat us like we are below them,” says the vendor. “They look down on us, they accuse us of being thieves, but we’re not. We came to make a living.”
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Eduardo Zapateiro: Colombian army chief resigns to avoid appearing beside president-elect Petro at inauguration | International
General Eduardo Zapateiro, the commander of the Colombian army, resigned on Tuesday to avoid appearing beside president-elect Gustavo Petro at his inauguration on August 7. “After 40 years in service, I bid farewell to the Colombian people, giving my heartfelt thanks to all my soldiers,” he announced.
Zapateiro, who comes from the hardline wing of the armed forces, has been a vocal opponent of the leftist leader. During the presidential election campaign, the army commander controversially spoke out against Petro on Twitter – a move that was condemned as unconstitutional. Incumbent President Iván Duque, however, defended Zapateiro, arguing that the general was sharing his point of view – not taking a political stand.
Zapateiro announced his retirement just one day after Petro told EL PAÍS that he planned to change the leadership of the armed forces. “This leadership was deeply imbued by the political line of the executive [of Iván Duque] now reaching the end of its term. But this path is unsustainable and turns our security forces into a victim, as they have been led to perpetrate grotesque violations of human rights. What we are proposing will make our security forces democratically stronger,” he said in the interview.
The Colombian general has often raised eyebrows with his behavior. Following the death of Jhon “Popeye” Jairo Velásquez, a henchman for drug lord Pablo Escobar who had killed dozens of people, Zapateiro sent his condolences to his family and said he was saddened by his loss. To this day, no one has explained why the general made these statements.
In Colombia, the government and the military have a complex relationship. The country has fought for decades against guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The ongoing armed struggle placed the military in a position of great power. Indeed until the 1990s, the armed forces controlled the Defense Ministry. As in many other countries, the Colombian armed forces are a conservative group that is highly suspicious of leftist ideas. The peace agreement, for example, that ended five decades of conflict with the FARC, divided Colombia’s troops. Zapateiro initially supported the accords, but over time, became an outspoken critic.
What kind of relationship Petro will form with the military remains to be seen. As a politician, he has been very critical of the army’s focus on targeting internal enemies. The Colombian armed forces have been fighting against guerrilla groups and drug gangs for decades. During this conflict, they have often overstepped their bounds and violated human rights.
In the early 2000s, a scandal broke in Colombia when it was revealed that military officers were carrying out summary executions of innocent civilians and listing them as guerrillas killed in combat. These so-called “false positives” took place in different regions of the country between 2002 and 2008 and were used as proof of performance by military units and to collect “kill fees” awarded by the government of former president Álvaro Uribe. A total of 6,402 innocent people are estimated to have been killed in these summary executions. Just a few months ago, several civilians also died in suspicious circumstances during an army operation in Putumayo.
With Petro elected as Colombia’s first leftist president in modern history, it was no longer tenable to have Zapeteiro leading the armed forces. The Colombian newspaper El Espectador published an editorial to that effect, with the headline: “Isn’t it time to retire, General Zapateiro?”
Petro aims to tackle corruption within the army, which he believes is home to extremist factions. “There are currents in the far right that must be eliminated. Some are talking openly about coups and things like that. But look, within the army there are no factions friendly to Petro, there are factions friendly to the Constitution,” Petro told EL PAÍS.
Canada should focus on abortion access not legislation, advocates say | Global development
Abortion advocates are warning that the recent US supreme court ruling overturning Roe v Wade will empower anti-choice groups in Canada to push for restricted access, making a settled matter appear controversial in a country where nearly 80% of people are pro-choice.
A key anti-choice strategy in Canada revolves around enacting abortion legislation – an idea that has been gaining traction amid the fallout of the US court ruling. There is currently no abortion law in Canada, making it the only country in the world where the procedure is totally free of legal restrictions.
“There’s a lot of talk right now about whether or not the Canadian government should pass a proactive law protecting our right to abortion – a pre-emptive strike, if you will. That would be a big mistake,” said Daphne Gilbert, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.
Gilbert and other abortion advocates say that while enshrining abortion rights may sound progressive, the opposite is true: consolidating rules would make it easier for anti-choice legislators to retract abortion rights if ever they found themselves in a majority. Last year, 81 Conservative MPs (and one independent) voted for anti-choice legislation.
And while the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised Canadians after Roe that his government would “always stand up for your right to choose”, advocates argue that may not always be true.
That’s why the country should focus on entrenching people’s rights by expanding abortion access, said Gilbert.
Since it became legal in a 1988 supreme court ruling, abortion in Canada has been designated as a medical service like any other, on par with procedures like X-rays and blood tests. But that doesn’t make it easy to get – especially in remote, religious or conservative parts of the country.
In 2014, Sarah (who asked to remain anonymous) sought an abortion on Prince Edward Island (PEI) – a province of 30,000 that, at the time, did not have a single publicly operating abortion provider.
It took Sarah a month to finally secure a provider – five hours away, in another province. The trip incurred travel and lodging costs, but the procedure itself was covered by the healthcare authority.
“The idea that anybody has to travel to take care of something that you should be able to get done close to home – it’s not fine,” said Sarah. Abortion care only arrived on PEI in 2017, after activists sued the provincial government for acting unconstitutionally.
Although there is no federal law, each province’s medical college sets its own guidelines on abortion, including gestational age limits for use of the abortion pill.
