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México City, October 31, 2000

Baja Evictions Carried Out

Officials, federal and local police carry out Supreme Court order.

By HENRY ROMERO

Reuters

ENSENADA, B.C. -- Federal police on Monday evicted some 200 U.S. retirees from a multimillion- dollar beachfront resort in northwestern Mexico following a Supreme Court ruling that changes the ownership of the land.

Some 250 armed officers took part in the raid on the Baja Beach & Tennis Club in Ensenada, Baja California.

"They are going from house to house," Baja California Homeowners Association vice president Leigh Zaremba told Reuters. "We've been given five hours to get out of our houses before they are sealed."

U.S. retirees own about 90 percent of the homes at the Baja Beach and Tennis Club. They paid local farmers and a private developer, Koster S.A., between 500,000 dollars and 1 million dollars for each of the villas.

The resort property comprises a hotel, 18 cabins and 23 houses and is valued at about 48 million dollars.

"We invested all of our money to have a place where we could rest, and now we've lost everything," said Glen Nordstron, a retired American who bought a house at the resort three years ago with his wife.

The Supreme Court of Justice issued an eviction notice for resort residents last week, ruling that the approximately 44 acres (18 hectares) of land belonged to a private company, Prua Punta Estero S.A., which had bought the land in 1970.

LAND RIGHTS CONFUSED

Local farmers, who sold the Americans their properties, on Monday displayed a 1988 presidential decree that awarded them the lands under an agrarian land redistribution program.

But according to the Supreme Court ruling, the Beach Club land belonged to Prua Punta when it was mistakenly included in 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) to be divided among farmers under the land package.

"This is an injustice and we are going to defend these properties with our lives," said one of the 88 cooperative farmers.

They say they provided the lands to Beach Club residents under a nine-year, 11-month lease.

Local farmers who stand to lose out on food sales and other services if the Americans' homes are expropriated have been demonstrating outside the beach club since the court ruling.

Zaremba said residents have 30 days to renegotiate purchase agreements with Prua Punta if they want to keep their homes, and that the company wants no deals.

"They want all the money up front, this is not negotiation," he said.

Six U.S. Embassy officials were sent to Ensenada to monitor the rights and physical safety of the Americans.

"There's been no confrontation so far that we know about, but some of the American citizens are in discussions with property owners as these evictions proceed," embassy spokesman Stephen Morisseau told Reuters.


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