The Real Story Behind PUNTA MITA: The Private Paradise of Mexico Presidents and His Friends


By  Esteban David Rodríguez

The former president benefited the owners of the most exclusive beaches of the Riviera Nayarit. Punta Mita, from Fernando Senderos, obtained an environmental concession and was favored with the construction of roads that facilitate access to the area

Los paraísos privados de los amigos de Peña Nieto. Operación Punta ...

Punta Mita, Litibú, and Costa Canuva make up the VIP territory of the Riviera Nayarit. They are the private havens of businessmen with whom Enrique Peña Nieto cultivated social and political closeness. They add 23 kilometers of beaches for tourist-real estate developments, specifically aimed at high-income foreign tourism: villas, golf courses, commercial squares with select stores, restaurants, hotels, and farms, where lodging costs up to half a million pesos per night.

Punta Mita en México - Four Seasons Hotel

Its limits are as precise as the walls, bars, meshes, and sentry boxes that protect its visitors from the world. And at the other extreme, the sea and its horizon.

Glamor sanctuaries where Bill Gates, Paris Hilton, Robert de Niro, Carlos Santana, Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow, the Kardashian sisters, Justin Bieber, Al-Saadi el Gaddafi, son of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi; and successful Silicon Valley executives.

The three developments were established on land that belonged to the Bahía de Banderas Trust (FIBBA), formed with expropriated ejidos in the 70s and 80s of the last century. 

Punta Mita

The PRI and PAN governments, since the time of Carlos Salinas de Gortari and until the end of the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, provided the highway, urban, electrical and hydraulic infrastructure to the region, and later transferred three territorial reserves to private investors: Punta Mita by direct sale, Litibu by subdivision and sale controlled by the Federal Government, and Costa Canuva under the irrevocable trust scheme.

An investigation carried out by EMEEQUIS reveals that the Peña Nieto government lavished economic and legal resources to preserve and expand these tourist reserves, operated politically to obtain legislative approvals for land donations, controlled communal resistance and directed the flow of benefits to friends who He cultivated throughout his political career, some of whom were his playmates on those golf courses.

Operation Punta Mita: the concession, the roads …

In some cases the benefits were surgical. For example, Peña Nieto extended until 2030 the environmental concession of an estuary that serves as an alibi to prevent public access to the beaches of the Punta Mita peninsula, owned by Fernando Senderos, president of Grupo Desc, who was part of the Mexican Council of Infrastructure created by Peña Nieto during his government in the State of Mexico.

From the consultation of more than a hundred notarial documents, dozens of corporate management reports, stock market reports, environmental impact statements, public contracts, and other government documents, EMEEQUIS reconstructs the business ramifications of one of the most exclusive tourist hubs in the world.

This enclave was an alternate residence and adoptive land of former President Peña, at least during his tenure, just where he felt among friends, and of whom he said, on July 25, 2016: “I am proudly from Mexico, but this is my second home.”

On the Nayarit coast, the three private paradises are separated from each other, but two roads connect them by land, one built with federal financing and the other with state resources:

To the north, the new Compostela – Las Varas highway, whose construction was assigned in 2016 by the Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT) to Mota-Engil Mexico, a company that in turn is the main beneficiary of the highway, since it connects with the access to Costa Canuva (also owned by them). 

And to the south, the free superhighway Cruz de Huanacaxtle – Punta Mita, which cost 300 million pesos, from a bank loan obtained by the Nayarit government, still under Ney Sánchez. 

It was completed by the government of Roberto Sandoval, one of the consensual governors of Peñismo. The work faced protests for unfulfilled compensation, as well as amparo trials and dispossession of property and water, promoted by sharecroppers from the ejidos of Higuera Blanca, in Bahía de Banderas, and El Monteón, in Compostela. Even the owner of C & C Ingeniería y Proyectos, one of the companies that initially carried out the construction, Héctor Cárdenas Curiel, was jailed for these and other crimes.

