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By Gustavo Castro Soto
The authorities want to forcibly evict communities from the Montes Azules, threaten and harass human rights defenders, and buy into the government's discourse that the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) does not exist. However, the governor of Chiapas, Pablo Salazar goes to the state of Tabasco, in order to relaunch the PPP in the face of the discredit and failure it has had due to the mobilization and popular consciousness.
They agreed to meet in the town on the banks of the river and in the middle of the great jungle. They were afraid, but not of the little monkeys called zaraguatos that roar like lions or because of snakes or other dangerous animals, but because in that town the authorities are a bit violent, they want to forcibly evict communities from the Blue Mountains, threaten and harass defenders of human rights, and they swallow the speech of the state government that the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) does not exist. However, the governor of Chiapas Pablo Salazar went on June 26, 2003 to the neighboring state of Tabasco to a meeting with the? Leaders? of the South Southeast of Mexico, in order to relaunch the PPP in the face of the discredit and failure it has had due to popular mobilization and awareness.
But there was no other. They reached the Chiapas town of Frontera Corozal on time. They were determined to seek information that the government continues to deny. The companions on the other side of the river would pass by them early to take advantage of the daylight and leave as soon as possible. Doubt and confusion assailed them because on January 28, 2003, in a Press Bulletin, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) titled its statement as? THERE IS NO PROJECT TO BUILD A HIGH CURTAIN DAM IN THE USUMACINTA RIVER? . In this bulletin I affirm that “there is no program to build any high curtain dam on the Usumacinta River, in the region known as Boca del Cerro, since a project with these characteristics has been canceled for several years. The company's technicians are studying in this area the possible use of the river flow for the generation of hydroelectricity, having as a limitation the use of the river in its natural channel. At all times, the progress of the studies will be consulted with the corresponding authorities. Elsewhere, the CFE affirms that it intends to achieve the Usumacinta hydroelectric project by 2011.
The following month, the CFE once again denied in a letter from the newspaper La Jornada that? It has no plan to build a high-curtain hydroelectric plant in the region known as Boca del Cerro, on the Usumacinta River, in the state of Tabasco, Since a project of this type was definitely discarded for many years and the development of any similar project is not contemplated in the strategic programming of the company. The CFE is conducting feasibility studies by company technicians, with the precise instruction to know the possible use of the Usumacinta river flow to generate electricity without altering its course. While these studies are not concluded and the feasibility is known? Later, he adds:? Within these studies, the instruction is made explicit that there cannot be any project that alters the natural course of the river, so that hydroelectric dams or high curtains will not be built to alter the course, nor will land be flooded from of the artificial diversion of the river ?.
For its part, the Guatemalan government has presented its? Economic Reactivation Plan 2002-2004 ?, in the context of the electric integration project between Central America and Mexico within the framework of the PPP, where it emphasizes the? Promotion of the construction and operation of medium and large hydroelectric projects ?.
On January 26, 2003, the Mexican newspaper TABASCO HOY published that? In five years there will be one million displaced people, 300 archaeological sites flooded, an affected ecological environment including part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve and Los Pantanos de Centla that in In less than 10 years, they will have lost 70 percent of their extension as a result of the construction of five dams in the Alto Usumacinta, encompassed in seven similar actions on tributaries located in Los Altos de Chiapas. In the second half of March, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) begins the construction of five hydroelectric plants on the last mighty river in Mexico; works contemplated in the "third stage" consisting of the construction of roads and accesses to mountainous areas as well as studies, pilot tests, soil engineering and foundations where millions of dollars from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will be allocated to sustain the Puebla Panama Plan (PPP).
With the map in their hands and everyone mounted in a boat, they traveled the impressive Usumacinta River through sometimes turbulent waters that divide Chiapas with Guatemala, in the middle of a beautiful jungle that houses most of the Mesoamerican biodiversity. Verifying the social, ecological and political impact of a totally absurd project was the mission of this binational expedition made up of social, indigenous and civil organizations from the Guatemalan Peten and the Mexican state of Chiapas. And it is that the CFE lies. According to the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD-) which is the association of the industry of dams in the world, a? Large dam? It is one that measures 15 meters or more from the foundation to the crest.