Those guidelines are shaped by the skills and training available in each province, said Martha Paynter, an abortion care provider in Nova Scotia and the author of the new book Abortion to Abolition: Reproductive Health and Justice in Canada.
But there is also a political dimension to providing abortion care that prevents some doctors and nurse practitioners from taking it up.
“More people could be doing it than are doing it,” said Paynter. “We as educators – I’m a prof at a nursing school – have the responsibility to teach in every medical and nursing program how to do this care, and hardly [any school] does it.”
Paynter is the creator of the country’s first university abortion course, at Dalhousie University, which is open to students across medical, nursing and other health programs with the purpose of inspiring future health workers to integrate abortion access into primary care.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists offers an online course to teach professionals how to prescribe and manage medical abortion.
But most students and healthcare professionals are not required to learn about how medication and surgical abortion work – and many choose to abstain because they are afraid to enter the political fray around abortion.
According to Gilbert, that means a lot of primary care providers stay wilfully uninformed.
“A lot of doctors just aren’t political people. They’re scientists, and they don’t see the politics behind some of their care,” she said.
Further complicating access is the fact that many Canadians are unaware that nurse practitioners in the country are permitted to prescribe the abortion pill and refer patients to surgical abortion providers – or that most patients can self-refer directly to an abortion provider.
Addressing these issues is critical to expanding existing access to medication and surgical abortion, said Paynter and Gilbert.
In 2017, Natalie (also a pseudonym) discovered she was pregnant while visiting her parents in a small town in northern Alberta. After one doctor at a local walk-in clinic told her abortion was murder, she demanded an appointment with a different doctor.
That doctor told her that there was no such thing as medical abortion. “He looked me in the face and said, ‘That doesn’t exist,’” she said.
Mifegymiso – otherwise known as the abortion pill – was approved by Health Canada in 2015, but had only recently hit the market when Natalie found herself at the doctor’s office.
“I know it exists. It’s literally the front page of the news,” she told him.
Still, she went away empty-handed. She was only able to get an abortion after returning to her home province of New Brunswick, where only three hospitals and one clinic provide abortion. Natalie went to the clinic, where she paid $800 for a surgical abortion – a cost incurred because the province refuses to pay for abortions performed outside of hospitals.
New Brunswick is currently being sued for its restriction of abortion.
Stories like those of Sarah and Natalie show how abortion remains inaccessible in Canada, despite its federal legal standing.
“Our greatest problems really come in terms of provinces and what they may do to restrict access to abortion in light of what I think is now going to be a really emboldened anti-choice movement,” said Gilbert.
Missing child in Germany: German boy found alive after surviving eight days in sewer | International
German police have found an eight-year-old boy who went missing from his home in Oldenburg, a city of 170,000 people in northwestern Germany. The child, named Joe, was discovered on Saturday in a sewer just 300 meters from his house. He had survived in the sewer for eight days while hundreds of officers and volunteers frantically searched the surface for clues to his whereabouts. “Eight-year-old Joe lives!” police in Oldenburg announced on Twitter.
The boy, who suffers from learning disabilities, disappeared on June 17 from the garden of his house. Police launched a large-scale search with drones, helicopters, sniffer dogs and dozens of officers, who were joined by hundreds of volunteers. As the days passed, a homicide team joined the investigation amid growing fears that Joe – who is only identified by his first name due to Germany’s privacy laws – could have been the victim of a violent crime. A witness claimed to have seen him in the company of an unidentified man and it was feared he may have been kidnapped.
“It was absolute luck,” said Stephan Klatte, the Oldenburg police spokesman, said of Joe’s discovery. A neighbor who was walking in the area raised the alarm when he heard “a whining noise” coming from the ground, just under a drain. When officers lifted the manhole cover, they found the boy, completely naked. He had no serious external injuries, but was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, for which he was taken to hospital for treatment. According to German media, he is recovering well. “If he hadn’t made a sound, or if no one had heard him, we might never have found him,” Klatte said.
In a statement, the police reported that they believed that Joe likely entered the rainwater drainage system through a sewer on the same day of his disappearance and “lost his bearings after walking several meters.” Police have ruled out any foul play in the incident.
On Sunday, the day after Joe was discovered, police commissioned a specialized company to inspect the sewage system with a robot equipped with a camera. The robot examined the sewer between the boy’s home and the place where he was found. It recorded several items of clothing, including what he was wearing when he disappeared, in a pipe about 60 centimeters in diameter that runs under one of the streets of the neighborhood where he lives with his parents. The robot found, for example, the child’s vest, 70 meters from the point of entry.
Officers found an entrance to a three-foot-wide drainage channel near the farm where he was last seen on the day of his disappearance. Authorities believe the boy entered the channel while playing. After 23 meters, the tunnel leads to another narrower plastic pipe and police think it is likely the eight-year-old continued down this path. Joe was eventually found about 290 meters from where he entered the sewer system.
Police believe that Joe became more and more disoriented until he could no longer find a way out. “A first statement from the child confirms this assumption,” said the statement, which does not provide more details about what he told officers. Investigators say they have not been able to question the boy in detail, as he remains in hospital. Nothing has been found to suggest that the child came to the surface in the eight days in which he was missing. In the statement, police asked that no questions about his state of health be made out of respect for him and his family.
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