But a few days before Easter 2016, the road was ready. “It is of a quality that any toll road would already like,” said Roberto Sandoval upon opening it.

The truth is that these roads benefited the owners of the private paradises of the Riviera Nayarit. The Compostela – Las Varas highway connects with federal highway 200, coming from Tepic. Continuing south, it passes in front of the access to Costa Canuva, by José Miguel Bejos. Then it reaches the entrance to Litibú, where the real estate partners of the Ancira Elizondo family own a hotel complex. And finally, the 200 converges with the free super highway Cruz de Huanacaxtle – Punta Mita, which reaches the gates of the tourist destination of Fernando Senderos.

An exclusive and profitable path

Punta Mita is a peninsula stretched out over the translucent waters of the Pacific, owned by the Senderos family. The Nayarit authorities and the Bahía de Banderas Trust (FIBBA) sold them the rights to land expropriated in the region in 1970. This was how they acquired 3% of the Nayarit territory: 700 hectares surrounded by 14 kilometers of coastline.

This private region can only be entered by those who are staying or those who own farms or lots. To the north it is protected by Cerro Careyeros, which prevents the passage to the beaches of Punta Mita.

To the south there is no natural containment, but it has had an even more robust gate: an “environmental protection” concession on the Playa la Lancha estuary that the Vicente Fox government gave them.

And although this legal instrument expired in 2015, Peña Nieto renewed its validity for 15 more years. Thanks to this, the owners of Punta Mita were able to close the way to their peninsula, a business that in the last decade has reported net sales of almost 300 million dollars, according to the annual corporate reports (2009-2019) that were reviewed. by EM

Harvest of loyalty

In December 2012, on the third day after he settled in Los Pinos as President of Mexico, Peña Nieto received an eccentric gift: a wooden box overflowing with organic tomatoes. The sender was Fernando Senderos Mestre, head of Grupo Desc, one of whose brands is Productos Del Fuerte. The gift seemed, simultaneously, the symbol and harbinger of a good harvest.

Fernando Senderos took over Grupo Desc in 1987. The consortium was founded by his father, Manuel Senderos Irigoyen, in the 70s, alongside Gastón Azcárraga and Alberto Bailleres. The latter remains a member of the council.

One of Desc’s best-known firms was Industrias Resistol, which was sold in 2003. Desc is currently made up of two corporate mastodons: KUO and DINE. The first has industrial branches with a global presence in the chemical area such as Resirene (polystyrene), associated with Repsol; or Dynasol (synthetic rubber); in the consumer market, it has Herdez-Del Fuerte and Megamex Foods, among others; In the automotive is Tremec and Dacomasa, to name a few of their most emblematic brands.

DINE is the group’s real estate corporate, the type of business preferred by Senderos, who developed Bosques de las Lomas, in Mexico City, one of his first projects without his father’s tutelage.

But Fernando Senderos has not only been a successful businessman. He was also a loyal ally of the PRI political power. A horse riding fan since his youth, Senderos was a partner of Raúl and Carlos Salinas de Gortari in the Mexican equestrian team that participated in the Pan American Games in Cali in 1971.

And since Carlos Salinas’ “tray pass” in 1988, he has contributed to the financing of different PRI presidential campaigns.

With Peña Nieto, Senderos had a more concrete contact from 2007, when the then Governor of the State of Mexico created his famous Mexican Infrastructure Council, an invention of his Finance Secretary, Luis Videgaray, to seat large investors at the table. of his boss, who even then sounded like presidential.

The council met at least four times a year, several of them with the presence of Governor Peña Nieto.

In charge of proposing the works and disseminating the infrastructure programs of the state government, the collegiate body was made up of directors Roberto Alcántara (IAMSA, Grupo Prisa, Ominitren, Viva Aerobús), Carlos Peralta (IUSA Group), Valentín Díez Morodo ( AV InBev, Club de Fútbol Toluca, OHL) and Fernando Senderos, owner of Desc, and Punta Mita.

