A district judge who rubber-stamped the eviction of restaurant and businesses owners on Tenacatita beach last year was not qualified to issue the order, the Jalisco Supreme Court has ruled. The September 21 decision gives hope to dozens of families living in nearby El Rebalsito, who may soon be able to return to the beachfront land where they have worked for more than three decades.
The three Novena Sala (Ninth Salon) magistrates ruled that Guadalajara real estate firm Rodenas Inmobiliaria must now make reparations for all damages occurred when state police – acting on the order of the 2nd district court judge in Autlan – forcibly took over the zone in the early morning of August 4, 2010. The eviction resulted from Rodenas’ decades-old dispute over land ownership rights with the local Resbalse de Apazulco ejido.
Over many years, restaurant and hotel infrastructure has been built in the area to cater to locals and tourists. The business owners even paid the annual fees giving them the privilege of using parts of the federally-owned beach for commercial purposes.
The zone was eventually titled to individual ejido members in 2006 under a federal land regularization program. Some lots had already been sold to foreigners and registered in the name of a Mexican citizen (prestanombre). But once the lots were titled, the foreigners were able to own the land through a fideicomiso (bank trust).
Rodenas director José María Andrés Villalobos – who says he purchased the land from the wife of a former Jalisco governor in 1991 – claims these titles have no validity and that the ejiditarios have been squatting his property for decades. In previous interviews Villalobos has indicated that he wants to build a luxury tourist development beside the undeveloped beach, one of the prettiest in the state.
A key element of last month’s Jalisco Supreme Court decision was that the Autlan judge was not authorized by law to issue the eviction order that resulted from a previous Mexican Supreme Court ruling determining Rodenas to be the legal owners of the disputed beachfront land.
“He’s not a federal judge and he exceeded his responsibilities,” explained Everardo Rojas Contreras, El Rebalse de Apazulco ejido’s legal representative, at a press conference this week.
In addition, said Rojas, instead of taking possession of the 42 hectares in dispute, Rodenas has assumed control of more than 140 hectares.
As expected, Rodenas filed its own appeal (amparo) three days after its unfavorable September 21 ruling. But Rojas is confident this maneuver will come to nothing and expects magistrates to make their review of the case at the end of October and issue a “final decision” sometime in early December.
“Rodenas will have to open access to the beach immediately and repair the damages that they caused,” Rojas said. “We are in no hurry. It’s been a year since the eviction and we have total confidence in the justice system.”
Only when residents are allowed back into the zone can the full amount of damages be ascertained, Rojas said.
According to several sources, since securing the zone Rodenas personnel have demolished much, but not all, of the existing infrastructure in the Tenacatita beachfront area. This includes the palapa seafood restaurants that served tourists and locals for more than 40 years, as well hotels and everything in them, such as beds, refrigerators, freezers and televisions.
If the new ruling stands, Rodenas will be liable for all missing and destroyed items, including boats, motors, electrical equipment, and even a horse, Rojas said.
Armed state police officers – many of them “auxiliaries” employed by a security firm also owned by Villalobos – have been guarding the land ever since the August 2010 eviction. They have allowed some tourists limited access to the beach, although by law all Mexican beaches must have open public access.
In addition, Rojas said the case raises important questions over a state’s limits on legislative procedure. For this reason, he said, he intends to start legal proceedings against Jalisco Governor Emilio Gonzalez and Police Chief Carlos Najera, whom he said have both supported Rodenas’ illegal case against the ejiditarios.
Speaking at the press conference, Rojas admitted that Rodenas owner Villalobos – a former head of the local Chamber of Commerce and president of Expo Guadalajara – is powerful and well connected but added that, “while he’s tough, I’m tougher.”
According to a 2006 profile in El Informador’s “Gente Bien” social supplement, Villalobos trained as a lawyer, and after a spell working in the Infonavit public housing department, ventured into the real estate sector. He mentioned that his business was badly affected by the 1995 economic crisis, so he moved into the security service arena, specializing in tracing stolen vehicles by satellite.
His successful security company is now certified to act as Policia Auxiliar Estatal (State Auxiliary Police), whose primary clients are the Jalisco State Government. In the profile, Villalobos talked of how “for the good of the country,” businessmen should strive to work “hand-in-hand” with the working-class.