This article was originally published by Jorge Rocha on Aztec Reports, a sister publication.
The construction of one of Mexico City’s largest mixed-use complexes, Torre Mitikah, in the central Xoco district, has prompted local residents to protest. The indigenous community of Xoco deplore the noise, traffic and dust associated with the construction sites, but also the predatory real estate practices, the increasingly high prices for the inhabitants, and even the cases of physical violence which they say are linked to the construction project.
Colonia Xoco, a pre-colonial enclave in Mexico City’s central Benito Juarez neighborhood, can trace its roots before the Spanish conquest, to the civilization of Teotihuacan.
Recent archaeological digs have unearthed artifacts dating back to over 1,700 years ago, and current members of the community can trace their ancestry back to the original indigenous population that inhabited the area. Over the centuries, urbanization encroached on the small town.
In the mid-1980s, the surroundings of Xoco began to follow the urban development of Mexico City. With corporate buildings and luxury apartments closing, the city would soon be engulfed by the capital’s massive urban sprawl.
“Twenty-eight years ago when I arrived in the city of Xoco, it was a wonderful city with beautiful traditions, there were dancers, there was enough water, little traffic, it was a very peaceful place. Unfortunately, since the construction came in everything has deteriorated, a lot of noise, a lot of dust, the main roads have been cut off and it has become full of crime,” said Elizabeth Alvarez Resendiz, a local resident. Aztec reports.
Although colonial infrastructure has given way to modern architecture over the past 30 years, with houses and small apartments beginning to rise inside the neighborhood, residents of Xoco say their way of life really started to feel threatened with the arrival of a real ambitious. – real estate project in 2012.
After lawsuits and delays, Torre Mitikah officially opened in 2015, a US$1 billion investment. The project includes offices, luxury residences and a shopping center, promising investors and interested buyers “elegance” and “sophistication”, while setting the record for the tallest skyscraper in Mexico City.
According to the latest report from Torre Mitikah developer FIBRA 1, the entire project totals 1,926,738.1 square feet, with 93% of its initial construction phase complete.
The Xoco community can’t help but feel that they live in the shadow of a giant.
“The town of Xoco is about to disappear because the authorities want it that way,” said Alvaro Rosales Gaddar, leader of the Xoco Assembly, a local community group. Aztec reports. “Investors are very interested in this land to make it a Manhattan-style town and want only upper-class people to live here,” he said.
At various times during the construction, as well as in recent weeks, residents of Xoco have taken to the streets to protest against what they see as various injustices against the local population committed by property developers and the government.
In February, protesters gathered in anger after Torre Mitikah privatized Real de Mayorazgo, a main street that linked the community to a metro station and the municipality’s chapel.
Hostilities escalated after construction workers cut down more than 50 trees along the main street, resulting in a Mexico $2 million fine, which Xoco residents say still remains unpaid. Aztec reports was unable to verify this claim.
Feeling that their community with pre-colonial roots was being encroached upon, the Xoco Assembly filed a lawsuit against Torre Mitikah, arguing that their rights as an indigenous group were being violated and that the real estate project had been passed against the interest of the community. .
After a Mexico City court judge dismissed the lawsuit, citing that the community’s claims were insufficient, Xoco’s legal team has since rescheduled a hearing to May 17.
The massive expansion and privatization of land for the Torre Mitikah project was made possible by a law from Mexico City that major real estate developers can leverage to expand their investments.
By law, the intended use and spatial delimitation of any land (such as the main street of Xoco) can be changed at the request of the government or an individual in order to carry out an urban development project.
Within this legal framework, the government was able to concede the main street of Xoco to the development company to extend its already colossal construction project.
As the legal battle between the community and the developers ensues, organizers on the streets say they sometimes face violence and intimidation for pushing back on the development project.
According to protesters, on February 2, hundreds of men disguised as construction workers were hired to guard the construction site by violent means against peaceful protesters.
Mr Rosales himself said he was repeatedly threatened and on one occasion imprisoned for protesting outside the construction site. After three days of protests, authorities reportedly arrested him and charged him with corruption. “They said I was asking the developers for 3,500 pesos [USD $177]. How does that even make sense? asked Mr. Rosales.
Other cases of violence were reported near the construction site. Local resident Francisco Gutierrez was allegedly assaulted by Torre Mitikah workers while cycling near Real de Mayorazgo. According to Gutierrez, two construction workers beat him and threatened to kill him.
“I’ve lived here all my life. I don’t want that tomorrow because I can’t pay for the land, because I can’t pay the high taxes that are coming. Tomorrow we have to go to another state, where I feel displaced, where I can no longer be in my city. This is what drives me to fight, the anger that they push us away,” Mr. Gutierrez said in a video after the attack.
Xoco’s struggle with modern development is a microcosm of how communities across Mexico feel.
Large investments, which lead to the revaluation of properties, have increased property costs and property taxes throughout the city. By Xoco Assembly’s own estimates, real estate prices in their community have increased 1300% over the past 10 years.
Rising housing prices are not limited to Mexico City, the housing market across Mexico has seen a price spike which, relative to Mexican wages, represents a larger scale problem.
The pressure on low- and middle-income people like Mr. Rosales as house prices rise and wages stagnate has forced them to look elsewhere for affordable housing. According to Rosales, this phenomenon is starting to occur in Xoco.
“We don’t know when they are leaving or where they are going. We might hear rumors of people leaving, but by the time we find out, it’s too late. Once they’re gone, they disappear,” Mr. Rosales said of his neighbors who left the community.