LOS CABOS, Mexico – The tourist mecca of Los Cabos, the economic powerhouse of Baja California Sur, is suffering the consequences of accelerated growth and has now become the municipality with the largest amount of makeshift, dangerously situated housing in the northwestern Mexican state.
The municipality, located on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, has become a representative of Mexico worldwide.
It receives visitors from all over the world and the rest of Mexico and has the highest hotel rates in the country: about 10,000 pesos ($524) per night, on average. Additionally, tourism accounts for around 90 percent of the total income of the local population.
It is a first class tourist destination that offers visitors a fascinating combination of desert landscapes, beaches and mountainous areas.
Los Cabos, however, is suffering from the effects of its vertiginous growth, both economic and demographic.
In 1990, its population was at about 44,000 inhabitants; in 2015, however, it was getting close to 300,000, according to the estimates from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.
“Ever since the ‘80s, when the tourist boom began in the area, Los Cabos began receiving a large number of workers coming mainly from the interior of the (country) to work in the construction of large tourist hotels,” sociologist Lorella Castorena, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, told EFE.
“At the end of the (construction), they were stranded in the destination, without employment and many times without a place to live,” the researcher said.
There are more than 16,000 Los Cabos residents living in houses made out of improvised materials, such as cardboard, wood and aluminum sheeting, without any access to basic public services like water, electricity or sewerage, and much less security.
“People have been settling on the rivers, not only on the banks, even in the channel,” Baja California Sur deputy emergency management office director Carlos Jesus Godinez told EFE.
The situation “represents an imminent danger due to the fact that it is a hurricane zone where there are heavy rains and runoff that have already claimed lives,” Godinez said.
Residents of the most populated settlements, such as El Caribe, have asked officials to relocate them.
“During the rainy season, it gets very ugly, we need to live in a place where it is not a current, because it is dangerous,” a resident said.
Relocation programs implemented by the federal, state and municipal governments have not gotten anywhere near efficient due to several factors, among them the high price of land in Los Cabos.
Researchers point out that only a few kilometers separate upscale developments from marginal urban areas.
“This phenomenon is one of the main causes of the demographic explosion and accelerated economic development,” Castorena said.
“There are other consequences that have not been studied and there is no specific data evident, such as uncontrolled prostitution, human trafficking, violence, and soaring rates of drug addiction and femicides,” the researcher said.