Civil Society, Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

Mexico’s Papagayo River Still Flowing

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Jun 4 2010 (IPS) - The Papagayo river in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero is still flowing, and local communities opposed to construction of a massive hydroelectric dam are making every effort to keep things that way, as reflected in a documentary about their struggle.

“We needed to tell people what has been happening in Guerrero,” José Hernández, spokesman for the non-governmental Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota Dam (CECOP), told IPS. “We own the land, and we will never back down.”

“Y el río sigue corriendo” (And the River Flows On) shows the opposition mounted by four communities to the project launched in 2003 by Mexico’s largest state power company, the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE).

The film, directed by Carlos Pérez Rojas, competed unsuccessfully for the best Mexican documentary prize in the May 21- Jun. 3 Third International Human Rights Film Festival in Mexico City.

The project, which the government postponed in 2009, would flood more than 17,000 hectares of forest and farmland around the small town of Cacahuatepec, some 600 km south of the Mexican capital, which would lead to the dislocation of around 25,000 mainly indigenous campesinos (peasant farmers).

The 140-km long Papagayo river is one of the three main rivers in the state of Guerrero. It runs southwest through the biologically rich Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range before converging with the Omilán river and flowing to the Pacific ocean.

The La Parota dam has divided the people of the areas in Guerrero that would be affected by the project.

Fifteen farming communities back the project, but four are opposed to it, in a dispute that has already claimed the lives of three local residents involved in the struggle against the dam.

“The documentary is important, to show what is going on in our community, our struggle, which has been criminalised by the government,” Felipe Flores, another member of CECOP, remarked to IPS.

The film, which includes first-hand accounts by opponents of the dam and describes how they have organised over the years, was produced by Mecapal, the production company founded by Pérez Rojas, with the support of the National Geographic All Roads Film Project, Mexican production company Ojo de Tigre Vídeo, and the governmental National Fund for Culture and the Arts and National Council for Culture and the Arts.

CECOP’s tactics have included continuous roadblocks to keep dam construction workers off the land and lawsuits that have successfully challenged the approval process for the project.

Pérez Rojas’s films also include “Payasos sin fronteras” (Clowns Without Borders – 2001) about children’s rights, and “Mirando hacia dentro: la militarización en Guerrero” (Eyes on What’s Inside: The Militarisation of Guerrero – 2004), about the impact of military occupation in the state of Guerrero, told from the perspective of two indigenous women who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the army.

The documentary-maker, who is from the southern state of Oaxaca, specialises in indigenous rights issues and won the 2005 Reebok Human Rights Award which honours activists under the age of 30.

The members of CECOP voted unanimously against the dam at a community assembly in 2007. An agrarian court in the southern city of Acapulco ruled in their favour and annulled the results of three assemblies that backed the project, the latest of which was held in August 2009.

But the administration of Guerrero state Governor Zeferino Torreblanca of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) held a community assembly on Apr. 28, to drum up support for the dam and try to get the project moving again, CECOP complained.

“The La Parota project has been poorly carried out, including the environmental impact study, and there is no plan to relocate the people who would be displaced,” Astrid Puente, co-director of the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defence (AIDA), told IPS. “And the flooding also poses environmental risks.”

The members of CECOP want Congress to question CFE director general Alfredo Ayub about the current situation with respect to the La Parota dam, which would generate 905 megawatts of electricity, mainly for the tourist city of Acapulco.

“We are indigenous, not ingenuous,” Hernández said. “What they mean to do is strip thousands of campesinos of everything they have. We won’t give up one centimetre of land to the CFE.”

But La Parota is not an isolated case. There are at least seven other dam projects in Mexico that have triggered strong protests.

One of them is the El Zapotillo dam in the northwestern state of Jalisco, which would divert water from the Verde river to supply towns and cities in central Mexico.

The project of the national water commission Conagua and the Jalisco state water commission is to cost 615 million dollars and will flood the towns of Acasico, Palmarejo and Temacapulín.

In recent years, more and more documentaries have been produced on social movements in Mexico, such as “Pueblos Unidos: Swine Flu Ground Zero in Mexico”, also screened at the Third International Human Rights Film Festival in Mexico City, which was organised by the Fundación Cinépolis and featured 46 feature-length films and 14 shorts from Mexico and more than 20 countries around the world.

The film, by Mexican documentary-makers Felipe Casanova and Miguel Díaz, documents the opposition of local campesinos in Perote, in the southeastern state of Veracruz, to Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Smithfield Foods.

The documentary shows the struggle of campesinos in the village of La Gloria, located near a massive hog operation, against the industrial pig farm’s impact on the local environment and the health of the community.

Rivers for Life 3: the Third International Meeting of Dam-Affected People and Their Allies, to be held Oct. 1-7 in the town of Temacapulín, expects to draw 300 representatives of dam-affected communities and NGOs from around the world, to share their experiences, come up with collective strategies and strengthen the international movement to protect rivers and human rights.

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