But the river sounds, because it carries stones. Residents of indigenous communities in the region confirm that in Tenosique, in the Mexican state of Tabasco, houses are already being built to house the engineers. They also confirm that in the ejido Delicias and El Diamante in Palenque, the CFE is looking for workers who, for 100 pesos a day, work on the dam project. Elsewhere they report that materials are already being placed on the river bank. But the government and the CFE are silent, they are silent and the information is kept. The CFE map details the construction of the five curtains over the Usumacinta River: Yaxchilan, Isla Cayo, El Porvenir and La Línea, with a height ranging from 55 to 108 meters above sea level (www.ciepac. org / maps). That is why the group was launched with the mission of verifying the location of the curtains based on the CFE map of which it denies its authorship, although its stamped signature presumes the great project. But the whole group ignored his luck and nightmare at the end of the road.
They carried a conviction. The World Commission on Dams (WRC) also classifies it as a? Large dam? to anyone with a curtain greater than 15 meters high (www.dams.org), of which more than 45 thousand have been built and have evicted between 80 to 100 million people, Indian peoples and peasants around the world. Although the Usumacinta River is not diverted and the turbines are placed in its current, they would still flood and contaminate the river, block the passage of water in the Boca del Cerro and damage the Centla de Tabasco swamps. The ecological and cultural damage in the region will be very high, which is why the project was stopped years ago.
The CFE does not inform society about these plans, much less the indigenous communities that could be affected, which violates ILO Convention 169, which specifies that any megaproject must be consulted with the inhabitants. The San Andrés Accords signed between the federal government and the EZLN are also violated. As if that were not enough, the CFE does not provide the information either and denies even delivering the studies that it announces on its website (www.cfe.gob.mx) where they present a feasibility study on the river. All citizens have the right to know about these projects and even the environmental impact studies.
For something, the president of the Chiapas State Commission for Human Rights (CEDH) affirmed that the CFE has become the number one public enemy of Chiapas (Diario Las Casas, June 24, 2003). The dams on the Usumacinta are in the framework of the PPP to supply electricity to the entire PPP region, which will obviously require energy distribution systems. Analysis and maps on this can be consulted at.
It was June 10, 2003 when the binational delegation arrived before dark at the Corregidora ejido in the Tenosique municipality in the Mexican state of Tabasco. The four Mexicans and eight Guatemalans represented various organizations of civil society, including Edupaz, CIEPAC, CIEP, Frente Petenero and Chiapaneco contra las Represas, among others.
By then they had been verifying the location of the future curtains over the Usumacinta River for several hours. They notified the ejido authorities and the military camped in the region about the reason for their visit and requested permission to enter the municipality, which was denied. They were only allowed to spend the night in the community. However, in the early morning hours, the military burst in in an arrogant way and with luxury of violence where the delegation was resting. They demanded their identification and the Mexicans refused, arguing that the military had no right or authorization to do so. Almost naked they wanted to force them to get into the military vehicles and finally they were transferred to the facilities of the La Palma military barracks in the city of Tenosique, the municipal seat.
By then they already had the measurements of the heights where they intend to install the curtains. At the height of the town of Bethel, the exploration group registered 103 meters above sea level (masl), at La Técnica 99 masl and at Arroyo Yaxchilan 94 masl. In the archaeological zone of Yaxchilan 92 meters above sea level; at Capacity Station 90 meters above sea level; in Raudal 84 and in Isla El Cayo 73 meters above sea level; in the archaeological region of Piedras Negras and in El Porvenir 64 meters above sea level; on Line 36 and Boca del Cerro 25 meters above sea level.
When the next day the military transferred the delegation to the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR), part of them without having eaten, they invented another story. The soldiers claimed that they surprised the delegation at midnight by the Usumacinta River, that some were carrying false identifications and other malicious accusations. The PGR, not finding a crime and freeing the Mexicans, transferred the Guatemalans with the National Migration Institute (INM) who in an arrogant way proceeded to imprison them for two hours. After releasing them, they were ordered to leave the country.
But stories like these happen throughout the Continent against indigenous and peasant communities as well as against defenders of rivers, human rights and ecology. Despite this, the resistance struggle continues. On March 14, mobilizations were carried out in 30 countries celebrating the International Day of Struggle Against Dams around the World. Countries like Spain in Europe, Mozambique in Afrecha and Thailand in Asia mobilized to demand the end of the energy production model that has already expelled 80 million people from their homes. In Brazil, the National Movement of Those Affected by Dams (MAB) mobilized thousands of people who denounced in the streets the impacts caused by the construction of large hydroelectric plants and pointed out the need to build alternatives, socially just and environmentally responsible. In this country, 13 activities were carried out in different regions. In Sao Paolo, about a thousand victims and support organizations occupied the headquarters of the US company AES to denounce the failure of the privatization process and the fraud that this multinational company.
