LAWYER: A NATIONAL EXAMPLE IN ENVIRONMENTAL LAWSUITS THAT NATIVE PEOPLES USED TO LOSE
Above is a government map of pig farms in the Mexican state of Yucatán.
By: Blanche Petrich
A score of Yucatán peoples listened carefully to the May 19 resolution of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) that permanently suspended the Keken Company’s mega pig farm in favor of the Maya town of Homún, around 33 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of Mérida.
They developed a modest ecotourism business in town that takes visitors on a motorcycle taxi ride to the different open cenotes on campesino lands and gives employment to half its residents. The basis for the Supreme Court’s decision tilted in favor of the right of the children of Homún to clean water and against the operation of a titanic polluting pig farm owned by the country’s largest exporter of pork: A case of David versus Goliath.
In this case the defeated giant is a consortium that owns more than 257 pig farms in this part of the southeast, 43 of them in areas at environmental risk and 36 located in the so-called Ring of Cenotes (data from Greenpeace). In the Homún installations alone they calculate that 2 million kilos of feces will be produced per month, organic matter that threatens to contaminate the aquifers and cenotes. Keken makes up part of the Kuo Group, an industrial giant with branches in the food, chemical and automotive industries.
From a legal point of view, assures the lawyer who represented the residents of Homún, Lourdes Medina, “it sets a precedent for lawsuits in environmental matters for the whole country, particularly in Yucatán, and creates new possibilities in favor of citizens in other lawsuits, including those that have arisen around the Maya Train.”
Kinchil: bees or pigs?
From the perspective of the Mayas and the pluri-cultural nature of Yucatán, says the sociologist Cristina Muñoz Menéndez, leader of the Indignation Team, “the opportunity is opened for resolving conflicts with the perspective of the indigenous people; that the Mayas can manage their territories and break that relationship of servitude, which comes from the painful experience of the hacienda (estate) in the past.”
Kinchil, a beekeeping town of no more than 6, 500 inhabitants in western Yucatán, was one of those places where the Homún decision had a special resonance, because residents have been suffering for a decade from the pollution of sewage that the Keken matrix house generates. In Kinchil, there are no cenotes at risk of losing their pristine waters, rather it’s the population of honey bees that have fled, driven away by the lagoons of sewage that the company discharges with impunity in its mountains.
Kinchil, the historian José Koyoc Ku remembers, was at the epicenter of this movement, with demands that date back to 2010 over the illegal extraction of stone material that covered up cenotes and unauthorized clearings. “The authorities always responded with negligence and poorly conducted inspections. That always happens every time that the peoples try to use legal instruments.”
–And why are those peoples who resist losing their identity excited about a court ruling against a mega pig farm?
–Because the legal principles that supported this decision after a court battle of more than three years were based on the collective rights of Maya settlements. That is the novelty, points out the lawyer of the Equipo Indignación (Indignation Team) that took the case of the Guardians of the Cenotes of Homún.
Because of that, by upholding the precautionary principle and recognizing the right of the children –and therefore the Maya people– to a healthy environment, it changes the perspective for many more to have access to justice.
And other towns, such as Chablekal and Kanxoc, in the extreme east of the state, right on the border with Quintana Roo, have already understood this, so that they are hopeful about this resolution, for different reasons.
Chablekal, almost blurred as a locality, intrepidly defends the Misnebalám polygon, a mountain hideout of no more than 286 hectares desired by urban real estate developers and agents who have already “swallowed up” almost all that locality’s ejido lands.
José Euán Romero, from the Union of Settlers in Defense of Chablekal Territory, assures: “The resolution of the highest court on the Homún case sets a precedent for us in Chablekal (one of the areas of greatest added value in the municipality of Merida), although the situations are different. By recognizing the right of every community to a healthy environment, it also recognizes that Maya citizens have inalienable rights.”
Kanxoc, in the extreme east, one of the last redoubts of the rebels of the Caste War, has for years demanded from the agrarian courts a suspension against the illegal logging of its timber forest and the reunification of the ejido.
Taking advantage of an illegal division of common territory into two parts, the loggers accommodate themselves in legal loopholes to extract the abundant jabín, tzalam and red cedar trees, in high demand in the hotels of the nearby Riviera Maya.
And like these towns, in many others –San Fernando, Halachó, Chapab, Maxcanú, Kanachen, Paraíso, Huncumá, Sudzal– the Homún decision signifies a hope in favor of obtaining justice for their legal battles for the recognition of their rights, unsuccessful before now.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee