|English | Español||November 18, 2017 | Issue #41|
Marcos: “Only With a War in the Mexican Southeast” Will They Be Able to Build the Parota Dam in Guerrero
The Zapatista Subcomandante Defies Threats from Those Who Wish to Displace 25,000 People for a Hydroelectric Mega-Project Near Acapulco
By Bertha Rodríguez Santos
Subcomandante Marcos with Marco Antonio Suástegui Muñoz
Photo: Victor Camacho, Enlace Zapatista
The combative character of the people of the Guerrero coast made the meeting a special event, where shouts of ¡viva! abounded for the EZLN, the peasant farmers against the Parota Dam, as well as Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vásquez, guerrilla leaders who defended the local campesinos’ rights in the late 1960s and early 70s.
For two hours, Subcomandante Marcos listened to the peasant farmers’ representatives describe the struggle they launched three years ago.
Marco Antonio Suástegui Muñoz, this resistance movement’s spokesman, reported that the hydroelectric dam is a project that the government hopes to develop on the Papagayo River with an investment of $1 billion dollars.
If the dam is built, 42,000 acres of land will be covered with water, and the flooding would affect 25,000 peasant farmers from 36 different communities. Another 50,000 would suffer due to their location below the retaining wall. The destruction and loss of biodiversity would be incalculable as there are many species of both plants and animals native to the area. Thousands of peasant farmers would be displaced from their lands, which for them would be like “wrenching away their lives.”
Before Delegate Zero’s arrival, Suástegui Muñoz told the Other Journalism with the Other Campaign that the campesinos’ struggle began on July 28, 2003, when the communities of Arroyo Verda, Garrapatas and San José decided to stage occupations to stop the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) — under orders from the state government headed by PRD governor and businessman Zeferino Torreblanca, and the federal government administration of President Vicente Fox of the rightwing National Action Party (PAN) — from entering the communities. The CFE had argued that the dam would bring development and jobs to the region. “They never told us that this development and these jobs would come at the price of our lands,” lamented Suástegui Muñoz.
“Later on they told us that we would have to leave our towns, that we would have to abandon our cemeteries, abandon our houses. But the worst part was that the land had no value to them,” he added.
He explained that the farmers here form part of the Communal Lands of Cacahuetepec, a syndicate that includes 47 rural communities stretching across 91,500 acres. Agua Caliente (the name means “hot water” in Spanish), one of the communities that will be affected by water shortages below the dam, is one of the most important points of the resistance, containing as it does the main access roads to the area where the government plans to install the 630-foot-high retaining wall.
Beginning in 2003, according to Marco Antonio Suástegui, upon realizing that the CFE was building two tunnels to divert the Papagayo River and had dug to giant holes between the Hierbabuena and Los Mayos hills, where the government wants to anchor the enormous dam, the farmers set up roadblocks and encampments to stop CFE equipment from entering. The first of these was on a bank of the Papagayo, where they were able to stop the CFE; later they set up four more guard posts at strategic points.
The communal farmers, or comuneros, organized themselves through general assemblies where they decide which community will man the guard camps on which day. The camps operate 24 hours a day. When CFE personnel try to cross this land in struggle, the neighbors set off noisemakers or church bells to warn the rest of the population, which quickly heeds the call.
Up against the resistance of the CECOP communities, the CFE had no choice but to pull out its equipment. Nevertheless, according to the farmers, it turned to fraud as a tactic to legitimize the project. On April 25, 2004, they say, the CFE held its own assembly, where officials from that government agency wrote up an agreement on which they forged the signatures of comuneros currently in the United States, farmers that do not belong to the communities and even dead farmers.
The comuneros filed a lawsuit with Mexico’s Agrarian Court, and presented their evidence on the irregularities of the CFE’s assembly. A judge from the Acapulco-based Agrarian Tribunal No. 41 declared the assembly illegal, and further ruled that the CFE may not enter the lands around La Parota to carry out any kind of study, much less begin construction.
Aside from this rigged assembly, where CFE personnel also “bought signatures with payments ranging from 200 to 2,600 pesos ($18–$235 dollars),” the state government sent around 1,500 police, including “police from the judicial, preventative, ministerial and federal highway departments, as well as from the Federal Agency of Investigations (AFI, equivilant to the U.S. FBI),” said Marco Antonio Suástegui during his interview.
Since then, the people opposing the Parota Dam project have faced intimidation, imprisonment and assassinations. Two years ago, Marco Antonio and his colleague Francisco Hernández spent 15 days in prison accused of the kidnapping and robbery of Jaime Gutiérrez Tejada. Due to lack of evidence against them, the two comuneros were released.
