Its main challenge: how to harmonize tourism, fishing and maritime industries…//
PROGRESO – In the early nineteenth century, the trade of the Yucatan Peninsula was on the rise, with the emergence of “green gold” (henequen), which was in demand in Europe and the United States. Yucatan had become the main exporter, with large commercial exchanges with ports in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as with Cuba and Spain.
At that time the main port of the state was Sisal; however, its remoteness from the city of Mérida led the authorities to look for an alternate port. That’s when Juan Miguel Castro, a visionary man and lover of Yucatan, took charge of looking for this new site and found it only 33,914 meters from the state capital.
On February 25, 1856 it became official that this new port would be the main one of the Yucatan coast by means of a decree of the substitute president of the Republic, Ignacio Comonfort, who authorized the creation of the town in the place called Progreso. This decree was published on March 23 of the same year, which authorized the transfer of the customs office of Sisal to Progreso.
Since its inception, Progreso has gone through great political, social, cultural and economic changes, which have led it to evolve in the field of maritime trade. However, it has gone through several stages that have turned it into a fishing and tourist port, still maintaining its status as the main port of the state, according to the historian and journalist Jorge Alberto Frías Castillo, son of the port’s chronicler, Romeo Frías Bobadilla.
“At some point along with the debacle of the great Green Gold there was a cultural, artistic, economic, social and political decline, which marked the end of a cycle for the port. But the end of that cycle marked other moments for the port. As the chronicler Frías Bobadilla points out, after the fall of henequén, fishing became at some historical moment the economic salvation, not only for Progreso, but also for Yucatán, this around the 70s,” said Frías Castillo. He stressed that fishing cemented another great industry for Yucatan, and later it would become along with maritime trade one of the great economic engines of the state.
On the other hand, Progreso transportation entrepreneur Ernesto Luna Rivas, owner of “Transportes Luna”, and with 40 years of experience in the industry, mentioned that in the evolution of the port there was another milestone that consolidated what is now maritime commerce, economic activity for which Progreso was founded.
Luna Rivas commented that it was in the 80’s when the then governor Víctor Cervera Pacheco had the vision of a high dock and a dredging that would lead the maritime trade to evolve in new ways, and the so-called “Isla Cervera” has seen that growth through the years, with expansions that nowadays house large companies, such as Pemex, Multisur and Hidrosur, among others.
Luna Rivas added that it was with the entry of the company “Peninsular Line” around 1983 when the containerized cargo was consolidated, which today is one of the main activities of the state. In recent years, the installation of a factory of well-known beer brand in the municipality of Hunucmá has come to further boost the land maritime trade, and there are more projects for the state with great infrastructure, such as the creation of the wind farm in the interior of the state, whose huge wind turbines came via ocean to Progreso. Examples like this show that Progreso managed to be what Juan Miguel Castro envisioned.
Today there are great projections for the port in different fields. On one hand, the mayor Julian Zacarias along with the governor Mauricio Vila are betting on tourism, with the construction of a bohemian alley, the restoration of the boardwalk, the creation of a artificial reef, rescue of facades, bicycle lanes and museums, among many other projects. On the other hand, the Integral Port Authority (API) is betting on attracting more cruise lines, which bring tourists to the port and the state, and also the API has shown statistics with the growth of import and export trade.
In terms of cargo, API data reported a great growth in recent years. These statistics show an increase in containerized cargo by 81%, from 444 tons in 2013, to 802 tons in 2018. Likewise, agricultural bulk grew 52%, which was 1,429 tons five years ago, reaching 2,171 tons in 2018. Regarding commercial hydrocarbons, 2018 closed with 311 tons. The Pemex hydrocarbons had an increase in their load of 44%, having in 2013 the movement of 1,892 tons and in 2018, a total of 2,733 tons.
What the future may hold
However, despite the success of Progreso as a merchant port, a continuing challenge is the need for harmonization with the other two major economic activities: fishing and tourism. According to the research by Frías Bobadilla and Frías Castillo, there is still a port definition that affirms Progreso as an industrial, fishing, tourist and strategic port, or a harmonization of all of these. Its residents should be able to live without the anxiety that industrial growth damages the environment, or that large tourist investments do not interfere with industrial trade and vice versa. And a Progreso in which fishing is rescued as a great economic engine with good catches and real opportunities for the sector.
It is also imperative that it becomes a Progreso in which, if millions of pesos enter daily through the maritime port, it returns in infrastructure investment for the streets and public spaces of the city, as well as a strong awareness of the future generations so that not only it remains the most important port of Yucatan for the society that lives there, but there is a harmonization for a sustainable future, with social justice, economic welfare, tourist attractions and, above all, that it continue to be as it was in its infancy: a port of maritime commerce.
Text and photo: David Correa