Train wreck in the Mexican Southeast

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

Months ago, in May 2019, the federal and state governments inaugurated the Wind Energy Park of the South and also the Architect Ignacio Chávez and the José Eduardo Ramírez Briseño electricity substations on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Among protests of residents, the Energy Secretary, Rocío Nahle, offered that the federal administration would respect the voice of the original peoples and that no project will be carried out without their approval.

Some 28 wind farms have been established on the Isthmus. However, according to Isthmus residents, they pay the highest electricity rate there. Magalí Sánchez Santiago denounced: “We have been in resistance for years. Here we pay from 5,000 to 20,000 pesos, despite the fact that with the September 2017 earthquakes many families lost their home. That is not development. The inauguration of Southern Wind Energy (Energía Eólica del Sur), a subsidiary of Mitsubishi) has not generated benefits for the region’s peoples, but rather only for the investors.”

Just last weekend Juchitecos who lease their lands to the wind farm occupied the Chávez López substation. Its spokesperson, Ramón Martínez Ruiz, denounced: “Nothing that they promised us has been fulfilled. We delivered our lands thinking that the company was responsible, but now we see it’s not. They continue holding our children as peons, without permanent job status and without benefits. They have owed us payments from 2018 to date, he said. The project was suspended four years because of a protective order (amparo) filed against the consultation that the company organized.

What happened is far from being an isolated event. For large investors the original peoples’ resistance to the megaprojects is a real headache. Indigenous communities have been protected against the large works or prevent, in fact, their completion. And, where they are already in operation (like in the Energía Eólica del Sur park), there are continuous protests.

The Yaqui tribe in Loma de Bácum (Sonora), the Puebla and Hidalgo Regional Council of Original Peoples in Defense of Territory and the Nahua communities in Puebla and Morelos that reject the Morelos Integral Project (PIM) resist the gas-pipelines that cross their territories. For years, they legally protected themselves from the works. In various times they have put their body on the line to suspend them. So far, the have succeeded. According to Sener, five gas pipelines are suspended: Tuxpan-Tula, Tula-Villa de Reyes, Villa de Reyes-Guadalajara, Samalayuca-Sásabe and La Laguna-Aguascalientes.

From the hands of these megaprojects, justified in the name of progress (and now of energy sovereignty), walk dispossession, pollution and the loss of identity, territory and life itself.

According to the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico of the Interior Ministry, as of January 2018, 77 cases arose in which the lack of consultation with indigenous peoples generated social conflicts and 33 lawsuits for protective orders against the large works: 25 mining projects, 13 wind farms, an equal number of hydraulic or hydroelectric dams, nine gas pipelines, four agribusinesses, three oil projects, three thermoelectric plants, two railroads, two private infrastructure, a tourist complex and a real estate development, as well as the international airport in Creel, finally canceled.

Far from solving or easing this problem, it has escalated with the megaprojects that the 4T announced. The decision of the National Indigenous Congress (Congreso Nacional Indígena, CNI) and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) to resist the Maya Train, the Interoceanic Corridor and the Morelos Integral Project anticipates new conflicts.

The 4T doesn’t have everyone with it. It has committed grave errors in its zeal to start those great works at any cost. According to the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of the United Nations “serious gaps” exist in the consultations that the Mexican government carries out with indigenous peoples about infrastructure projects. In the majority of the cases –it pointed out–, the processes in indigenous communities are not held in advance, don’t take uses and customs into account, and neither is clear, precise and culturally adequate information provided. “In addition, they are frequently carried out in contexts of threats, criminalization and harassment, prejudicing their free character.”

The recent “consultation” on the Maya Train in which less than 3 percent of those eligible participated and the ejido authorities were sounded out (and not the indigenous communities) was severely criticized by the Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-HR), because it did not comply with international standards in the matter.

The indigenous rejection of the 4T’s large infrastructure works, which has a long history behind it, anticipates an inevitable train wreck in the Mexican Southeast. Private investors know what this collision implies. Some of their projects have been trapped legally for years because they underestimated the resistance of the original peoples.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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