Doing business on archeological sites


Housing complexes, roads, shopping malls, among others are being built on archeological remains…The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) ends up endorsing most of the projects. Human burials and structures along other discoveries are ignored.

During the last 15 years housing complexes, distributor roads, gas pipelines, dams, shopping malls, mines, wind farms have been built upon archeological remains. In spite of its importance, the INAH ended up endorsing most of the infrastructure projects promoted by private and government entities. Human burials, archeological structures, petroglyphs, sacred sites, among other discoveries have been ignored or destroyed.

According to the information obtained by Contralínea, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) signed between 2000 and 2015, 70 agreements with individuals and government dependencies to perform the archeological salvage works within the polygons destined for infrastructure works.

Housing complexes, wind farms, mines, dams, distributor roads, gas pipelines, shopping malls, restaurants, waste water treatment plants, self-service stores are among the projects.

Therefore in the last 15 years individuals and government dependencies have delivered the INAH around 152,342,320 pesos for performing the works.

According to the information of this weekly magazine, during the last term of Maria Teresa Franco a great number of agreements were signed: 24 in 2014, followed by 2013, when under the administration of Sergio Raúl Arroyo and the start of the second term of Teresa Franco, 17 of them were signed.

Directed by Alfonso de Maria y Campos. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, the Institute agreed in 15 salvage works with individuals and government entities.

The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the Government of the Federal District (Mexico City), the Secretariat of Communications and Transports, Gasoductos Mexicanos, Corporación Minera Esperanza Silver de México, Tag Pipelines, Bayer de México, Restaurantes Toks, the business chain Oxxo, Chedraui Stores and Walmart de México are some of the names that appear in the official documents.

Hydroelectric dams

The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) is the entity that has signed most agreements with the institute. In 15 years there is register of 17 projects of salvage works performed by personnel of the INAH on grounds that, as it was aimed, to release them for dams, gas pipelines or other transmission lines of electric energy.

Financed by the CFE, the project of Chicoasén II in the State of Chiapas, with a cost of over 19 million Mexican pesos, has been the most expensive and one of the longest realized one by the INAH. According to the own documents of the Institute, the salvage works were programed to be held in 19 months.

Derived of these archeological works in the area that will be occupying the hydroelectric dam, the INAH has reported the discovery of three pre-Hispanic settlements on 6 square kilometers on both shores of the Grijalva river, architectonic structures, ritual elements, and over 100 burials.

In January 2015 the CFE issued the ruling of the bid for the hydroelectric power plant Chicoasén II. According to the press communiqué, the result of it was in favor of the consortium made up by the enterprises Omega Construcciones; Sinohydro Costa Rica, Desarrollos y Construcciones Urbanas and  CAABSA Infrastructure.

The proposal presented to this consortium was for an amount of 386,420,681 dollars, below the maximum amount fixed by the CFE of 405,620 thousand dollars.

In 2003the INAH and the CFE signed an agreement to perform the field survey and salvage works for the Hydroelectric project El Cajón, in the State of Nayarit, so that the Commission committed itself to deliver 852,221 pesos.

According to the agreement made in 2001, the Institute performed an inspection upon one part of the margins of the Grande De Santiago River that would be submerged by the reservoir of the dam of the hydroelectric project of El Cajón.

Upon the reservoir area and the part of the waters below, that lie between the curtain of the then future dam and the edge of the dam of the hydroelectric power plant Aguamilpa, there was a register of a total amount of 24 sites (nine of them in the area of territorial reorganization and 15 associated to the reservoir area of the future dam), thus being reported the necessity to continue with the works.

From 2003 until 2006 they summed up to 72 archeological sites located in the polygon. With the objects found the Institute inaugurated in October 2006 in the Museum of the Main Temple (Museo del Templo Mayor) the exposition Between rivers and sacred mountains. The archeology of El Cajón, Nayarit (Entre ríos y montañas sagradas. Arqueología en El Cajón, Nayarit).

Out of the exhibition that gathered a total amount of 168 archeological pieces, 86 mud sculptures, 46 pots, shell materials, as well as two representations of the shaft tombs are highlighted. The archeological materials stem from the sites of El Tepetate, El Ciruelo, La Playa, Paseo de San Juan and Lagunitas, located nearby the Grande de Santiago River in a distribution area of 65 kilometers, located in the archeological site of La Playa.

