Dam protesters hold a ritual to safeguard the river. Dam protesters hold a ritual to safeguard the river.

Chiapas meeting vows to stop 5 dam projects

Megaprojects seen as offering few benefits to indigenous communities

The indigenous people of Chiapas continue to speak out against the construction of hydroelectric power generation plants on the Usumacinta River.

A Mexico-Guatemala bilateral project, the Boca del Cerro dam is the first of five that the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) plans to build on the river in the next four years.

The dam at Boca del Cerro will raise water levels by 55.5 meters and create a reservoir that extends over a 1,799-hectare area in the municipalities of Tenosique and Palenque on the Mexican side.

Social advocacy and indigenous groups met in San Cristóbal de las Casas on the weekend to form a common front against the project and denouncing what they claim are abuses by government authorities.

Citizens fear that the Tenosique town of San Carlos Boca del Cerro will “immediately disappear” after it is taken over by the offices and camp of the company in charge of building the dam.

In addition to concerns over ecological damage residents are worried that “the government won’t compensate [for the loss of] our lands, the cost of living will increase and the Chole and Tzetzal people will disappear from the region.”

In a communiqué issued after the meeting, the organizations stated that the Boca del Cerro dam was being imposed by the federal government “in clear violation of the second article of the constitution,” which grants indigenous people autonomy and the right to be consulted before any major public works project takes places on their lands.

The more than 300 people at the meeting concluded that they will stop, by all available means, the construction of all five dams because of their effect on the customs and traditions of residents and the area’s geography.

“The [existing] dams at Chicoasén, La Angostura, Malpaso and Peñitas have brought development and well-being, but not locally. In all of those cases, broad arable lands, dwellings, and even complete villages were sacrificed, sunk, all to guarantee the country’s power supply . . . why should we believe it will be different this time?”

The imposition of dams and other large projects is seen as a reality throughout the country, according to the social organization Serapaz, or Services and Consultancy for Peace.

“Each year,” said Serapaz executive director Alberto Solís Castro, “we advise about 25 cases on average, all about indigenous people defending their territory from megaprojects, be it natural gas pipelines, thermoelectric power plants, dams, highways or mines.”

“[The promoters of these developments] act much like organized crime. They impose themselves in the villages, buying off local authorities, particularly those in charge of the land . . . a dynamic of harassment and pressure then begins, forcing the communities to yield and accept the project.”

“Once these projects get the go-ahead, indigenous communities are displaced and their lands subjected to pressures that inevitably have negative consequences for the environment and strategic natural resources, like water,” said Claudia Campero of the Mexican Alliance Against Fracking.

Serapaz and indigenous groups in Sonora have halted the first of six planned mining projects in the northern state.

“Energy reform makes these impositions easier for projects that involve power generation or extraction of hydrocarbons; they’re trying to overhaul the legal system to favor these kinds of projects,” said Campero.

Source: La Jornada (sp),  El Sie7e (sp), Reforma (sp)

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