The Altepelmecalli in Puebla: from a Bonafont plant to a symbol of Resistance


The peoples’ struggle to stop the extraction of water will complete one year

By: Hermann Bellinghausen

Cuanalá, Puebla

Resistance is breathed when one reaches it. A bottling plant used to operate on this central property in the semi-rural municipality of Juan C. Bonilla, near the city of Puebla. About those industrial facilities that one sees when driving on the roads and seem to be a “normal” part of the landscape. After being one more plant of the transnational Bonafont, it became the Altepelmecalli, a cultural center dedicated “to the care and defense of the territories for life.”

Next to the ideogram of the Nahua name of the facilities recuperated by the residents, one can read: “Here the people rule.” Challenging as it sounds, it is, for now, true. And the transformation could not be more eloquent.

The company’s daily extraction reached one million 600 thousand liters per day, equivalent to the total consumption in a municipality of 18 thousand inhabitants.

Currently, the illegal well where the company used to store the liquid inside the facilities was covered by the women and serves as a chicken coop under a sign: “death pit.”

In the same way, what was the re-labelling area is now used to raise sheep and the oil warehouse has become a pigsty.

On March 22, 2021, indigenous people closed the plant to commemorate International Water Day. The surrounding towns, relates El Campeche, one of the movement’s spokespersons, “were running out of water.” Then, “we organized 22 communities and gathered 6 thousand signatures against the company”. They became known as United Peoples of the Cholulteca Region and of the Volcanoes.

They attributed the hollowness to extraction of the liquid

The movement, part of the resistance of the Peoples’ Front in Defense of Water and Land of Morelos, Tlaxcala and Puebla, gained visibility due to the unfortunate appearance of a large sinkhole in Zacatepec, within the same municipality.

The sinking of land was attributed to the indiscriminate extraction of water. Today, a typical local product is “pan de socavón” (sinkhole bread).

Last August 8, given the negligence of the National Water Commission (Conagua), the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples and the Puebla government to stop the looting of water, the peoples peacefully occupied the plant and transformed it into the “house of the people” and a place to meet with similar movements and struggles in the country.

From January 27 to 30, the “International course-workshop for the defense and care of the territories of life: community mapping and social cartographies” was held here.

On the 17th, the National Meeting against gas pipelines and death projects concluded right here, where more than 15 struggles from all over the country denounced that: “the presidential decree of November 22, 2021 represents a new attack against those who defend life because, despite the fact that megaprojects have been imposed without the consent of our peoples and through force, today dispossession and imposition are legalized, attempting to nullify the possibility of organizational action and legal action against those of us who defend life and our territories, by declaring the los megaprojects of public interest, national security, outside all environmental protection and the right to self-determination of our peoples.”

While the state government has failed to intervene directly, Conagua and other federal agencies have also failed to resolve indigenous demands.

One possible route for solution is expropriation of the property, but the risk is that the municipal government, headed by PAN member José Cinto Bernal, with a history of repression in Zacatepec, diversion of resources, creation of an illegal “police” and responsible for various forms of violence will capitalize on it. That would stop the action of the Altepelmecalli and would not resolve the historical injustice.

The bottler arrived in 1992

The bottler arrived in 1992, with the support of Governor Manuel Bartlett Díaz, who imposed, says El Campeche, an illegitimate municipal government to avoid indigenous opposition. Later, Bonafont acquired the company. It doesn’t seem viable for it to return, the disrepute of its actions in the region doesn’t favor it, although the defenders of the Metlapanapa River, a tributary of the highly polluted Atoyac, have been pursued legally.

To commemorate the first anniversary of the closing, the organizations in defense of territory and water in the country that struggle against hydroelectric dams, gas pipelines and the extraction of water and minerals, announced a Peoples’ Caravan for Life and Against Megaprojects, from March 22 to April 22, which will leave from this Altepelmecalli.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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