Juan José Consejo
A second dimension to the problem involves ingrained cultural prejudices on the part of the urban, educated population towards residents of rural communities, especially the significant indigenous groups in the region. Dismissed as backward and ignorant, these groups are rarely empowered to participate in decision making about "development initiatives" in the state, even though their traditional practices in land management are often more sensitive to ecological concerns than those advocated by the developers.
Prior to Juan José's arrival in Oaxaca in 1989, there was not even the semblance of a state policy on environmental protection, nor was there any level of cohesion among the few citizen organizations that expressed concern about the degradation of the ecosystem. An opportunity arose to build consensus in 1990, when the World Wildlife Fund promoted the formation of an ecological forum to discuss the possibility of a "debt for nature" swap, to be coordinated with the Mexican government and international funders, that would create reserves in some threatened areas of Oaxaca. Unfortunately, this initiative was brought down (in Juan José's estimation, as a result of government intransigence and poor negotiation techniques on all sides), which meant that once again there was a complete absence of response from both public and private entities to the burgeoning environmental crisis in the state.
Juan José recognizes that the success of the Commission, the first entity of its type in Mexico wherein a private/public body can make environmental recommendations which are binding on the state government, was to some extent contingent on favorable conjunctural conditions that prevailed at the time–a receptive governor and the groundwork that was laid by the World Wildlife Fund initiative. Nonetheless, he is convinced that this model can be replicated at the local and state levels throughout Mexico. Now that the Commission has been consolidated in Oaxaca, he has left his position as Technical Secretary to pursue a two-pronged multiplication strategy. On the local level, the Institute has launched three separate coalition-building initiatives for the preservation of ecosystems around rivers and lagoons on the Oaxacan coast. These projects involve dialogue between local consumers, municipalities, and businesses about conservation issues and techniques, as well as horizontal exchanges that bring actors from the different sites together to compare and contrast experiences. At the same time, the Institute is systematizing the lessons learned from the Commission and its local variants so as to produce background and instructional materials that can be used to replicate the program. Juan José is taking advantage of his extensive experience as an environmental consultant to several different state and federal agencies during the 1980s, as well as solid contacts in the academic world that he has maintained for over a decade through teaching and writing, to reach out to environmental groups in states with characteristics similar to Oaxaca (in terms of levels of degradation, predominance of indigenous population, and so forth). He is optimistic that similar coordinated conservation programs can be launched in the states of Chiapas and Quintana Roo in the medium term, and in other states thereafter.
The Sian Ka'an experiment also introduced Juan José to the complexities of conservation efforts, when opposition to his plan from tourist businesses and local politicians eventually forced him to leave the area. It was at that point that he moved with his family to a farming community on the outskirts of the city of Oaxaca, with neither friends nor money, determined to cull from his various experiences a viable model for environmental protection that harmonized the interests of all concerned without ignoring their economic necessities.
In recent years the original work methods and strategies of this organization have been consolidated : LA FOTO (research), LA MESA (financing agreement and mechanisms), EL PLAN, LAS HERRAMIENTAS (specific acts of regeneration and alternative technologies) and LA VOZ (spreading the word and raising awareness).