Reflecting on a Story of Success in 2012

Jason Rainey
Monti telling the story of the Papagayo River in Mexico
Monti telling the story of the Papagayo River in Mexico
Photo by Sarah Yang

At International Rivers, we and our partners are on the frontlines of resource conflicts whose outcomes have some of the starkest repercussions for living on Earth in the 21st century. We have staff on the ground campaigning hard for the river basins with the greatest biological and cultural diversity, the most productive fisheries, and those that originate in the highest mountains and flow through the greatest human population densities.

In reflecting upon 2012, I have much to share about the accomplishments that a couple dozen staff members and a wide constellation of supporters, allies and partners have made to protect the Amazon, Omo, Mekong and many other rivers around the world from megadam schemes that are economically short-sighted and ecologically destructive. However, it’s a story from a river in Mexico – one that you’ve probably never heard of – that perhaps best illustrates the unique value of International Rivers.

At our Rendezvous for Rivers event this fall in California, Monti Aguirre – who’s served as the Latin America Program Coordinator for International Rivers for the past 14 years – shared the back story of the recent victory that has spared the Papagayo River in Mexico from the proposed La Parota Dam. The story began over 10 years ago when Monti was invited to attend a meeting of people concerned about dozens of dams to be built in MesoAmerica. She told community members –  mostly indigenous people – of the findings of the World Commission on Dams. She spoke about the negative impacts of dams on the environment and communities, and shared strategies of how to detain them. “The first step is always to strengthen the local organization,” she said.

Some time later she was invited to help organize the first meeting of dam-affected people in Guerrero, Mexico. At this meeting, communities on the Papagayo River were anxious about the news that a newly proposed large dam would flood them out of their homes and force their relocation. As women made tortillas in the background, women and men turned the conversation from fear and anger toward one of resolve for action. 

Communities fighting La Parota Dam on the River Papagayo float hand-made boats down the river as part of the International Day of Action for Rivers
Communities fighting La Parota Dam on the River Papagayo float hand-made boats down the river as part of the International Day of Action for Rivers
Photo by Consejo de Ejidos y Comunidades Opositores a La Presa La Parota

As Monti shared her experiences working in solidarity with courageous dam-threatened communities throughout Latin America, she helped identify key decision-points and outlined strategies that have been successful elsewhere. The seeds of a campaign were sown that night and now after years of protests, road blocks, community organizing, and exposing the deception and underhanded tactics of the local water agency and the Guerrero state government, the movement to protect the Papagayo River and the roughly 75,000 people threatened by the dam stood victorious in August 2012. Community activists signed an agreement that mandates the State Governor to seek an audience with the new President of Mexico to secure cancelation of the project.

Last week, Monti was part of a panel of judges at a Prehearing for the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, Mexico Chapter, during which communities affected by at least 10 different dams – including La Parota – presented their cases against the dam builders. The judges concluded that built and planned dam projects in Mexico are suffering from a systematic violation of human rights, among other problems. The judges presented their findings to the Mexican Supreme Court, who showed great interest and concern. We’re holding out hope that these hearings could be the beginning of a shift in how dams are planned and built in Mexico.

Pre-hearing of the People's Tribunal in Temacapulin
Pre-hearing of the People's Tribunal in Temacapulin
Photo by Claudia Campero

For now, the victory of the cancelation of the La Parota Dam belongs to the courageous people of the Papagayo River who fought for their communities and their livelihoods – they are the beneficiaries of their own hard work and struggle. And the victory also belongs to all who support our work here at International Rivers, Your financial support allows us to connect dam-affected communities across countries, regions, and the world.

By actively sharing the lessons learned in Mexico with other dam-threatened communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, we help catalyze a positive shift in the power of the movement working to protect human rights and the Earth’s living rivers. While we here at International Rivers would never take credit away from our courageous partners in this movement, we do know that we hold a unique and important space within this constellation of activists, communities, and organizations.  International Rivers wouldn’t exist, without all of the people who help us make a difference for the world’s rivers and the communities who depend on them.

Wherever you are, and however you’ve contributed in 2012, thank you for your commitment to a vibrant International Rivers.