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Mejía levels accusations over the monopolization of water in Chihuahua. Mejía levels accusations over the monopolization of water in Chihuahua.

Government accuses family of walnut farmers, politicians of controlling water

Rhetoric heats up in Chihuahua water debate

The federal government has accused a family of walnut farmers, a group of onion farmers and politicians of controlling and monopolizing water in Chihuahua, where there have been protests against the diversion of water to the United States.

Deputy Security Minister Ricardo Mejía Berdeja claimed Friday that the same walnut farmers and politicians are behind the occupation of the Boquilla dam and aggression toward the National Guard.

He also blamed them for Mexico’s failure to comply with its obligations to send water to the United States under the terms of a 1944 bilateral treaty.

Mejía charged that the Urionabarrenechea family, large-scale producers of walnuts, control a significant portion of water in Chihuahua. The father-in-law of one of the family members was formerly the head of the Chihuahua water utility, he added.

“This group [the Urionabarrenechea family]  is important because it was to a large degree behind the financing of the protests and it’s linked to [former Chihuahua governor Cesár] Duarte,” he said.

The deputy minister said that there is another group known as Los Cebolleros (the onion farmers), which he claimed also illegally  controls water resources in Chihuahua. The group traveled to the Andrew Weiss dam and demanded that the National Guard leave, Mejía said, adding that the onion farmers are close to state National Action Party (PAN) lawmaker Jesús Valenciano.

Mejía claimed that farmers who control water in the northern state played a part in the Chihuahua government’s awarding of a contract to build a water treatment plant to businessman Carlos Cuevas Abundis, who is accused of murdering two of his security guards and allegedly has links to a drug cartel and fuel thieves.

“Carlos Cuevas was awarded a treatment plant project, he has a friendship with [Jesús] Valenciano,” he said, adding that the state lawmaker has been active in the water protests.

Mejía also asserted that Chihuahua Governor Javier Corral has a personal relationship with Cuevas that played a role in a company he founded being awarded the government contract.

Farmers and politicians involved in the control and monopolization of water resources want to maintain the status quo to “the detriment of the nation,” the official said, adding that their actions place the water treaty – considered by many to be favorable to Mexico as the United States sends more water south of the border than it receives – at risk.

President López Obrador has also asserted that walnut farmers backed by state politicians are behind the water protests. He said in July that politicians with PAN – which Corral represents – want to protect water in Chihuahua for their own business interests.

Governor Corral, who this week asserted that Chihuahua is complying with its obligations under the water treaty, rejected Mejía’s claim that he has links to Cuevas.

“The manipulation of information by the federal government is despicable and vulgar,” he said.

“The first thing we have to do is lament the tragedy of Mexico. We’ve gone from a corrupt and corrupting president, as [Enrique] Peña Nieto was, to a president who sows hate, manipulates and ignores the truth,” Corral said.

The governor rejected the claim that his government awarded a water treatment plant contract to Cuevas and said that all information about the tendering process is available on the federal government’s online transparency platform.

“This Ricardo Mejía Berdeja has lost all scruples; he’s become López Obrador’s media hitman on this [water] issue,” Corral said.

Source: El Universal (sp) 

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