Ethnic cleansing

It all started during the government of his former partner in the Mexican equestrian team, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Senderos reached the Nayarit coast in 1991 and was associated almost immediately with a company of Jalisco investors who had been eyeing that area since the 1980s: Cantiles de Mita.

Cantiles’ investors came to Nayarit by invitation. Governor Celso Humberto Delgado undertook in 1991 the Costa Banderas Development, a $ 500 million tourism project that ran from the area known as Distilleries, from the south to Punta Mita in the north.

He commissioned the urban project from the Guadalajara firm Bufete de Ejecution de Desarrollos Integrales, directed by Guillermo Gómez Vázquez-Aldana, who turned out to be the secretary of the Cantiles de Mita board of directors.

Gómez Vázquez-Aldana would soon become the legal representative of the Costa Banderas project. Five companies were involved: Punta Faro Viejo, Puerto Mita, Punta Mita, Costa Banderas and Cantiles de Mita.

But there was a fly in the milk: in the jewel of the project, which was the Punta Mita peninsula, there was a town of 500 inhabitants, called Corral del Risco. They were families of fishermen reluctant to be relocated, yet were stripped of their ejido lands, their leaders threatened with death, and eventually jailed. The legislation was on their side, but not the courts, which ignored until the protection.

In exchange for their freedom, the rebels signed their consent to be relocated to a subdivision on El Anclote beach, called “Nuevo Corral del Risco”, a site encapsulated between the meshes and walls of DINE developments. A kind of ghetto, with no exit to the sea, only towards the federal highway, on the opposite side to the beach. On top of that, the same developers who expelled them, sold them the new homes.

The “negotiations” with the fishermen had been conducted by representatives of Grupo DINE and Costa Banderas SA, as reported by the local press at the time. Between 1993 and 1994 the Punta Mita peninsula was cleared of its original inhabitants, after the displacement operation led by investors and the state government.

Punta MIta

The holding

In 2003, DINE merged its company Club Ecuestre Chiluca S. de RL de CV, a fractionation company with developments in the State of Mexico, with Cantiles de Mita. Thus, this firm became the financial brain of DINE.

Over the years, Senderos transferred almost the entire financial structure of DINE to Cantiles de Mita: Bosques de Chiluca Real Estate, DINE Corporate (Cañadas de Santa Fe, Alaxia Real Estate and the 3293 trust), Promociones Bosques, Resort Club Punta Mita, Turística Akko, Punta Mita Golf Club and Operator of Nayarit. 

As established by the Partial Urban Tourism Development Plan Punta Mita, prepared by the municipality of Bahía de Banderas (2002), “the estate belongs to the company Cantiles de Mita (…), covering the 688.5 hectares that represent the properties of tourism development and that covers the entire Punta Mita peninsula ”.

The document specifies the confines of the property of Senderos: starting from the north, “it covers the entire Punta Mita peninsula, surrounding the human settlements of Emiliano Zapata and Nuevo Corral del Risco, continuing along the coastal strip delimited by the La Cruz – Punta highway Mita and the ZFMT of the Bahía de Banderas, until shortly after the La Lancha estuary, bordering on its southeast border with the tourist development of Costa Banderas ”.

Punta de Mita, el destino de lujo de Riviera Nayarit

One night costs half a million pesos

With the peninsula cleared of the native population –except for the town of Emiliano Zapata and the ghetto of Nuevo Corral del Risco– and with Cantiles de Mita as the brain of the financial shed, Senderos began in 1993 the residential tourism project: villas, farms, condos, hotels, apartment towers, residential lots and hotels for sale or rent for a fractional time.

One of the consortium’s star projects was the construction, in partnership with the Four Seasons chain, of a hotel and the 18-hole golf course, designed by ex-golfer Jack Nicklaus, with its iconic optional hole created on an islet.

