<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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The Zapatistas Join Querétaro’s Struggle to Defend its Water

Marcos Proposes That Adherents to the Other Campaign Form Brigades to Man the Encampment at El Batán and Stop the Drilling of Industrial Wells


By Bertha Rodríguez Santos
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Querértaro

March 12, 2006

EL BATÁN, AMEALCO, QUERÉTARO, MEXICO: Residents of 63 communities that belong to the municipalities of Amealco and San Juan del Río, as well as the Pedro Escobedo and Jumilpan regions, have been maintaining an encampment here to defend the area’s most important aquifer. The government wants to dig a total of fourteen wells here to provide water to industrial parks near the state capital. The camp received the support of Subcomandante Marcos, of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), for its work to stop the plans to extract the vital liquid for the benefit of powerful companies, most of them multinational, without regard to the damage that will be done to the local peasant farmers.

A strong wind kicks up great quantities of dust in these hills. In the town of El Batán, part of the municipality of Amealco, the Mexican flag flies in front of one of the two camps where, since last year men, women, children and elderly people have installed themselves to block State Water Commission (CEA) personnel from continuing to dig wells.

Also flying in the wind are red and black flags, symbols of a spirit of rebellion in the face of what the peasant farmers, or campesinos, consider a looting of their natural resources. According to the protesters, digging equipment began arriving in El Batán during the administration of previous governor Ignacio Loyola Vera, without even a warning to the local farmers, many of whom work communal lands (known in Mexico as ejidos).


Martha, president of the Townspeople’s Water Defense Committee.
Photo: D.R. 2006 Bertha Rodríguez Santos
Martha, president of the Townspeople’s Water Defense Committee, says that an assembly of ejido dwellers was held on August 25, 2004, in response to local people’s questions about the presence of CEA workers in the area.

Francisco Loa Carvajal, who at the time worked as the ejido commissioner, said that it was necessary to sign an agreement through which the government would commit to carrying out public works in the public interest in exchange for being allowed to dig three wells. But the majority of the ejido members did not agree.

During “Delegate Zero’s” visit to the El Batán camp on March 9, the campesinos explained:

“On November 10, new digging machines began to arrive. They began working without the commissioner having informed us of anything. On November 25 we held an assembly attended by comuneros (communal farmers outside of the ejido legal framework), women and children, and the commissioner said that there would be no meeting because this was an issue strictly for the ejido members.”


Photo: D.R. 2006 Bertha Rodríguez Santos
The ejido commissioner said that there was already an agreement that the majority of the members had signed. But the farmers argue that this only happened because of a combination of forged signatures, bribing of ejido members with 20,000 pesos ($1,850 dollars) to sign, and even using the supposed signatures of several dead people.

They also denounced this commissioner’s practice of asking for copies of ID cards and birth certificates, supposedly to apply for aid for the community, but in the end charging for the delivery of this aid. For example, he obtained fenceposts and barbed wire to distribute among the ejido members, but charged them each 1000 pesos ($90).

The people expressed their disagreement with this, but the work began anyway, without the permission of those who would be affected. Thirty police officers soon arrived to protect the equipment operators.

The campesinos’ rage grew, leading to Loa Carvajal’s removal from office on February 8, 2005. Isaías Eugenio Durán Gachuzo replaced him, and “once again, without the community’s permission, got the well project going again, because he said that he was with the government and not with the people. Both the former and the new commissioner began to come together to do the work,” complained Bertha, who was once jailed for her opposition to the well digging.

According to her version of the events, “the people from the State Water Commission put the use of three wells to a vote — two were for the city of Querétaro and one was for the community. But they dug 520 meters deep for the city wells, and only 270 meters for the community. We ejido members and comuneros do not agree with exchanging our water for public works projects.”

Martha said that throughout the process there have been many irregularities, in addition to the repression from the police. “On June 17, at 8:30 in the morning, the patrol cars and trucks began to arrive. Commissioner Francisco Loa Carvajal said that he was going to bring the government to contain us. We told him again that we would not trade our water for public works, and he went to get the police. They locked me up for 24 hours and beat several boys.”


Photo: D.R. 2006 Bertha Rodríguez Santos
She added that around noon, some 200 state police entered the community, frightening the people, and looking to intimidate the inhabitants of the 63 communities opposed to the digging because of their concern that in ten years their water supplies will run out.

A young mother, still angry, said: “They attacked us, they beat my sister, and despite this they are filing charges against her. They set their dogs on us.”

Martha also comments: “On June 18 they arrested us for not allowing them to work. The people arrested were: María Guadalupe Noriega, Gilberto Jiménez and Rolando Jiménez. The police beat them and they then had to pay 9,000 pesos ($840), 500 pesos ($47) and 1,600 pesos ($150) bail, respectively.”

The new commissioner pressed charges against Enrique León García, Rogelio Nieto, Rogelio Tovar, Agustín Marínez, Lupe Soto, Onofre Colín, Nicolás Soto, Arturo Soto, Vicente Soto, Pedro Noriega, Cecilia Colín, Cindy Loa, Guadalupe Loa, Celia Martínez, Serafín and Guillermo Maldonado, Elena Hernández, Cirilo Jiménez, Rolando and Gilberto Jiménez, Janet Velázquez and María Guadalupe Noriega.

