<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 Other Campaign Says No to a Cell Phone Tower in La Paz and a Gas Refinery in Ensenada

The Price of “Progress” in Baja California Is Dumped onto Those Who Do Not Benefit From It

By Ginna Villarreal
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Baja California Sur and Norte

October 23, 2006

From cell phones to the power of natural gas, at what price come those comforts that some attain and others do not? During the October 13 to 20 visit by Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos and the Other Campaign to the two states of Baja California, citizens testified that the price of “progress” is paid by those who least benefit from it. In Rinconada de los Olivos, in the city of La Paz, Baja California Sur, a tower looms over a marginalized barrio, and the people are fighting to get it removed. In Ensenada, Baja California, a massive gas refining plant – slated to begin converting liquefied natural gas back to gaseous form in 2007, at first proposed in United States territory but opposed by local governments – poses a grand environmental and cultural threat to the Pacific coast. This is a story of grievances, but also one of resistance.

The Tower in Rinconada de los Olivos

In a neighborhood of unpaved streets and modest housing, giant cell towers stand on a hilltop overlooking city neighborhoods, sentinels to corporate interests. As dusk turns to nightfall their flashing red lights are the signals of imperialism. However, there is one tower, down the hill, whose signal has been silent for over a year. In a barrio of La Paz called Rinconada de los Olivos a community has set up a daily vigil outside the steel fence, disrupting the maintenance and transmission from this station.

Photo: D.R. 2006 Ginna Villarreal
When the representatives of Lusacell first came to announce their corporate presence in the neighborhood, it was to inform, and not to consult, that this parcel of land would be taken. The neighborhood, said the company, would be given public telephone service booths. That was a lie. What went up was a cellular transmitter that scared the children with its odd noises, and worried parents and grandparents.

The children of the barrio refer to the tower as the monster. With a strong wind of the recent cyclone the sounds of the strained metal cause those below its shadow to fear for their safety. The children ran out with their flashlights to see which way it was going to fall. The history of this tower is one of fear and worry. Along with the emotional stress the tower has brought to this neighborhood, the other critical concern is over the health effects of low intensity long-term exposure. A growing body of studies point to the detrimental health effect of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. With such ills as brain cancer and brain tumors, lymphoma and childhood leukemia reported to be caused by these towers, the community of Rinconada de los Olivos has just cause to worry.

The community calls out Ya Basta – enough already! – and resists the presence of the monster.

Lenora Vitia, an impassioned speaker and elder community activist, speaks of the resistance and organization of the community. She told the Other Journalism with the Other Campaign that neighbors had formed a community guard to block the operation of the cellular antenna. On February 14 an altercation with police occurred. When those from the company were again refused access to the transmitter, the municipal police were called in as the side arm of the cell company. In what is yet another example of police brutality and excessive use of force, a confrontation quickly escalated between the 4 community members and police who arrived in 14 cruisers, leaving one grassroots activists blind in one eye: Happy Valentine’s Day from Lusacell and the government of La Paz.

What this community wants is nothing less than the removal of the tower. A few days prior to the visit by Delegate Zero the community the company Lusacell declared bankruptcy. As the serpent changes its skin, this company – owned by US-based multinationals Bellsouth and Verizon – has also escaped its responsibility with out losing its capital face.

Who then will hear these people’s grievances? Delegate Zero did on October 14, and urged the community to continue to fight for the control its urban space, and to pressure Victor Castro Cosido, the mayor of La Paz, to resolve the situation in the absence of Lusacell. Days earlier, commenting on the controversy over whether the Baja Ferries company would allow Subcomandante Marcos to cross the Sea of Cortes, Castro Cocido, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), told reporters that he supported “the cause of Marcos.” The Zapatista spokesman urged the community to surround City Hall and tell him “the cause of Marcos is to take down this tower.”

Explaining that the microwaves from towers like these “burn brain cells,” Marcos asked aloud: “Why don’t they put it next door to Mayor Victor Castro Cocido, or to President Vicente Fox, whose brain cells are already burnt out?”

Delegate Zero informed the people of their right to compensation for the emotional and physical damages that they have suffered. “Those that need to pay are those that put the tower there or those that allowed the tower to be there.” He also promised that their story will continue to be told, and he will continue to fight for this barrio and their right to live in tranquility and with security of health until the tower comes down.

La Ensenada, Issues of the Culture and the Environment

Further north, in Baja California Norte, tucked into the cost line minutes away from the city of La Ensenada sits a liquid natural gas processing plant. Here the struggle is to eliminate the dangers and destruction brought about by yet another product of capitalist industrialization, to eliminate the potential and realized damages to the environment and to the historical culture of Mexico.

Marcos with Oscar Montaña
Photo: D.R. 2006 Ginna Villarreal
Hidden behind the façade of a luxury golf course the lights of the gas refinery Energía Costa Azul are seen in the distance. On October 17, Oscar Montaña, member of the Committee of Citizens of La Ensenada Against Refineries and Multinationals Energy Plants in Baja California, accompanied the gathering of alternative media and Delegate Zero down a dirt road and explained the situation: “This has been almost four years of struggle against the installation of the refineries [of liquid natural gas]”.

Part of the objection to the installation of these plants comes from the real and potential environmental dangers that they pose. The means of refining this crude gas causes direct and immediate damages to the ecosystem of the La Ensenada coastline. The process uses the seawater to warm the below-zero temperature of the liquid gas. The water is then dumped back in to the ocean to contaminate and alter the natural temperatures of the marine environment. With the refineries come ships loaded with volatile material. With such danger the Mexican army is needed to secure the area and the cargo. The insult of the San Diego based Sempra Energy company is that it supplies a foreign market, paying off a $7 million dollar deal to leave environmental damages and dangers off American soil.

The other part of the insult of this particular plant is the company’s disregard for Mexico’s ancient history. The sprawling plant is constructed over an archaeological site. Preliminary surveys conducted by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH by its Spanish acronym) at the site revealed numerous projectile points and human remains of 4,000 years of antiquity. All this did not halt the destruction of the site. The pieces claimed the government, were ‘rescued’ and construction continued.

The energy company boasts on its web page that it has “worked closely with local communities and those participants were key to identifying and resolving the possible themes of difficulty” (my emphasis). Now I am not sure if they are referring to the voices of Oscar Montaña, and other member of the established citizens committee, but like the community of el Rincondada de los Olvios, these organized activists are fighting to regain control of their land. These struggles are those that start at the bottom and fight for security, the health of the community and protection of the local environment.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America