Punta Mita

In addition, DINE-Cantiles developed related projects, such as the Casa Club del Golf, Villas Four Seasons, and Four Season Resort Club. The complex opened in 1999. In 2001 DINE and Four Seasons sold the hotel to Strategic Hotel and Resorts (to be purchased in 2014 by Bill Gates’ BMGI).

In 2009, DINE-Cantiles completed a second 18-hole golf course, also designed by Nicklaus, and completely purchased the first, where Four Seasons had the largest share.

As reiterated by DINE’s annual reports, “The product is primarily targeted at the high-income American public.” One of the commercialization modalities is the sale of land, which is contrary to Article 27 of the Constitution, which prohibits foreigners from owning land and exploiting aquifers in a strip 50 kilometers from the coast. The ordinance establishes that “foreigners may not acquire direct ownership of land and water for any reason.” Either way, it’s big business.

The price of condos, houses, and land ranges from $ 700,000 to $ 16 million ( ). Its commercialization has been successful. The private region has about a thousand residential units. 

Lote 11 La Punta Estates con excelente ubicación en Punta Mita

In addition, the sale of properties to external developers has been equally profitable. One of them is the St. Regis Punta Mita hotel, where lodging can reach 2,500 dollars per night, about 56 thousand pesos.

But luxury has no limits. Renting a farm costs up to $ 25,000 per night (more than half a million pesos). That is the price in the high season of the summer in “Casa Luz”, in Ranchos Estates, one of the villas in Punta Mita. There are those who take advantage of the low season and get it for 250 thousand pesos a night.

The price range is wide. In 2016, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, interpreter of Pepper Potts, partner of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the Avengers saga, rented for one week one of those rest houses for approximately half a million pesos. But there are also condos for 15 thousand pesos per night.

Between 2010 and 2019 alone, tourism development posted net sales of $ 285 million, according to a review of DINE’s annual operating reports. That has meant, averaged over the period, 50% of the consortium’s sales, which have other developments in Mexico City, the State of Mexico, Baja California Sur, and Guerrero.

Privacy is business

Punta Mita offers natural beauties accentuated by the scenic nature of its urban equipment, the luxury of residential and hotel facilities; a wide gastronomic offer, glamor, leisure, golf, tennis, white sands where sea turtles are born, sailboats on translucent waters in which migrant whales come from Canada and Hawaii.

But the success of the business is not only that pleasant atmosphere, where even the vegetation seems dosed in its proper measure.

Behind large real estate sales and the sustained influx of high-income tourists are total exclusivity and privacy. Isolation in comfort conditions, away from the public, the people, journalists or paparazzi. A product coveted by a small and powerful segment of consumers.

This is what Hollywood stars, American politicians, Texan and Middle Eastern oil companies, former South American leaders, or successful investors buy on the expensive peninsula of Senderos.

Enrique Peña Nieto, during his presidency, went to that privacy paradise, almost always accompanied by his family. That was when the explosion in the Pemex Tower occurred in Mexico City, in January 2013. In 2014, he also visited that peninsula when the disappearance of normalistas “student teachers” occurred in Iguala, on September 26. 

The St. Regis Punta Mita was one of Peña Nieto’s preferred accommodations. In the context of the aforementioned tragedy, the newspaper Reforma reported that President Peña had reservations at that hotel, as confirmed by the employees of that establishment.

Years later, in the summer of 2016, the Diario de Vallarta published: “The President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, his wife Angélica Rivera and their children visited Punta Mita over the weekend (…). They stayed at the St. Regis Punta Mita Hotel from last Friday until Sunday, August 7 ”.

Perhaps that predilection derived from the splendid view towards the Las Marietas archipelago, whose islands look within easy reach from the St. Regis. Although it is more likely that this preference originated in the proximity of the hotel to the Golf Academy of the development, and to the course designed by Agustín Pizá, for which many visitors feel great inclination. Characters like Bill Gates and Robert de Niro have come to play on that pitch.

