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A cenote in Yucatán. A cenote in Yucatán.

Cenotes of Yucatán jeopardized by pork industry, claims NGO

Residents allege that the industry pollutes the sinkholes that have become a source of tourism revenue

The non-governmental organization Indignación told a press conference on Tuesday that the pig farming industry in Yucatán has put the region’s groundwater at risk, including the aquifer system connecting the peninsula’s famous system of natural sinkholes called cenotes.

Indignación attorney Lourdes Medina, who described Yucatán as “the largest freshwater reserve in Mexico,” told reporters about the residents of Homún, Yucatán, who sued a local pig megafarm in the Supreme Court.

They allege that the farm will pollute local water supplies and asked the court to establish criteria that would impede the pork industry from polluting the region.

Medina said that the Supreme Court has the opportunity “to generate new precautionary environmental criteria and establish guidelines so that the environment and public health are taken into consideration before possibly harmful new technologies.”

The cenotes, or sinkholes, that are unique to the region are usually natural, but local resident Doroteo Hau Kuuk opened the town’s first eight years ago. Others have been opened up since, and a local economy based on tourism to the watering holes has been created.

The tourism saved the town’s economy when the local henequen fiber industry crashed, but the megafarm’s plan to raise 49,000 pigs puts that industry and the natural settings on which it depends at risk, residents say.

“Before opening this cenote eight years ago, Homún was very poor. … We were scared to open it, … because our parents told us that cenotes are sacred. But we made the decision because there really wasn’t any work,” said Hau.

There are now over 250 working tour guides in Homún, 45 kilometers southeast of the state capital Mérida, and the industry has brought more development to the town. There are two pharmacies, where before the tourism boom, there was none.

Residents began seeing construction on the megafarm in 2017, but they were initially told that it was for a highway. They found out from a news report months later that it was to be a pig-raising operation owned by the company Papo Pork Food Production.

A land use change was approved in October 2016 by then-mayor Enrique Echeverría Chan without the support of the town council.

The residents formed a group called Ka’anan tz’onot, which is Mayan for “Guardian of the cenote.” They held a public referendum to vote on the approval of the land use change, and it was voted down 732-52. The town council thus revoked Papo’s approval.

However, the company resumed operations within 24 hours following a suspension of the permit revocation by the state administrative court. It began bringing pigs to the farm in October 2018.

Yucatán district federal judge Miriam Cámara Patrón then ordered the suspension of activities on the farm. The company removed the pigs in December and has made no attempt to bring them back.

Lawyers working against the farm hope that the court’s decision will help to establish criteria by which projects that irreparably harm the environment and communities can be avoided from the beginning.

The state’s pork producers’ association said early last year that 410 pig farms were operating in Yucatán, and produced 2.2 million pigs in 2018 for export to the United States, Canada and Japan. The farms employed 12,000 people, said Carlos Ramayo Navarrete.

Source: Milenio (sp), Infobae (sp)

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