INTERVIEW WITH Carlos Montero Pantoja

*This is a translation of the original interview in Spanish

Carlos Montero Pantoja is a professor of Cultural Heritage in Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (Mexico) in the Master of Built Heritage at the Architecture School. He has a prolific publications record, both technic and divulgative, about Puebla, a World Heritage city.

Hi Carlos! In our previous interview with Jordi Tresserras we focussed on tourism, so we are going to start over from there on. Do you think that tourists’ interests prevail over those of the inhabitants of a World Heritage city when activities affecting urban landscape take place?

Definitely. In Mexico, the Development National Plan (a planning device which guides all strategies, policies and actions of the country’s entities) considers (all types of) heritage as a resource to promote tourism and, therefore, actions are associated with the corresponding sectors, primarily Tourism, which, by the way, does not assess it, not even consent it as heritage. In such a sector only tour operators do participate and, exceptionally, they assist to the heritage sector in order to be provided with information which could be used for market promotion (not diffusion).

Occasionally, this management of World Heritage cities produces conflicts with the population. Do you consider that a higher participation in decision-taking processes within heritage management in these cities could add any solution to these conflicts?

Of course I do. Social participation is essential. The situation of conflict expressed in the outcries and violence lived in Mexico nowadays is the result, among other causes, of the distance between authorities and citizens, and of the differences triggered by that distance because those who rule assume that, in a virtual imaginary, the view they are building is what society needs, and thus, they create real stages derived from virtual views. Simultaneously, the reality experienced by citizens is different: asymmetrical, antidemocratic, stark, violent, etc. -and for all that there are not actions. In this context, heritage, as women and poor people, among others, are vulnerable to the actions taken by those who decide.
Conflicts have reached extreme situations in where those who take decisions carry out prefigured projects without taking into account heritage, let alone citizens’ opinions and their own private interests. If citizens partake in claims, they are imprisoned or murdered.
Today, in Mexico, protests have not received a response. Society does not have interlocutors or mediators.

There are cities in which these participation processes have happened when changes were been undertaken, although the results have not always been those expected by technicians. Is the implementation of a legal procedure enough to assure the participation of the civil community in the decision-taking process of the activities that affect heritage, and thus, in their relationship with the latter? To what extent society is allowed to take decisions when there are technique elements which clearly produce conflicts and, however, are needed as well for the conservation of the affected asset?

All cities in Mexico have implemented ways to allow citizens participation. The problem is that they are part of the structure itself of those taking decisions. That is to say, in Mexico, all projects have passed through the entities of population enquiry. In other words, legally speaking, there was participation. These operational devices are carried out to the letter.
These entities use to comprise at least one technician, and, eventually, they can send a project to the outstanding technicians but not with the aim of taking into account their professional opinion, but aiming to have an official letter of the mailing of the project and an official document that attests that the latter has received it; with those details the official part is covered.
I consider (as many specialists agree with) that it must exist a group to manage heritage. If we think of it as social and with honorific roles, it will be difficult because it would lack sources to operate. We have proposed it to be intermediate, in other words, constituted by university students and supported by universities.
There are successful experiences when those who take decisions allow and include citizens’ opinion and, furthermore, they generate structures to back it.

One of the main current conflictive elements in Mexico in this sense is the concept of ‘public utility’. What is the meaning of this within the Mexican Republic laws? Is its real application a way to defend citizens’ interests?

Public Utility is the more efficient operational device of those who take decisions because they found the way to set the word ‘public utility’ in all their actions. Heritage conservation is of public utility but it is also the widening of a route (it does not matter whether it passes over heritage sites, intangible places and/or private property), a bridge, water works… And all you can imagine. It is not coincidental that projects tend to begin with the phrase ‘It is of public utility’.
Therefore, I claim that the concept of public utility, which should be applied to defend society and its heritage, acts with impunity against society.  

Finally, we know that you take into account outreach and, among other activities, you participate in radio programmes. Which city problems are more commonly heard by you from your interviewees? Do you believe that they are problems which could be solved by means of population participation in decision-taking process?

The more frequent problems of the population are:
  1. Insecurity but not regarded as a matter of ‘cops and robbers’ but as the impossibility of having access to essential sets and services such as employment (for instance, when a citizen finish his/her career is an insure person because he/she does not have a job but there is no certainty of  finding it either), a house, a living city (this is an aspiration), an inhabitable heritage with entertainment and cultural vitality, etc.
  2. Day-to-day problems, much of which derives from  insecurity, for example, poverty at many different levels: economic, cultural, values  poverty which, in turn, provokes
  3. Asymmetry in the same topics whose manifestation is noticed in the cities with the presence of unliveable ‘room’ sites, abandoned and deteriorated heritage…
  4. Authorities’ corruption
  5. Impunity of those who commit crimes


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