In Belo Horizonte, those affected by the Minas Gerais and Bahia Dams occupied the headquarters of the Vale do Río Dulce company, one of the major consumers that receives electricity at subsidized prices, while millions of families do not have energy in their homes and poorer people pay more for the electricity they consume. In Goias, 600 affected people occupied the Cana Brava Dam, preventing its operation, in order to demand the solution of the pending problems in the region. In Cana Brava, the situation is tense, since the company responsible for the work exerts great "influence" on the police forces in the region, which are there to repress the farmers and prevent them from claiming their rights.
The International River Network (IRN) also registered acts and occupations in cities such as Emperatriz in Maranao, against the construction of dams in the Amazon and in northeastern capitals such as Aracaju and Joao Pessoa. In Chiapas, the communities decided to put up flags in protest in their territories where they intend to build hydroelectric plants. They installed blankets on the roads rejecting the PPP and the hydroelectric plans. In the city of San Cristóbal they placed banners at the four entrances to the city expressing their rejection of the dams. The awareness in the Chiapas communities about the effects of the hydroelectric plants and the resistance will make it difficult for one more to be built in the state.
Unfortunately not much could be done against the huge dam of? El Cajon? in the Mexican state of Nayarit and that President Vicente Fox has just inaugurated to start its construction. This work for industrial consumption and which will guarantee the interests of the maquiladoras, the companies of the region and the border states of the United States, will be the greatest work of this presidential period. The engine room of the hydroelectric plant will be taller than the Latin American tower in Mexico City and it could contain 10 pyramids of the Sun of Teotihuacan. It seems that the governments do not lecture after the experiences around the world regarding corruption in the construction of hydroelectric plants, indebtedness and the absurdity of these works in technical, social and environmental terms.
But in other regions, resistance struggles continue. On May 31, 2003, the? II National Forum, Communities against the hydroelectric expansion? in Costa Rica, whose participants demanded that the authorities "stop any project that threatens social and environmental security, in any national community." They categorically rejected the Boruca hydroelectric project and demanded "that the territoriality, culture and sovereignty of indigenous peoples be respected, which would also guarantee compliance with Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization signed by Costa Rica."
Among the participants in this meeting were the Social Pastoral of Limón, Friends of the Earth Costa Rica, Civic League of Pérez Zeledon, SINAESPA, ASDEICE Pérez Zeledon, San Antonio Florida Siquirres Development Association, Grupo pro Cívico de Tucurrique, SINDEU, Espirito de Lucha Rey Curre, PAC North Zone, affected by the La Esperanza de la Tigra San Carlos hydroelectric plant, Environmentalist Association of Siquirres, PirrisPROAL, APCOCURSASavegre, CECADE, ASEPALECO, Turrialba Cultural Workers Front, Federation for Environmental Conservation, AESO -OILWATCH CR, SITUN and Young People from the Block Los Guido Desamparados. The participants affirmed that "in order to have essential national spaces to safeguard biodiversity, we demand that the Pacuare and Savegre rivers be forever free from the threat of being dammed." They also expressed their rejection of the? Free trade agreement between Central America and the United States, the Puebla Panama Plan, and any other multilateral initiative, which, far from representing development options for our peoples, constitute a new form of annexation, with which small groups national capital agree ?.
In the case of Brazil, dam construction continues to advance on the Xingu River, the last of the great Amazonian rivers in a good state of conservation. If this trend continues, it is estimated that almost the entire Amazon rainforest will be destroyed in the first half of this century. The plans for the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River generated much controversy in the 80's when he was arrested by pressure from the indigenous people who, waving their knives, stood in front of the technicians of the Electronorte company and protested against the World Bank, obtaining the suspension of financing. Today, in addition to the indigenous people, small rural producers also protest against the construction of Kararaô. ("A hydroelectric of Kararaô and popular movements", Rodolfo Salm).
On June 13, 2003, the V Meeting of People Affected by Dams in Brazil from 18 states of the country ended. More than 900 MAB leaders reflected on how they were
Compulsively uprooted without resettlement or reparation, or resettled in precarious conditions, seeing our communities destroyed and our cultures and traditions belittled, losing jobs and livelihoods, suffering a frontal attack on the territory of indigenous peoples, with forced riparian to live with the death of the fish, witnessing the degradation of the environment, those affected are the first victims of a development that is carried out at the expense of the majority and for the benefit of a small group of private, national and international companies, which are They appropriate the wealth produced from an entire people.