Also in the State of Nayarit the Institute started the salvage works upon the polygon of the hydroelectric project Las Cruces, after signing an agreement with the Federal Electricity Commission, in which the company committed to disburse 1,810,850 pesos for the works.

The works that are confronted with social rejection, intends to be built by the CFE in the settlement of San Pedro Ixcatán, in the municipality of Ruiz. According to the Inter-American Association for the Defense of the Environment (AIDA), this hydroelectric power plant supposes the loss of 14 sacred and ceremonial sites of the indigenous people of Nayeri or Cora. Among them the main ceremonial center named La Muxatena, a rocky formation of singular beauty. Furthermore it considers that the obstruction of the river bring irreversible damage to the National Marshland, one of the biggest mangrove areas of North America.

The AIDA assures that with its 540 kilometers of length, the San Pedro Mezquital River is the only one free of hydroelectric power plants of the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico. It stands as the seventh most voluminous river of the country, the main source of freshwater for the South of the State of Durango, and the livelihood of the diverse indigenous peoples, which were not consulted, nor have they received information about the project.

“As a consequence of the inspection and evaluation labors that the institute has realized in the aforesaid area, by request of the Commission, the existence of archeological remains is being verified, and in anticipation of the potential affection of the archeological remains that could be found. The commission solicited to the Institute that the archeological works in the corresponding benchmarks could be performed, and in such event, shall propose actions leading to its protection”, states baldly the agreement signed on the 19th of August 2013.


On the 28th of May 2010, the Institute and the Corporation Minera Esperanza Silver de México, SA de CV concluded a specific agreement on the collaboration to perform the study the feasibility through an archeological field survey to realize the mining exploitation works in the project La Esperanza, El Jumil Hill, Temixco, Morelos, works that were realized from the 26th of July to the 25th of September 2010.

The archeological field survey was performed considering seven areas that covered the area of a defined polygon defined by the mining exploitation; big pit, small pit, waste deposit area south-east, waste deposit area east, waste deposit area north, leaching yard and archeological site Cerro El Jumil. As a result of the field survey there was a register of the presence of the archeological sites El Jumil, El Jumilito, Hillside of the El Jumil Hill, Cuentepec and Cuexcomate, “important for the knowledge of the area of influence of Xochicalco in the State of Morelos”, can be read in the background information provided by the document. As for the INAH it was considered necessary to extend the archeological intervention to continue the topographic survey of the eastern hillside of the El Jumil Hill and the archeological salvage work of the seven aforesaid sites, which are located in the small pit area, the waste deposit area south east, the waste deposit area north and the leaching yard area.

The request of the extension of the archeological intervention was based upon the third clause of the cited agreement, in which the parties accorded that the work group could be modified attending the present circumstances.

As a result on the 19th of April 2011 an agreement for the second season of the works was signed, for which the corporation committed to disburse 1,231,172 pesos.

In 2013 after being exposed to social unrest and attention from the press, the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) denied, dated on the 5th of June, the endorsement related with the environmental impact assessment of the open-pit mining project on the El Jumil Hill.

In the official document 03865 of the SGPA/DGIRA/DG, where the resilience to the environmental impact assessment of the mine, it is stated that “the INAH concluded that the mining exploitation is inconsistent with the preservation of the archeological preservation, based upon the fundament of several articles of the Organic Act, the Federal Act on Monuments and Archeological, Artistic and Historic Areas, and the Federal Archeological Heritage Act”.

Housing projects

Dated on the 29th of March 2007, the INAH and the Trusteeship Real Diamante signed the collaboration agreement to perform the archeological field survey on the plot located in the Punta Diamante area, Port of Acapulco in the State of Guerrero, where they intended to build a touristic real estate housing project Real Diamante.

The field survey was executed from the 1st to the 31st of July, considering 11 major plots, where they detected three housing complexes, 91 rocks with wells, one rock shelter, a petroglyph and three rocky massifs known as La Tortuga, La Cabeza and La Mujer Pariendo,”important” for the knowledge of the detected settlement areas at Puerto Marqués and Punta Diamante, as acknowledge the parties in the writing.

