Colima State Government Moves from Indifference to Repression, Marcos Is Told
Fishermen and Women Fight to Stop Construction of Natural Gas Plant
By Hermann Bellinghausen
April 1, 2006
CAMPOS, COLIMA, MARCH 31: “Today marks the end of the process of negotiating with state institutions without receiving any response,” warned a fisherman from the Cuyutlán lagoon during an Other Campaign event in the town of Campos (Manzanillo municipality), whose population is dedicated to the “art of fishing,” as they like to say here. They have decided to go into resistance.
Chronic victims of environmental damage caused by the port’s thermoelectric plant – which sits at the back of the park where they received Subcomandante Marcos under the permanent cloud of smog they live in – the lagoon’s inhabitants do not want the new evils that would come with the regasification plant the government wants to build here, “for the good of development.”
They will listen to “Delegate Zero,” says the event’s announcer, but “first the floor will be given to all of us.”
“Campos was a paradise, with high agricultural production. Many tons of plums came out of here,” says Gregorio Solano, a communal farmer. “Now we work producing corn and flor de Jamaica (roselle).”
The government had promised to create, directly and indirectly, 10,000 jobs, in return for the population’s acceptance of the change in the use of their land, the destruction of 240 acres of the coastal ecosystem – including 75 acres of mangrove forests – and therefore the end of their fishing and farming activities.
Francisco Galeana, a member of the Alameda Cooperative of fishermen from the Cuyutlán lagoon, adds another point that exposes contradictions of the PAN and PRI governments that have pushed this ambitious plan: “The problem is that they hope to spurn us to benefit the interests of big business. Well, I am also a businessman. I have been fishing for 33 years, but the government sees a future in which the big companies are going to destroy what I do.”
The Mexican People at a Disadvantage
The jobs that were promised really mean that existing jobs will disappear. Galeana adds: “They have even tried to put me in jail for my years of opposition to their destruction of the lagoons and the ocean. Our art is being lost. We’ve already seen what they did with the Spanish company Tuni, to which the government gave every advantage to take over the tuna business. We Mexicans don’t make any money. Everything is handed over to the foreigners.”
The civil organization Bios Iguana has called for an end to the destruction and privatization of the Cuyutlán lagoon. “In an historic alliance, the PRI state government of Colima and the PAN municipal and federal governments, through the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat in its Spanish abbreviation), the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the Department of Communication and Transportation and the Integrated Port Administration, are trying to destroy the coastal wetlands under the presidential strategy of imposing high-impact industrial infrastructure. These wetlands are of great ecological importance to the entire world.”
The experts from Bios Iguana are present at the meeting and say that Governor Silverio Cabazos Ceballos and the Fox administration feel it urgent to open the gas plant. They already have 20 gigantic tanks ready to store butane gas, all property of the Spanish multinational company Z. “Just half that amount of gas caused the San Juanico explosion in the state of Mexico,” they said.
Once the LP and natural gas plants are installed around the Cuyutlán lagoon and the dock facilities are expanded, “the lagoon will be modified and impacted strategically. Just as in the past they destroyed the Tapeixeles lagoon, now they want to destroy San Pedro, with its 30 hectares (75 acres) of mangroves, and in a deceitful manner the Juluapan and Peñitas Miramar lagoons as well, for real estate development, committing ecocide and potentially ethnocide because of the expulsion of native groups and those who live in the coastal lagoons.”
Bios Iguana agrees with the fishermen in that “transnational corporations’ private interests are benefiting at the cost of the ecological patrimony of future generations, violating the rule of environmental law and ignoring the public interest in the care and conservation of coastal ecosystems.”
Ecocide is not a new phenomenon, but it is getting worse. Francisco Ascencio, from the Coloapa lagoon to the north of the municipality of Manzanillo, said that his lagoon had already been priviatized.
Cuyutlán, located to the south of the port and tourist attractions, reaches all the way into the municipality of Armería, and possesses a special importance as a natural treasure. Mangroves, claim the Bios Iguana specialists, “are an oxygen producer, give protection and food to ocean life, protection to Manzanillo from cyclones, tsunamis and floods, stop land from sinking, clean carbon dioxide from the air, replenish the topsoil, control coastal erosion and regulate the climate at a global scale.”
The people who are meting with Delegate Zero have been threatened, beaten, tortured, imprisoned and humiliated for defending the lagoon. David is a fisherman who was arrested on March 16 by the Colima state police: “I was tortured horribly. They wanted to attribute serious crimes to me. We have quite a governor, Silverio Cavazos Caballos, who abuses and wants to keep the people content by tossing them breadcrumbs.
The fishermen have had their fill of meetings with the governor, with PAN town councilor Nabor Ochoa López, with the official representatives. “They feed us atole with their bare hands,” complained fisherwoman Graciela Gurtiérrez. Now, the government has begun to repress and persecute the workers of the ocean. When David protested to the governor two weeks ago, chaining himself to the Campos plant to express his dissent toward being silenced, Cavazos Ceballos ordered: “Cart that cabrón away.”
They carried him away beating him. Eduviges, his wife, videotaped the scene. She told of how he was beaten, how the windows of his car were broken, how he was gassed, handcuffed and arrested “with extreme violence” together with a nephew, a son and other relatives who were tortured by the police. David and Eduviges still bear the physical scars from this aggression.
Such is the price they pay for defending their work, their property, their rights and other trifles that neoliberalism profoundly disregards.
And so it is understandable when Flor Adriana López says: “We are not surprised that Subcomandante Marcos is the government’s enemy, just like the people were when they fought in the Revolution; just like us.”
As Verónica González Cárdenas, La Jornada’s Colima correspondent, reported last May 30, in March of 2005, just a few days after the death of governor Gustavo Vázquez in a plane crash, interim leader Arnoldo Ochoa González “tried to modify the Regional Ecological and Territorial Program’s law for the Cuyutlán lagoon in order to change the land currently used for agriculture, tourism and fishing to be used for industry and shipping, to install the regasification plant (for transforming liquefied natural gas back into gas form) and an entire industrial corridor that has already quietly begun construction.
The construction of the regasification plant, added the correspondent, will represent a $2 billion investment. “With this project, the government will surpass its investment goals for the entire 2003-2009 period. Thus the interest in accelerating the project.”
Other Voices, Other Places
Neoliberal development can be seen clear as day in Cuyutlán. To the very real displacement of the inhabitants and the definitive change to their work and living conditions is added important environmental damage, sparked by the CFE and fanned by the environmental authorities (Semarnat, the Federal Solicitor for Environmental Protection and the state government).
Violating its own laws in 2003, when it prohibited dredging, clearing or filling in mangrove forests and wetlands and restricted activities that could affect the mangrove zone, “Semarnat illegally modified its own norms and authorized the destruction of the coastal wetlands in exchange for an ‘economic compensation’ of ten million pesos ($900,000) and the promises of 90 hectares (222 acres) of mangrove for conservation” according to a document by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, GreenPeace and Bios Iguana from April 2005. That is to say, for the payment of an “economic compensation” the prohibitions on dredging, clearing, and filling in mangrove forests and wetlands would be lifted.
Another participant in this Thursday’s meeting in Campos, from Ensenada, Baja California, offered testimony on what is being eyed in terms of the natural coastal resources there, for the benefit of the international gas industry and substantial contracts for the town government and the PAN administrations of the federal and Baja California governments.
Luis Alfonso read a report on the industrial project on the Rosarito coast, where the Fox administration hopes to build immense facilities to receive gas and export it to the United States. The beneficiaries of this plant would be Centra Energy, Shell and Chevron Texaco, and the main customers the states of California and Texas.
According to the report, the Ensanada town government submitted a feasibility study to the companies in return for million-dollar investments. The Costa Azul geological zone would be converted into shipping docks for liquid gas coming in from Asia and possibly Bolivia (the latter now less than certain since the “gas war” that changed the face of that South American nation).
The 4 million metric tones of new sea wall construction will irreversibly damage the nearby reefs, algae populations, and waters that protect dolphins, whales and orcas that travel from the North Pole to the gulf of Baja California. The project is related to the industrial transformation of the Coronado islands, across from Tijuana. There, the government is trying to procure benefits for British Petroleum by stepping over the population of the coasts, which in addition to people includes seals, sea lions and whales that use the coast as a sanctuary.
But today, the sanctuaries of nature are being sacrificed at the alter of money.
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