The dissenters said that while the discontent with the digging grew, the government pressed for the construction of a new highway and a church. The new church was actually built right next to another existing church, “as if we were so Catholic [that we needed two].”

“What they wanted was ownership of the water, in order to take it to the big businessmen in Querétaro, because Governor Garrrido Patrón promised them new wells in exchange for their support of his election campaign… that water is going to go off to the industrial zone and the business owners,” the campesinos said.

It is important to point out that at the end of the 1960s an important industrial center began to be developed in the city of Queretáro, and in four decades five industrial parks have formed: Bernardo Quintana, El Tepeyac, Querétaro, Benito Juárez and El Marquéz. These parks are overflowing with multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola, Daewoo, John Deer, Kimberly Klark, Arbill and many others.

With respect to the supposed agreement between the El Batán authorities and the government, the members of other nearby ejidos and communities feel that such an agreement should not be respected, as “the aquifer is not just in El Batán, but stretches across the El Rincón and Quiotillos region as well as part of Puerta de Alegrías. The El Batán authorities cannot negotiate away an aquifer that belongs to an entire region.”

Others warned of the danger of allowing overexploitation of the aquifer, and cited the example of the Laguna Servín area. Eight sources of fresh water have already been lost there, in addition to the fact that the communities have suffered the illegal ransacking of their forests.

One campesino denounced the fact that since 1993 the ejidos and communities in the San Juan del Río, Laguna Servín and San Pablo regions have faced logging in their forests “with the consent of the Semarnat (Federal Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources) and Profepa (Federal Office of Environmental Protection).” This situation “escalated with the beginning of the Vicente Fox administration.” According to one speaker from the region, 2,500 acres of forest have been cleared at the margins of the law.”

He accused former governor Ignacio Loyola, who has said on several occasions that these forests should be exploited, of promoting the massive logging. At the same time, the logging has been promoted by politicians from the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) such as Martín Mendoza Villa and Juan Tovar, a town councilman in Amealco.

The campesinos held the Kimberly Klark paper company responsible. Among the company’s stockholders is former governor and current Profepa head Ignacio Loyola Vera.

The region’s inhabitants accuse Loyola Vera of taking advantage of his job as a public servant. Instead of supporting the poor people, they said, he is facilitating the sacking of the region’s natural resources, including water, to the benefit of the rich.

An older campesina woman said: “I am willing to do whatever it takes to defend our water. Why is the governor going to take our water away? It doesn’t matter to him if he ends up killing people but there is no reason for him to take the water… If he wants to sell something, he should sell his house, or if he has power over his wife then, well, he should sell her, but I don’t even think he owns her life because we all owe our lives to God. I am against them threatening us.”

Another housewife said that the ejido commissioner listen to the women of the community, but rather just some male ejido members that sold out. She asked if the men didn’t need water, too.

“We women do need water. We’re old now, we’re married. I’ve been living here for 71 years and we have never faced the kind of problems we’re facing now. It pains me greatly that the water is going to be taken away, because it is the only thing we have here in Batán. Our ancestors defended the land and it falls upon us to defend the water,” she said, sobbing.

The campesinos, angry about the political parties’ manipulations, warned that they are not going to participate in the upcoming elections, as “the people from the government ignore all of us.” They are all interested in struggling to defend the water. “We are interested in water, not money, because we can’t eat money.”

The experience that the campesinos related seemed to lift the spirits of the Zapatista spokesman, now named by the Other Campaign as “Delegate Zero.” He said he saw in this struggle an example of what is coming across the country: the looting of natural resources that are the common property of communities for the benefit of the businessmen, with the government playing the role of middleman.

“The system takes from the poor to give to the rich… their progress is our misery,” said the Zapatista representative.

Marcos exhorted those present not to give up the struggle. “If they take the water from here they are going to take other things with it: the trees, the climate. You will no longer have all the things that can be planted today. It’s not about the price. If they take the water it would be like arriving with a knife and telling you, I am going to cut out your heart and give you 20,000 pesos for it. How much is one’s heart worth? Two million, 20 million pesos? As soon as they take it, everything is going to start to die. Batán will die without water; the trees, the animals, the crops, the sky, they will all die, because everything is being sustained there. If they take the water, it’s not like taking a few pears, or taking a few trees; they are taking the heart of this land.”

Marcos said that he will ask the adherents to the Other Campaign in Querétaro, including the students at the Autonomous University of Querétaro (UAQ), to organize brigades to support the encampments. He referred to the existence of support brigades for Chiapas and suggested that they could also work in these nearby camps, because “the struggle is right here.” This support would include the adherents’ accompaniment in the camps and also economic contributions, with which the movement can move forward. In his opinion, if the business interests succeed in taking El Batán’s water, a piece of the country will die, and that cannot be allowed.

The dissent one feels in this state is profound. The indignation and courage in the face of so much repression broke the silence, and could be heard from the mouths of indigenous people, campesinos, intellectuals, youths and workers.

At first glance everything here is “normal.” The workers, most of them migrants from other regions of the country and a great number of them women, show up at the factories every day, where they are exposed to the worst of working conditions and low salaries. The indigenous and the peasant farmers might seem to be resigning themselves to the seizure of their lands and the scorn that they deserve from the rich urban classes. Nevertheless, a force that seems to well up from deep within and to come from times long past is crying out that it is vital to seize this opportunity to rebuild a new, different country.

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