As a result an official document was issued dated on the 14th of December 2007, in which it was considered that it should be considered as an archeological reserve the major plot 30, as well as the temporary restrictions until its excavation in the plot 28, in which two active water springs of low debit were located, three monolithic formations were reported in the 1980’s and housing area, and marked with temporary restriction the major plot 27, where remains of a pre-Hispanic platform were discovered for domestic use, that would require to be excavated, this considering necessary to continue the investigation for 4 more months.

On the 30th of September 2011 the Institute and the Trusteeship signed again an agreement, in which they established that 120,570 pesos were required, an amount the company would be entitled to deliver.

Over the project a news release on the newspaper El Sur de Acapulco gives account on the existence of a criminal complaint against the company. Mister César Sabino Palma Salinas- who claims the indemnities of 70 hectares and a half of Punta Diamante- filed a complaint before the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) against the Governor René Juárez Cisneros and other 27 public servants and former public servants for offenses for archeological heritage damage, theft, looting of archeological remains and its consequences.

In the complaint Palma Salinas explained that the mentioned persons remain “looting, selling and destroying archeological area that the studies of the National Institute of Anthropology and History specify area dated of thousands of years. Avenues, roads, villas, hotels and soon casinos are being built over remains” that are found in the area known as Punta Diamante.

According to the news release dated in August 2004, Sabino accuses that despite that the INAH notified throughout a communiqué the promotors of t Punta Diamante, the real estate company Grupo Mexicano de Desarrollo (GMD) and the administration of the Condominium Real Diamante that will have to report any type of works carried out and that could threaten the preservation of the archeological reserve, while they keep on destroying the place.

The list of agreements signed by the Institute and private parties, of which Contralínea possesses a copy, includes also the archeological salvage project agreed upon for the plot located at Paseo de la Reforma Avenue 159, in the Federal District, where they intend to construct a department tower and under which remains are preserved of what used to be the Santa Paula Pantheon in the XVIII and XIX century (Contralínea Issue No. 426 Also the archeological salvage works that the Institute and the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon performed in 2012 over a polygon of 50 square kilometers within the municipalities of Atenco and Texcoco in the State of Mexico, in the area where the new International Airport of Mexico City will be built. That is an area where 28 archeological sites have been located and around 270 spots with pre-Hispanic remains (Contralínea Issue No. 427

The penalties

Before the question about which were the mechanisms on which relied the INAH, the Archeology Coordination and the Archeological Salvage Directorate to avoid that the economic entrepreneurial interests are above the interest of saving the national heritage, the national  Coordinator of Archeology of the INAH, Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava, responds briefly to Contralínea: “There is the Federal Act [of Monuments and Archeological, Artistic and Historic Areas] that compels the infrastructure promotors that in the event that there is existence or alleged existence archeological remains, a study has to be performed”.

According to the document Procedure of development of archeological investigations –salvage and rescue works (Procedimiento de desarrollo de investigaciones arqueológicas –salvamento y rescate )- in areas of public and private infrastructure works, private parties and government entities are compelled to obtain an authorization by the INAH -00-008- in areas of public or private infrastructure works that are considered archeological or paleontological sites, because they present or presume to present remains in the period that stretch from the origin of human life until the establishment of the dominion of the Spaniards, and frequently previous and posterior times.

Otherwise the law referred by Sánchez Nava foresees suspension of the executed works and in this event to proceed to occupy the place, for an overruling of the authorization and the application of sanctions.

In the chapter VII, “The Sanctions”, the instrument puts affirms that those who realize material works of archeological exploitation, by excavation, removal or any other mean, of an immovable archeological monument, or areas of archeological monuments, without the authorization of the Institute, to those responsible a prison sentence of 3 to 10 years will be dictated and 1 to 3 thousand days [of minimal wages], and to whom ordered, induced, directed, organized or financed these described behaviors, the penalties will be increased by half.

It also establishes in Article 48 that if the offenses foreseen in this law are committed by public servants in the application thereof, the relative sanctions will be applied regardless of the conformity with the Federal Administrative Responsibility of Public Servants Act.

A prison sentence will be pronounced, asserts the Article 52, from 3 to 10 years and fine reaching up to the value of the damage caused, to whom by any available means damaged, alters or destroys archeological, artistic or historic monuments.


Elva Mendoza, @elva_contra

(Translated by: Axel Plasa)






Contralínea 452 / del 31 de Agosto al 06 de Septiembre 2015