Mennonite farmer Cornelio Fehr. Mennonite farmer Cornelio Fehr.

Mennonites face fines for illegal clearing

Farmers cleared 1,145 hectares in Quintana Roo without environmental permits

Mennonite farmers are facing million-peso fines for illegally clearing forestland in the municipality of Bacalar, Quintana Roo.

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The federal environmental agency Profepa has filed claims against three different Mennonite communities for clearing 1,145 hectares of land acquired from local community landowners, or ejidatorios, without first applying for the relevant authorizations to change the land use.   

The farmers used the slash-and-burn method, reducing land previously covered with palm and mahogany trees to ashes and are now using it to cultivate crops including corn, beans, barley and wheat.

They say they did not apply to the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) for permission because they don’t have the economic means to do so.

“Authorities ask for 40,000 pesos per hectare. [So] I would pay 2 million pesos for . . . the 50 hectares I bought for my six children and their families,” explained David Bergen, one farmer who has recently arrived in the region. The amount is well above what the land sold for.

Now a legal representative from Profepa says they could face large fines or even imprisonment for their actions.

“The economic sanction on the Mennonite community for environmental damage to the Bacalar Jungle would be on average 3 million pesos [US $168,000] for each proceeding, they would have to restore the affected zones and if judicial authorities consider it necessary they would impose jail terms between three and six years.”

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Ecosystem damage is the main concern for Profepa, whose officials say the Mennonites’ actions will affect the refilling capacity of aquifers in the area, directly affecting Laguna de Bacalar and causing species endemic to the area to be displaced.

Patricia López, a legal representative for ejidatorios in the municipality, says that land was sold at bargain prices of 3,000 to 5,000 pesos per hectare out of necessity but landowners made little profit from the sales because the money was divided between so many.

Most of the Mennonites have arrived from Chihuahua and more families are expected to arrive soon from Zacatecas and Celaya.

One of the first Mennonites to arrive, Cornelio Fehr, says that a lack of agricultural land in their places of origin forced them to look further afield.

“The land here is good and abundant. That’s why we came, to have a place for the family, children and grandchildren.”

In 2013, several parcels of land were also closed due to deforestation although they were reopened in a matter of months. But this time, Profepa is determined that there will be no impunity.

Quintana Roo environmental protection agency head Miguel Ángel Nadal denies that the fines represent a tax grab on the Mennonites, adding that damage caused by the land clearing is considerably larger than the fines they are facing.

“The value of a hectare of land beyond [its price] is all the vegetation found there, all the flora and fauna. That is the real value, the value that is added.”

Source: Milenio (sp)

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  • Sharon

    GOOD NEWS FOR A CHANGE!!!! What the heck were they thinking???? Still no cure for stupid. Fine them and lock them up and make the rest of them restore the land. You cannot just do what ever you want in any country. We have an illegal apartment building being erected in our neighbourhood and they put it about 2 feet from the house next door, so ti completely blocks their view to the west. Of course it is cartel people doing it, so everyone is afraid to take steps. According to our friend who is an engineer, it does not even have proper footings, so it will not be stable. We all want it taken down, but of course the local government ignores us gringos, even though most of us are full time residents. I think they are afraid of the cartel or are getting a pay-off.

    • Mike Hadinger

      Disagree! The Mennonites are by far the best crop producers in all of Mexico. That entire region will prosper from their potential. Southern Mexico is literally importing food when land goes unused. Really? The charge was $40,000 pesos for hectare? Just for a piece of paper?

      • kallen

        What about disappearing jaguars and other native critters on the edge of extinction due to ever dwindling habitat? Do not they have a right to exist? The fine is just and I hope the government doesn’t cave again.

  • Mike S

    A backward closed religious cult building a mini-religious empire ignoring local customs and laws. Fine them.

  • kallen

    Being from Amish country in Pennsylvania, I’ve experienced first-hand the disregard they (Mennonites and Amish) have for the environment or laws. But on the other hand, most Mexicans have little regard for the environment or law.

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