La Parota Dam (Mexico) — CANCELED?
UPDATE (Aug 16, 2012): La Parota Dam has been definitively canceled with the signing of the Cacahuatepec Agreement between CECOP and Guerrero Governor Ángel Aguirre. We are keeping the article below for historical purposes, and because it is a classic example of a big infrastructure project designed to prop up the system.
UPDATE (June 10, 2013): Despite the Cacahuatepec Agreement, the CFE seems to think it may still be able to force the dam through. The struggle continues.
Campesin@s blockade construction, CFE murders organizers and EZLN threatens war
La Parota, a 765-megawatt hydroelectric dam slated for he Papagayo River in Guerrero, Mexico, is a classic infrastructure expansion project in all the worst ways. Ecological devastation, massive dislocation and cultural disruption, and the imprisonment and murder of those who resist — all so the wealthy can have more electricity.
The Papagayo flows southwest down through the biologically rich Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, joining with the Omilán River and then continuing to the Pacific Ocean. La Parota — the construction of which is expected to cost the Mexican people US$800 million — would submerge 43,000 acres of forest and farmland along the river’s banks, displacing at least 25,000 mostly indigenous campesinas and campesinos (subsistence farmers) from the Communal Lands of Cacahuatepec.
Like all large dams, La Parota would decrease downstream water quality and dry out nearby watersheds. Furthermore, the loss of nutrient-filled water from upstream would degrade soil and increase its salinity. Fisheries would be destroyed, and the incidence of waterborne diseases such as malaria would likely increase. In addition, communities downstream of dams are at risk of catastrophic flooding should the dam spill over or burst — a particular concern with La Parota, which would be built above the San Andreas Fault.
While Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) is billing the dam as a source of green, renewable energy, such claims are absurd. Far from being renewable, sediment accumulation limits the electricity generating capacity of dams to 50-100 years. Meanwhile, large dams are significant contributors to global warming: As the tremendous biomass of a tropical forest decays beneath a reservoir, it gives off greenhouse gases. Dams in tropical regions have been shown to produce anywhere from two to 40 times as much carbon dioxide as an equivalent coal-fired plant.
The plants and animals that cannot tolerate the environmental changes caused by the dam will be forced to relocate or die, just like the campesin@s. And while the CFE claims that it will provide dislocated farmers with new land, this land would be of poorer quality and in a different ecology. Most of the folks forced off of their land would actually end up in the cities, having lost the means to provide food and water for themselves, and forced to work in maquiladoras. Widespread depression and suicide have inevitably resulted from similar “relocations.”
The reason for this blatant genocide and ecocide? Electricity generated from La Parota would be incorporated into an international energy grid and used to power factory-centers, maquiladora (export-oriented sweatshop) corridors, tourist cities (such as Acapulco, 19 miles from the proposed site) and the southwestern US. Water from the reservoir would be diverted from downstream communities to Acapulco.
The CFE made no attempt to include the campesin@s in the decision-making process regarding La Parota. In July 2003, without giving notice or seeking permission, the commission simply sent in machinery to build two tunnels to divert the flow of the Papagayo. Farmers from surrounding communities responded with road blockades and encampments to keep CFE equipment out of the area. The ongoing roadblocks have been largely successful, and the CFE has been forced to pull out most of its equipment. In October 2003, protests against La Parota were staged in local communities and cities across Guerrero. In Chilpancingo, the state capital, the protesters were 30,000 strong. Their message was clear: “We are ready to die for the land.”
In the face of growing resistance, the CFE was forced to change its tactics. In order to expropriate the land for the dam, it held community assemblies in 2004, where it bribed locals to vote in its favor. Some of these people had been convinced that the dam would bring jobs to the area—a myth that has been used to turn locals against each other. With the help of 1,500 police and federal agents, the CFE was also able to scare away many who wanted to vote against the dam.
In June 2004, construction equipment was brought in by force, and police escorted engineers and laborers to the dam site. On July 27, undercover police and soldiers, who were monitoring one of the blockades, arrested and beat a leader in the struggle against La Parota, along with his sister. The following day, another organizer was arrested. They were released in August following an international support campaign.
That same month, locals banded together to form the Council of Ejidos and Communities in Opposition to La Parota Dam (CECOP), joining forces with the national Movement of Persons and Communities Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers (the ejido is a form of communal landholding established after the Mexican Revolution). Meanwhile, campesin@s and researchers from across Mexico challenged the CFE’s land expropriation in court.
Because of legal challenges and massive resistance, the building of La Parota has technically been suspended. However, the communities in the region are still living under a state of siege. By January 2007, six community members had already been murdered as a result of the struggle against the dam. Some locals believe that the CFE is paying people to assassinate key movement leaders. At the very least, it is dividing people and inciting them to harm one another. This ongoing internal strife is nearly as alarming to CECOP members as the threat of the dam.
The people directly opposing La Parota are facing intimidation, imprisonment and death. It seems that the CFE is only biding its time, waiting for the resistance to die down, so that the dam can go forward. Meanwhile, under the guise of “local improvements,” it continues to build the roads needed for construction.
On April 16, 2006, the Zapatista National Liberation Army upped the stakes in the struggle, threatening armed resistance in solidarity with CECOP. Speaking in Aguacaliente, Guerrero, Subcomandante Marcos said, “We bring a very simple message from… the indigenous commanders who represent the Zapatista communities in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast…. In simple words, our commitment is that they will only be able to build this dam with a war in the Mexican Southeast.”
The privatization of nature is nothing new. Throughout the world, the powerful gain more power by dominating the Earth and its inhabitants, turning life into a commodity. But the people who live with the Papagayo River are ready to die to protect it, and as long as they have anything to do with it, no dam will be built.
“If the government comes inhere,” one CECOP farmer told Root Force in 2006, “the machetes will be the ones to respond.”
UPDATE (Aug 16, 2012): La Parota Dam has been definitively canceled with the signing of the Cacahuatepec Agreement between CECOP and Guerrero Governor Ángel Aguirre.
Contact the CFE and express your disgust with the Mexican government’s plans for La Parota:
Comisión Federal de Electricidad, 2a. Secc. Del Bosque De Chapultepec—Museo Technológico, Miguel Hidalgo, Miguel Hidalgo, DF, Mexico.
You can also contact them through this online form, or contact the head of the CFE directly:
Ing. Alfredo Elias Ayub, General Director, 5229-4400 x90000, 90001, 90002, 90003 (phone); 5533-5321 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the CFE and similar organizations, click here.