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Mexican government breaches international commitments to put Veracruz Reef System at risk
Organizations denounce the incident to the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the protection of wetlands. By modifying the boundaries of the coral reef national park, the federal government is seeking to expand the Port of Veracruz.
Mexico City, Mexico. Civil society organizations have denounced to international bodies that Mexico’s government intends to modify the boundaries of the Veracruz Coral Reef System National Park, known as PNSAV in its Spanish acronym, in order to expand the Port of Veracruz. This violates the government’s commitment to preserve and protect a wetland of global importance.
Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) authorized the port expansion project on December 19, 2013.
In response, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) and the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) – with support from the Veracruz Assembly of Environmental Initiatives and Defense (LAVIDA), Pobladores A.C., Paths and Meetings for Sustainable Development (SENDAS), Litiga OLE, Pronatura Veracruz and the doctor and researcher Leonardo Ortíz Lozano – filed with the Ramsar Secretariat a report on the federal government’s failure to comply with that international treaty.
The Veracruz Reef System was declared a Protected Natural Area (PNA) in 1992 with the aim of protecting the human right to a healthy environment. In 2004, it was registered as a wetland of international importance on the Ramsar List.
While Mexico can modify the boundaries of sites on the Ramsar List, this must be done in accordance with the grounds and procedures identified in the Ramsar Convention. However, the federal government intends to modify the area of the PNSAV, contradicting to its own actions and acting in breach of the principle of law. 
According to public information secured from the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Conanp) , the Mexican government based its decision to amend the boundaries of the PNSAV on a so-called error clause contained in Resolution VIII.22. This clause can only be invoked when there are changes in the ecological characteristics stemming from the degradation of part of a wetland.
The federal government has yet to scientifically prove that there have been any ecological changes to the detriment of the wetland. Of note, it is questionable that the Conanp decided to notify the Ramsar Convention Secretariat of the alleged error on the eve of the Semarnat’s authorization of the Port of Veracruz expansion.
Another legal way to change the boundaries of Ramsar sites is if there is "urgent national interest," as contained in Resolution VIII.20. This requires a prior environmental assessment and a consultation with all stakeholders, something that has not yet happened.
"The federal government is determined to illegally change the polygonal of the PNSAV every time that it is not legally possible to proceed according to the procedures established by the Ramsar Convention," said Sandra Moguel, an AIDA legal adviser.
"The polygonal change and the environmental impact authorization of the proposed expansion of the Port of Veracruz are unilateral decisions by the federal government in which the arguments of the affected peoples were not taken into account," she added.
The Mexican government is violating the Ramsar Convention, and hence its international obligations on the conservation of a wetland of international importance. If the amendment to the PNSAV goes through, the government will hurt the right of Mexicans – and the people of Veracruz, in particular – to a healthy environment.
Because of this, AIDA and the other civil society organizations requested the Ramsar Convention Secretariat to consider as unacceptable the proposed reduction of the PNSAV’s boundaries. We also requested that these proposed changes be discussed at Ramsar’s next Conference of the Contracting Parties to be held in Uruguay in 2015.
1. According to this general principle of law, the authority can only do what is expressly mandated by law.