Monday, September 26

The initiative for the Mar Menor to have rights enters its final phase: “We lead a European movement”

“We have achieved something very important: a new stage that allows us to recognize the error of understanding nature as a resource to extract only economic benefit,” Teresa Vicente, professor of Philosophy of Law at the University of Murcia (UMU), points out by phone during a train stop before the imminent definitive approval in the Senate of the Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP) to give legal personality to the Mar Menor on Wednesday morning.

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Vicente speaks breathlessly, aware of the historical dimension of the approval of the ILP, which obtained a total of 639,826 signatures, far exceeding the 500,000 necessary: ​​”We lead a European movement to protect the rights of nature and we must savor victory , realizing that there is another way of relating to the Mar Menor”.

The other two world examples of ecosystems that have acquired their own rights have been the Atrato River, in Colombia, whose Constitutional Court recognized it in 2016 as an entity subject to rights to protection and conservation by the State and ethnic communities, and the Whanganí River that, since 2017, has been recognized by the New Zealand government as a legal person, a historical demand of the indigenous Maori who “feel in communion with the river”.

The professor of Philosophy of Law has been writing since 1992 about justice and ecology and since 2019 promoting the promoter group of the ILP made up of eight people -five women and three men-: “In the 80s the rights of children were approved and no one It occurs to the country now that they do not have free education. That is the big change. The United Nations is now moving towards the protection of the rights of nature”, adds the researcher, who presented the initiative to provide legal rights to the salty lagoon at the UN headquarters in New York last April together with the mayor of Los Angeles. Alcázares, Mario Cervera, and the professor of Administrative Law at the UMU and also promoter of the ILP, Eduardo Salazar.

The Murcian jurist began her law studies at the UMU in the early 1980s “at a time of change to the model of social democracy after the dictatorship.” “Then they changed the laws every day; I say this for the people who say that new regulations cannot be promoted,” says the professor, who was researching how to give the salty lagoon its own rights with a Seneca scholarship at the British University of Reading when the first anoxia of the Sea occurred Minor in October 2019. “It was a full stop,” he says.

“A revulsive so that everything works again”

“The next generations arrive with a very great injustice when they find themselves with a degraded planet and we have provided them with one more tool because the laws until now have not managed to stop the damage to biodiversity and global warming”, reflects Vicente. “The engine of the ILP has been the social movements, but to start up all the machinery, two other fundamental legs have been needed, which have been the political part and the public university, where the study that I have directed has been carried out.” The ILP was approved in Congress last March with a majority greater than necessary: ​​all political groups supported it except for Vox.

Salazar, for his part, sees the approval of this initiative for the salty lagoon as “a complement” to the existing laws, “not a substitution.” “Previous legislation has not worked. It is a revulsive so that everything works in a new scenario of relationship with nature. Law is often late. The ILP also has an educational element so that people know about previous legislation, such as the fact that the lagoon is a Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA) or that it is within the Red Natura 2000 plan. I think it will play a role of catalyst”, points out the environmental lawyer.

The UMU professor was initially “reluctant” to the idea. He had been involved in the environmental movement in the Region for 25 years and did not see it as feasible. However, the social movement that originated around the ILP managed to excite him and restore “hope”. “It is a group of ordinary people who collect 640,000 signatures and use a democratic mechanism like the ILP that does not exist in all countries,” he sums up. And there finds Salazar the crux of the issue: “We did not want to go hand in hand with an NGO, association or union. It has been a different formula from the classic environmental movement and I think that disinterested question has been fundamental. Total independence is what has allowed us to obtain the support of so many people, in addition to the fact that our approach has always been based on consensus with the different social movements”, he points out.

possible delay

Neither Vicente nor Salazar consider that the approval of the ILP will be delayed on Wednesday in the Senate, as the PP has proposed, which wants to return it to Congress for not specifically mentioning the Polytechnic University of Cartagena (UPCT) in the text. . “The text speaks of the Universities of Murcia and Alicante, among which is that of Cartagena, although it is not said expressly. We do not intend to exclude anyone, especially since the UPCT has worked on many things in the Mar Menor. And we don’t want it to be delayed. We hope that this is not the case because that depends on the majority of the Senate”.