What grieves people here the most about this climate of repression is the assassination of Tomás Cruz Samora, who died at the hands of another comunero who supports the dam construction and, according to Suástegui, was “paid by the CFE, sent by the government.” This murder occurred after a meeting in which Cruz Samora requested an audience with the new state governor, Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo.
Later, there was a shootout in Cacahuatepec, in which a farmer who was in favor of the Parota Dam was killed and an opponenent seriously injured.
As Marco Antonio Suástegui describes, “unfortunately violence followed, there was fraud in the assemblies, police repression and hostility that led to another confrontation in the Los Arroyos ejido (cooperative farming community) where they killed another one of our comrades: Enrique Maya Manrique, who was murdered with clubs and rocks by two ejido members who also work for the CFE.”
The farmers’ deaths are what hurt the dam opponents most. Despite this, those against the dam project have shown that they are at any time “willing to give our lives to defend our land, our water and our dignity,” as they spell out in the CECOP manifesto that comunero José Venus read aloud to Subcomandante Marcos.
The opponents of the Parota Dam argue that, far from benefiting the peasant farmers, the project favors the big hotel companies from the resort city of Acapulco and other tourist zones that the government hopes to develop along the Guerrero coast.
They also assert that the hydroelectric project is part of the new energy infrastructure that the government is pushing as part of Plan Puebla-Panama, and would feed the industrial zones and maquiladora sweatshops this plan hopes to establish all along the route from Puebla in central Mexico down Central America to Panama.
Because of this, the CECOP members told the Zapatistas from the Other Campaign: “We share with you the determination to strengthen the power of the communities and confront, together, the power of the rich, of the businessmen that threaten us with displacement and hunger. We will defeat the rich that live off the looting of the poorest, those who are making sure the dam goes forward even though it will trample over our lives and our children’s’ lives. From here, we say to those that want the dam, that we will all fight against your power, your criminality and your corruption. That the dam will not be built. That your foreign partners, that is, your bosses, the owners of the multinational corporations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank and the international private bankers should start packing their bags because they won’t have anything to do here. That these lands are ours and we won’t hand them over, give them away or sell them. That they should leave because the Parota Dam project has been canceled.”
José Venus continued reading the CECOP communiqué: “The CFE, skirting around the laws, said exactly six days ago that it has the power to expropriate this land and make the people leave, and that if the people don’t leave the Mexican Army will come in and get them out. We demand that the CFE state clearly whether or not there will be repression, or else shut its mouth… We ask whether the CFE has command over the army. We demand the CFE state whether the army has the authority to repress the people…”
This concern merited a comment from Marcos at the beginning of his speech: “Acording to our thinking as indigenous Mayas, the geography here is changing and the Papagayo River runs also through the mountains of the Mexican southeast. We want to warn Vicente Fox and his yellow-and-black hand in Guerrero, Governor Zeferino Torreblanca, that if the army attacks these lands it will have to attack the mountains of the Mexican southeast as well.”
Inturrupted by shouts of “¡Sí se puede, sí se puede!” (“Yes we can!”) and loud applause, the subcomandante added: “In the simple words that are our own, this is our commitment. The dam will only be built with a war in the Mexican southeast.”
Those present celebrated this declaration with more shouts of viva for the EZLN, Subcomandante Marcos and the Mexican people.
After commenting that the movement of national struggle the Other Campaign is trying to unify and coordinate is getting bigger and bigger across the republic, Marcos said that “what the government wants to do here is a crime… We all know perfectly well what the dam is going to mean for these lands: destruction and death. Those ejido members or comuneros that have believed the government’s lies are really believing that we should thank the thief and let him into the house; a thief that is not only going to rob us but also kill us and our families.”
He referred to the campaign in the commercial media to discredit the campesinos’ struggle. “We know that in the press, the radio and television they have said that you are a minority, they have said you are being manipulated by other political forces, they have said that there are foreign interests behind you, but we in the mountains of the Mexican southeast know what all that really means.”
Marcos continued: “What we have seen happening is a new conquista, a new war of conquest. The (state and federal) governments don’t expect to end up owning the land and the dam; they are going to sell them to big European and U.S. capitalists. It is foreign money that is behind all this and they want our land as campesinos, our land as Indian peoples; they want to take away everything from us, even our poverty. They are not satisfied with the great riches they already have; they want to take away the only thing we have left, our identity as poor people. They want to kill us and destroy and throw away these lands.”
