The widening of a sidewalk in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, has upset the powers that be at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
In a statement issued Saturday, INAH said it had detected an unauthorized “intervention” in the historic center of the colonial city, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2008.
It didn’t specify the unauthorized work, but reports identified it as the widening of a sidewalk on Juárez Street in order to improve access for people with disabilities. INAH said that the project altered “the urban image of the municipality” and could place the World Heritage designation at risk.
INAH said that personnel from its Guanajuato office confirmed last Wednesday the “execution of work without the authorization of the institute” and consequently suspended the project. However, workers ignored the suspension order and continued to undertake work to widen the sidewalk, it said.
INAH said that municipal police refused to provide support and as a result it sought the assistance of the National Guard, which did manage to bring the work to a halt. But the caper didn’t end there as INAH received reports from citizens last Wednesday night alerting it that the project had resumed.
The institute noted that the San Miguel de Allende municipal government decided to undertake the work,“contravening … the collaboration and coordination agreement signed with INAH in December 2021.”
The aim of that agreement, it said, was to “join forces for the protection, conservation, restoration, recovery and dissemination of cultural, paleontological, archaeological and historic wealth.”
“INAH calls on municipal authorities to suspend the work carried out without the authorization of INAH, to respect the law and agreements signed and to … establish a working group in favor of the conservation of the cultural, historical and architectural heritage of San Miguel de Allende,” the statement said.
INAH’s exhortation apparently came too late as the institute’s Guanajuato director said that the project was finished in the early hours of last Thursday morning. Olga Adriana Hernández Flores said that the workers completed the project under the cover of darkness “like criminals.”
According to a La Jornada newspaper report, INAH filed a criminal complaint against the municipal government, but the institute made no mention of that in its statement.
Hernández said that the San Miguel de Allende government – currently led by Institutional Revolutionary Party Mayor Mauricio Trejo – has carried out other projects without the authorization of INAH.
“It’s probable that [San Miguel de Allende] will enter the list of cities that could lose the [UNESCO] declaration,” she said.
A local government official countered that INAH’s authorization wasn’t required for the sidewalk project because it fell under the category of maintenance.
“It’s maintenance work to pedestrianize the street, the section of sidewalk is too small,” said José Emilio Lara Sandoval, the municipal government’s director for the historic center and heritage.
For his part, Mayor Trejo said in a statement that the work complied with UNESCO recommendations. “One of the main objectives is the recovery of public spaces, making them more passable for pedestrians, generating pleasant environments where [historical] monuments are emphasized,” he said.
With reports from La Jornada