A multi-billion dollar American development is poised to engulf a small coastal community in Mexico with a mega hotel/condo complex.
But local people are banding together to save their way of life and the delicate ecosystem on which they all depend.
Rosario Salvatierra is a stocky and energetic fourth generation fisherman in Todos Santos, a small, idiosyncratic desert town on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur. For generations several hundred fishermen have launched their boats into the sea directly from Punta Lobos, the beach just outside of town. But all that is about to change. As Rosario walks along the beach he is confronted by a massive sea wall and a concrete platform that stretches for hundreds of meters from the breakwater back towards the mountains. Thousands of mangroves that once protected the beach have been bulldozed, an arroyo backfilled, dunes flattened and a boutique hotel and massive tourist complex is being constructed on the site along with the first of a projected 4,472 homes, the residents of which will triple the population of the town.
It is all part of an American mega development, called Tres Santos, that threatens to transform and overwhelm the town of Todos Santos. The fishermen themselves are being pushed off the beach and the development would drain the already diminished aquifer, taking drinking water from a town where many residents already do not have access.
What are the rights of small, under-represented communities in the face of global business interests and unsustainable development and what can they do to stand up for those rights and their way of life?
For the last year Rosario, who is one of the leaders of the Punta Lobos Fishermen’s Cooperative, has been asking these questions and has been pushing the fishermen and the town to stand up for their rights. He is being supported by his 29 year-old daughter Maria Salvatierra and John Moreno, a young, charismatic Mexican lawyer.
The narrative arc of our film follows the efforts of the Salvatierra family as they struggle to educate and organize their community against the developers and the burgeoning awareness among the fishermen and the townspeople regarding the enormity of what is at stake. We also follow the patient efforts of attorney John Moreno to inform the fishermen of their legal rights and eventually as he takes on the municipal and then federal governments on their behalf. As Moreno slowly begins to succeed in his efforts to thwart the developers, they begin to target him in increasingly threatening and desperate ways. The developers, in collusion with local politicians, also attempt to divide the town, the fishermen and families and we watch as they work to stay united. As Rosario points out early on “we are taking on giants”.
Tres Santos is a project being developed by Black Creek, a multi billion-dollar developer in Colorado, and their Mexican subsidiary MIRA. Recent lengthy articles in the national Mexican newspapers, La Zeta and Proceso, have linked Black Creek to high-levels of the current Peña Nieto government and investments involving the family of Salinas de Gortari, the disgraced former President of Mexico. Permits for the project were granted with speed and secrecy at a national level and the developers have resisted all attempts by the fishermen or the townspeople to see them and the environmental damage the developers have already done has gone unpunished.
For almost a year, we have been filming town meetings, raucous rallies, legislative debates, cooperative gatherings and legal strategy sessions as people try to force some transparency and to understand a multi million dollar deal that is also bringing Colorado State University to Todos Santos, as part of the development – for American use only. The progress of the rising opposition will form the backbone of the film while intimate scenes with the Salvatierra family and others will provide the emotional center. The international relevance and repercussions of these stories will be underscored through interviews with geologists, environmental lawyers and marine and water experts.
While rampant, unsustainable development is destroying communities and long-held ways of life all over the world, this development is happening along the fragile coastline and mountains of Baja California Sur. This pristine desert environment, home to thousands of endemic species of animal and plant life, borders the Pacific Ocean where the Peña Nieto government plans to build a corridor of mega developments, threatening other small, coastal communities.
Lisa F. Jackson and Sarah Teale are Emmy award winning documentary filmmakers who have been filming the rising opposition to Tres Santos since March 2015. Sarah Teale has decades of family connections in Todos Santos. Lisa F. Jackson speaks fluent Spanish and, as she grew closer to the families, she moved to Todos Santos full time. As a result our film provides an intimate, insider’s view of this turbulent struggle for human rights and the attempts of one community to hold on to their patrimonio, their heritage.