Without ceasing their applause and shouting of slogans in support of the Zapatista delegate, the comuneros listened. “What we are doing is coming to agreement because now we are tired. We are tired of them wanting to come into our lands, into our houses, of them robbing us blind with the prices they put on farm products, with the salaries they pay us, with the high price of the services we consume: electricity, water, gas, property taxes, drainage; all the public services and utilities that are raising their prices for those of us from below while they charge less or sometimes nothing at all to the powerful. This whole dam project is for the big tourist, industrial and retail companies. No peasant farmer is going to benefit, no poor neighborhood is going to benefit from this thing because it is money from the powerful behind this project.”
“We are tired and we have seen this all around the republic. We’ll see how long it takes these cabrones, these assholes to realize that we have our machetes drawn… What we are saying is that we are going to come together and go after them; we are going to get them out of here.”
Making a call to unite all the different struggles and keep them strong like the CECOP, Marcos predicted that in this way “we will be able to say, together, what we are saying now: If the army attacks your communities, they will also have to attack us, and we will consider it an aggression against the EZLN… we would also tell them that if they touch you, if they attack you, we can all respond no matter where we are.”
“No matter what, you can count on the solidarity and support of the Zapatista communities and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation,” he concluded amid standing ovations and surrounded by dozens of people pushing to get near him and greet him.
Threats of greater violence remain dormant but present. Marco Antonio Suástegui denounced the tactic of provocation that the CFE personnel have employed in building a road near Apanguac inside of the communal lands of Cacahuatepec without the farmers’ consent. “The most troubling fact is that they have brought an armed group,” comprised of farmers from the Apanguac, Espinalillo and El Cantón communities, who have warned that “if the dam opponents try to get rid of the equipment, the group will kill anyone there.”
For this reason, he held the state and federal authorities responsible if any violent confrontation occurs between farmers.
In addition to their coordination with the adherents of the Zapatista Other Campaign, the Parota Dam opponents are part of the Mexican Movement of People Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers (MAPDER), founded in 2003 to link together the efforts of other communities that are also facing similar mega-projects in other parts of the country, including in the cases of dams in Arcediano, Jalistco state and La Yesca (between the states of Nayarit and Jalisco, allegedly the place in government plans to move the Parota Dam project to if it fails to carry it out in Guerrero).
As part of the activities aimed at unifying the struggles in defense of the communities affected by the dams, on May 3 a caravan called “Waters in Movement” will set out from Agua Caliente.
According to Marco Antonio Suástegui, the activists plan to visit during their tour “the struggle of the Mazahua women in Mexico state who suffer due to a similar water problem; we will also go to the Arcediano dam, where there is major pollution in the Santiago River and will get to know the work of El Cajón to demand that the government pay for the ejido members’ land.” In La Yesca, they plan to set up the first national camp.
As part of the legal end of their struggle, the CECOP brought its case before the Latin American Water Tribunal. There, the experts on the issue, biologists and other researchers analyzed the case of the hydroelectric project. They came to the conclusion that the dam should be canceled, as a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico has warned that the area is highly seismically unstable.
The tribunal also points out that the farmers who will truly be affected were not consulted or taken into account. Above all, it emphasizes that the environmental damage would be irreversible.
Since the beginning of its struggle the CECOP has rejected interference from the political parties, believing that “if there were some political party mixed up in the CECOP the struggle would already be lost.”
With respect to the defamation campaign, the movement’s spokesman said that the commercial media such as the Televisa and TV Azteca networks “are the dam’s principal promoters, because surely the television stations and their advertisers have interests in the project moving forward. We have had to navigate against much disinformation,” he said.
Despite all this, and in the face of threats of being removed from their lands, Marco Antonio Suástegui, the charismatic 27-year-old peasant farmer leader, says he is decided: “We are going to live on our lands. We have no reason to emigrate to the city just to live like dogs. Here we were born and here we will die, cabrones.”
The federal government did not hesitate to show its concern over the statements that came out of La Parota on Sunday. The next day, Xóchitl Gálvez, President Fox’s commissioner of indigenous affairs, accused Marcos of “treating the indigenous like children.” According to the daily newspaper El Economista, this representative of the same government that represses, jails and murders the dam opponents said that “problems are not solved with violence.”
Nevertheless, in La Parota, the strongest warnings came from the inhabitants themselves. In the tough, bronco tone that characterizes the people of Guerrero, Suástegui advised the government not to awaken “the wild bravo Guerrero that we all carry within us, because if there is no solution, there will be revolution.”
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism