Posted by casey on May 20, 2007, 9:47 am
Huge implications. |
Published Sunday, May 20, 2007
Who Controls Paradise?
CRUISING along the swerving, mountainous roads of Mexico’s western coast, past trees and vines, blue lagoons and scattered wildflowers, Goffredo Marcaccini stops his Jeep and thrusts his head out the window. “Ahhh,” he croons, inhaling the morning air. “The smell of the earth! Nice, like the scent of a woman!”
His reverie is short-lived. Farther along, he encounters roadside debris, including a bright blue Pepsi can. “Modern man,” he says, wincing, “is the cancer of the earth. We are only here to destroy.”
Mr. Marcaccini is a self-described romantic, a naturalist who waxes poetic about mangroves, giant sea turtles and the beauty of parakeets. He is also an heir to the late British corporate raider James Goldsmith, who once lorded over this richly virginal expanse of nature as though it were his own empire.
Since Mr. Goldsmith’s death in 1997, Mr. Marcaccini and his wife, Alix, the daughter of Mr. Goldsmith, have managed the late patriarch’s most prized asset: Cuixmala, a 2,000-acre private estate with several villas on the Pacific that at various times housed Mr. Goldsmith’s three families, mistresses and high-powered visitors including Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
These days, though, there’s trouble brewing on Cuixmala, which is nestled inside the 32,473-acre Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, a rolling expanse of federally protected coastal land.
In an effort to expand tourism beyond destinations like Cancún and Puerto Vallarta, Mexican officials recently authorized the development of two resorts in the area. The most controversial project, called Marina Careyes — also referred to as Careyitos — is backed by Roberto Hernández, the powerful Mexican banker and developer who sold his financial services firm to Citigroup six years ago for $12.5 billion. Mr. Hernández’s minority partners are Gian Franco Brignone and his son Giorgio, Italian real estate magnates who relocated to Mexico and built a series of sumptuous properties in the state of Jalisco that made it a magnet for the super-rich.
The result is a pitched battle over land rights between Mr. Goldsmith’s heirs and two of the country’s most powerful families — a clash that sheds light on the fault lines between traditional luxury resort developers who favor golf courses, swimming pools and spas, and a newer breed of conservationist-entrepreneurs who champion eco-resorts where guests hike and canoe for recreation. The standoff smacks of a blood feud with roots going back decades to early land squabbles involving the Goldsmiths and the Brignones.
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