Even at the Cost of Our Lives: To Resist Dam Despite Murder, State Repression
Campesino (subsistence farmer) resistance continues against construction of La Parota Dam on the Papagayo River in Guerrero, Mexico (see EF!J November-December 2004). The dam would create a reservoir 30 miles north of Acapulco, submerging 34,000 acres of forest and farmland and displacing more than 25,000 people — with an estimated 50,000 more directly affected. The dam is part of the Plan Puebla Panama's Central American Electricity Interconnection System and if built, would provide power to the US.
On-the-ground resistance to the megaproject is spearheaded by the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota Dam (CECOP). Composed of members of 36 indigenous communities that would be among the displaced and affected, CECOP was formed in 2003 to stop the dam. For them, it is clear that compromise is not an option. The CECOP declaration, "Three Years and Six Months of Resistance and Dignity," released in December, says, "We... declare our decision to defend our lands and the water of our Papagayo River even at the cost of our lives."
Despite several legal rulings in CECOP's favor, construction of access roads to the proposed dam site continues. In July 2005, the Agrarian Unit Court (AUC) of Acapulco issued an order forbidding the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) from any further dam construction. Nevertheless, in April 2006, CECOP discovered that access roads leading to Dos Mayos Hill, the site of the dam's curtain, were being built. Construction on dam maintenance roads has also begun, although the state of Guerrero claims that in spite of the fact that the roads can be found on the plans for La Parota, the construction has nothing to do with the dam and is instead aimed at "development" for local communities.
The strongest legal argument against the dam is another AUC decision from October. This states that the permission obtained by the CFE to expropriate land for construction is invalid and that the CFE is not allowed to enter lands owned by several communities in resistance.
The community meetings at which this permission was supposedly obtained were in clear violation of the law. At some, cops attacked anti-dam campesinos outside the meetings with rocks, batons and teargas, while other meetings were held outside of the districts they purported to represent and featured paid voters from other regions of the state.
Although the laws are clearly in CECOP's favor, the movement has eschewed a strictly institutional approach. In addition to maintaining six roadblocks to prevent the CFE from construction sites on campesino land, CECOP has utilized other, more direct strategies. For two days in April 2006, CECOP occupied and shut down a pumping station that supplies water to 800,000 Acapulco residents, leaving only when the mayor of Acapulco made a personal appearance and pledged to take their demands to then-President Vicente Fox.
But in the conflict zones, CFE-employed, pro-dam campesinos guard heavy machinery and threaten CECOP members, saying there will be deaths if dam resisters approach the proposed building sites. These are not empty words: On January 13, CECOP member Benito Jacinto Cruz was found dead on a stream bank a short distance from his home in the community of Huamuchitos. He had been shot in the right cheek. He is the sixth to die as a result of the struggle.
On par with the physical violence against anti-dam campesinos are the social problems the dam is bringing to their communities. The division between pro- and anti-dam members of affected communities is deep. Neighbors no longer speak to neighbors, formerly friendly relationships are now tense, and families are divided. The "Three Years and Six Months" declaration speaks of the social fabric coming undone. "[The government is] looking for confrontation between campesinos in order to send in the police or the army, and build the dam walking over the bodies of many and the imprisonment of others."
Stopping the dam's construction is a primary goal of the US-based Root Force campaign, which publicizes information about financial backers, investors and others who stand to profit from La Parota, so that autonomous affinity groups can take direct action against them. The project will be unable to continue if heavy pressure to the dam's backers in the Global North causes these companies to withdraw their support. Root Force is currently focusing on the retail chains CompUSA, Sears and Kmart, all owned by or otherwise associated with Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Slim, who is the top bidder for dam construction.
Jonathan tried really hard, but his bio isn't nearly as clever as trouble!'s was last issue.
© Earth First! Journal March-April 2007