But, in the middle of the six-year term of Peña Nieto, the most precious treasure of the Senderos peninsula, privacy, was beginning to be threatened.

2015: conjured intrusions

The Punta Mita tourist reserve can only be entered through the sentry boxes of each development or through the general entrance, a final and convergent destination of the roads from Las Varas, to the north, and Cruz de Huanacaxtle, to the south. Outside of these filters, the entire neck of the peninsula and the additional coastal strip are walled or gated, and with private surveillance.

But the side access to the beach front could not be walled. For this reason, one of the keys to the viability of the development was from its beginnings Cerro Careyeros, a sentinel anchored to the Pacific Ocean that protects the northern end of the peninsula with a strip of one kilometer of cliffs, which extend from the Bay of Litibu to the battery of cliffs on which the Four Seasons Villas stand, already inside Punta Mita.

At the northern end of the cliffs, the development has the Villa Kupuri Beach Club, its only unit open at one end. This opening connects to Litibú Bay. But it adjoins a small group of farms protected by the Punta Negra rocks, behind which, a few steps further north, is another private paradise, the Fonatur – Litibú development. So there is no greater risk of undesirable seepage from that flank.

 Punta de Mita

The southern limit of the property, which is located at the end of Villa Ranchos Estates, is more vulnerable. This residential complex is located after the estuary and La Lancha beach, on the coastal strip – almost three kilometers long by about 600 meters wide -, in which the development of Punta Mita is prolonged.

The strip is flanked on one side by Bahía de Banderas, and on the other by the federal highway Punta Mita – Cruz de Huanacaxtle. This flank is fully meshed. In fact, the lattice extends over the side of the road for 14 kilometers, and there really is no free access to the sea until Cruz de Huanacaxtle.

Enrique Peña Nieto privatizó su playa favorita en su sexenio

The only open access was until recently to Playa la Lancha, on one side of the estuary, as it is a Federal Maritime Terrestrial Zone impossible to alienate. In order for the Punta Mita Development to have control, and to be viable, on March 1, 2001, the Vicente Fox government extended a concession on almost three hectares that the estuary occupies, “for the exclusive use of protection with a validity of 15 years” , in the name of Fernando Senderos.

Descubre Playa La Lancha, playa virgen y surfer en Riviera Nayarit ...

However, in recent years there was a free passage for surfers and visitors who entered Playa la lancha. It closed in 2016 with the endorsement of the Federal Government, which sparked protests and negotiations with neighbors and NGOs.

In July 2018, the developers decided to close it strictly, with the help of the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa), which “closed” the access on the grounds that the road to the beach was being contaminated “with urban waste” and authorized the closure, which reignited the protests. 

On August 30 of that year, Profepa issued a statement justifying the closure of access as a sanction “imposed on the company” Ranchos La Lancha Punta Mita, to control the estuary. The company is represented by Luis Fernando Mayer Romero, who has been a delegate of the Kuo Automotive Services Council and a close collaborator of Senderos.

In fact, on December 13, 2013 Fernando Senderos “ceded” the rights to the “estuary protection concession” to Ranchos La Lancha Punta Mita. And on November 26, 2015, the government of Enrique Peña Nieto extended the validity of the concession title for the control of the estuary, until 2030. It was in this way that the Mexican corresponded to the hospitality to which he has been subjected by Senderos in Punta Mita, and to the beautiful detail of organic tomatoes.

That privilege would be canceled with the entry of the new government. On November 8, 2019, Semarnat announced the revocation of the concession “to Cantiles de Mita”, with which access to the beach was reopened, as it was before 2016.

Punta Mita

The controversy over the privileges of private beaches has occupied prominent spots in the media. A few days ago, the Secretary of Tourism of the Government of Mexico, Miguel Torruco Marqués, assured that “by constitutional mandate in Mexico there are no private beaches, so these public spaces are for the enjoyment of all Mexicans. The law is very clear in this regard, and it must be complied with without exceptions. ”


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