The message to the government of Baja California during the past week was strong and decisive: kill the new water law.
Today, Governor Francisco Vega bowed to the broad-based protest and send the state Congress an initiative calling for its abrogation.
The law was widely seen as a move to privatize the distribution of water, but Vega denied that was the case. He said in an interview today that privatization was never its intention and admitted that the government had failed to explain that to the public.
A massive march in Mexicali and thousands of names on a petition have been among the indications of the depth of the opposition to the legislation. The latest to join in were industrial interests through their organization, Canacintra.
The president of the Mexicali chapter of Canacintra told a press conference that the law was “born wrong” without consensus and that it was all but imposed by Vega.
“[The government] tells us it is not privatization,” said Juan Gallego Topete, “but reading the law we realize that it indeed is privatization; they call it a concession, but whatever name they give it, they are privatizing the water services.”
Apart from disagreeing over privatization, Canacintra was also dissatisfied with the new management council that would oversee the performance of water providers.
Membership of the council, which would have had the power to grant concessions and approve water charges, would have been controlled by the state government.
Canacintra had proposed that the private sector should control at least 50% of the council seats to avoid corruption.
Gallego said that while the industrial sector agrees that an updated water law is needed — the previous one dates back to 1966 — it was impossible for such a transcendental law to be analyzed and approved in just 10 days.
Over 12,000 protesters voiced their opposition to the new water law, as well as the recent rise in gasoline prices, with a march in Mexicali last Thursday and followed that with another on Sunday for which 45,000 turned out. The protest movement also collected tens of thousands of signatures from opponents.
The state Human Rights Commission has deemed the law unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates human rights.
The governor said in a message on social media that he will meet with technicians, academics and specialists to develop a new plan that will enable the state to modernize water distribution and sewage collection.