The participants in this meeting declared that:? We are clear that the change in the development model will only happen if the fight for the change in the energy model is firmly faced. More than ever, it is necessary to radically change the way of producing, distributing and consuming electricity in our country. The existing energy model and electricity sector were structured to feed, support and reproduce the regional inequalities that characterize this socially unjust and environmentally irresponsible society. The electricity sector, beyond being responsible for the expulsion of more than a million people from their lands and dwellings, condemning indigenous peoples and their secular cultures to death, destroying rivers and forests, has been fueling the dam industry. , large contractors, consulting firms, foreign electrical equipment industries, finance agencies.
They also stated that? With the privatization of the electricity sector (…) the situation became even more serious. Our rivers are being delivered, at bargain prices, to the greed of big businessmen: public heritage, our waters are being placed at the service of private profit. Private companies raise energy prices, do not pay their debts and send the results of their operations abroad. Many concessions for aluminum industries, which disguised under the name of autoproducers or independent producers use our rivers to produce and export aluminum to Europe, the United States and Japan, and what is worse, this true plunder of national wealth has been carried out with the financial and political support of the organs of the government itself. At the same time that private companies raise the electricity rates paid by the poor, Eletronorte, for example, sells subsidized electricity, below cost, to Alcoa and Albras.
Those affected by the dams in Brazil are aware that “The change in the electricity sector must begin with the immediate suspension of concessions and licenses for new generating plants. It is also urgent to review all the government concession legislation (…) and the licensing rules inherited from the military dictatorship. It is essential to suspend subsidies and favors to private companies. Not one more currency should come out of the public coffers, or from the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (...) to support private electricity companies and the government has the obligation to execute the debt of companies that have breached their contracts and return them to public control.
Among the alternatives for the MAB include the following policies for the electricity sector: that there be a broad and democratic debate, with the participation of the MAB for the preparation and deliberation of a project for restructuring the electricity sector; execution of the debt of the privatized electricity companies and return them to public and state control over companies that do not comply with contracts; suspend new tenders, licenses and studies until a complete review of the procedures for study, tender, concession and licensing of electrical projects; suspend subsidies for large consumers, particularly those industries with high electricity consumption; an education of the population for the rational use of energy; prioritize government investments and research in alternative energy sources; the immediate rescue of the economic and social debt with those affected and threatened by dams; and that low-cost electricity be provided for those affected by dams, low-income workers and the unemployed.
Days later the resistance had another victory. The Brazilian financial daily "Valor Economico" announced on June 24 that a group of companies that use large amounts of energy abandoned the construction of the Santa Isabel hydroelectric dam on the Araguaia river in the Amazon. A regional MAB representative said "The Araguaia belongs to all those who were born here, for whom the river is key to their survival -indigenous and peasant communities- as well as to the natural ecosystem that the river feeds." The dam would have cost US $ 800 million dollars. Its operation was intended to begin in 2009 and would have flooded 240 km2. This would affect the ecosystems of wetlands and river dolphins and turtles, 20 species of fish that are only found in Araguaia and 140 archaeological sites that would have been under water. As if that were not enough, this project would have displaced 6,800 people. Now the company wants the government to return US $ 40 million that it deposited as guarantee to secure the concession rights.
For more than two years, Brazilian and international activists have written to the directors of the companies and sent thousands of faxes urging that they let the Araguaia run freely where the Couto de Magalhães and Estreito dams are also being built. On the Rio Tocantins river there are also more dam projects. For 2004 the Brazilian government intends to give more concessions for the construction of dams. Luis Pinguelli Rosa, President of the state company Eletrobras, spoke to those attending the MAB national congress where he recognized that dams cause serious impacts on thousands of families, and that from now on the plans for the construction of new dams would be discussed with MAB .
Many letters have been sent to ICOLD calling on governments and companies to abide by the recommendations of the CMR, among which are: developing open, transparent and informed information processes with indigenous communities to achieve free consent; offer environmental and social information in local languages; carry out impartial environmental, social, technical and economic impact studies. These are some of the tools that the growing Chiapan movement against dams must use to defend the lands, biodiversity, culture, ecology, their lives. For now, this Chiapas forces is being reinforced with the II Mesoamerican Forum against Dams that will take place in La Esperanza, Honduras, from July 18 to 20; and that at the same time it will be linked to the II World Meeting against Dams in Thailand in December of this year.-EcoPortal.net
Sources and for more information: Web Community of Social Movements www.movimientos.org; CEDIN Costa Rica Bulletin; Federal Electricity Commission www.cfe.gob.mx; International River Network www.irn.org; CIEPAC www.ciepac.org; World Commission on Dams www.dams.org; World Movement for Tropical Forests www.wrm.org.uy; La Jornada newspaper.