“I never thought I loved the Mar Menor so much,” reflects Teresa Conesa, one of the promoters of the Popular Legislative Initiative of the Mar Menor and a member of the Black Flags citizen movement. Vicente and Salazar presented the ILP on July 29, 2020 in the Congress of Deputies. While the sheets for the collection of signatures were being printed and sealed, they began to look for notaries like Conesa: “In the Plaza del Espejo in Los Alcázares they announced to us that we could give the Mar Menor legal personality. Give them rights, like people”, recalls the volunteer.

“A kind of family tree”

After the end of the state of alarm, many of those who would later become notaries of the ILP del Mar Menor left their homes “wanting to enjoy nature”: “Seeing the bad state of the Mar Menor we took to the streets and we began to demonstrate every Saturday from June 20, 2020. We left from La Encarnación and arrived at the Plaza del Espejo. There, Saturday after Saturday, we met a lot of people who were joining.” “My notaries, at the same time, created others. We had to branch out, create a kind of family tree. The idea was that we had to be a nationwide crowd,” he explains.

On November 28 of that year, the first signature collection took place: “We set up signature collection points in bakeries, pharmacies and supermarkets. People still had fear embedded in their bodies and barely went out to the streets for the basics.” Between masks and disinfected pens, the first signatures began to gather.

After the second anoxia suffered by the salty lagoon at the end of August 2021, which, according to the Regional Government, killed 15 tons of fish, the population began to flock to the signature collection points: “They wanted to become notaries, collect signatures, put flags on their balconies. It was something tremendous”, describes Conesa.

The notary confesses that on many occasions they feared not reaching the goal: “It was very hard, we added up the signatures we had and we fell into discouragement. But we sent each other audios telling us that we could not relapse or lose this opportunity, that the Mar Menor had given us so much that it had to win.

Now Conesa insists that the fight for the Mar Menor continues: “We are going to work at the same level, we are not going to settle for having thousands of associates in Banderas Negras, we are going to get millions of associates.” “We wanted to give the Mar Menor a voice, everyone who loves it defends and protects it, does not attack or destroy it. The lagoon needs us” she underlines.

Almost half a century of struggle for the Mar Menor

Although the proposal to endow the salty lagoon is relatively new, it is preceded by decades of environmental activism. Before groups for the rights of the Mar Menor appeared and the Tajo-Segura transfer was built to change the agricultural system of the Region from rainfed to irrigated, there were already voices from the world of science that anticipated the danger that the lagoon: “It was known that an agricultural production process like the current one was going to throw waste into the Mar Menor. They warned that the extra nutrients in the ecosystem would modify and eventually destroy it,” says Pedro Luengo, spokesperson for Ecologistas en Acción.

Shortly after, in the 1980s, organizations such as ANSE or members of Ecologistas en Acción began to mobilize -before the organization was formally constituted in 1998- to denounce the growth of irrigation, the expansion of ports and the increase in urban growth of area. In this decade it was possible to forge some environmental protections for very emblematic spaces of the Mar Menor, such as Calblanque, “which we would not have today if it had been allowed to have succumbed to that urbanization maelstrom”, Luengo emphasizes.

85% less marine vegetation

More than forty years of environmental struggle later and despite the environmental protections that the Mar Menor has been obtaining until now, such as belonging to the Natura 2000 Network, being a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance or a Specially Protected Area of ​​Importance for the Mediterranean ( ZEPIM), the lagoon has ended up contaminated by nitrates and losing 85 percent of its marine vegetation in 2016.

Despite the fact that he celebrates the lagoon becoming an area with its own legal personality, Luengo confesses that he fears that this will become “one more law”: “Until now, the laws to protect the Mar Menor have not been applied, we have a degradation of the natural space even though it is protected. In my opinion, what is going to protect the Mar Menor is not one more law, but the fact that the population pressures the public administrations so much that they force them to comply with the laws that already exist.” “On the other hand, this is a new opportunity to explore a different path to the protections we are used to. It can be a great opportunity to give a boost to the real protection of spaces and species at this time of global ecological crisis”.

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