Temporary Injunction Halts Mexico’s La Parota Dam

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Judge’s Decision Could Lead to Cancellation of Project

(Guerrero, Mexico) Lawyers for opponents of Mexico’s proposed La Parota Dam filed a $10,000 judicial bond yesterday ensuring that all construction on the massive dam ceases immediately. The bond is part of a temporary injunction ordered by Mexican federal judge Lidia Larumbe on September 11 in support of a constitutional challenge against the project filed on behalf of local residents. Local campesinos and indigenous people vehemently oppose the 531-foot-high dam on the Papagayo River in Guerrero State. If built, the dam would displace some 25,000 farmers and flood 17,000 hectares of forest and farmland.

Judge Larumbe’s decision, opposed by the federal Attorney General, will be in effect until a verdict is reached on the constitutional challenge filed against the dam by the Mexican Environmental Law Center (CEMDA). The suit accuses the government and the government-owned electricity company – Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) – of illegally granting environmental clearance and a water concession for the dam. It also charges CFE with serious human rights violations, failure to follow Mexican and international environmental law, and a refusal to conduct an open and transparent process in approving the dam.

While the temporary injunction is by no means the final nail in the coffin of the project, it did hand La Parota’s critics a significant victory. "This action sets an extremely important precedent," asserted Gustavo Castro of the Mexican Movement of Peoples Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers. It is rare that protecting the environment and peasant communities would supersede the economic interests to build an infrastructure project of this magnitude."

International Rivers, a group that works to protect human rights and rivers worldwide, has worked with indigenous and campesino opponents of the La Parota project since it was proposed in 2003. "It is impressive to see how the local people have organized to stop the dam," says Monti Aguirre, International Rivers’s Latin America Campaigner. "The temporary injunction marks a significant victory for the communities, but unfortunately the Mexican government and dam proponents are determined to ram the project through. We will continue to support the community’s efforts to protect their land and rights."

CEMDA and the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense have also filed a critical report with UN special rapporteurs investigating human rights issues around the dam. They charge an Environmental Impact Assessment filed by CFE ignored the project’s location in a highly seismic area; failed to analyze the potential for vector-borne diseases like malaria; and did not address sedimentation issues that could affect the dam’s performance.

Not only do Mexican federal and state governments favor the plan, Carlos Slim -- recently deemed the richest man in the world by Fortune Magazine – is also a strong promoter of the project. Slim owns ICA, the Mexican construction company most likely to win major contracts for the $1.02 billion project.

The dam proponents face equally determined opponents. Even though government forces have arrested, clubbed and tear-gassed residents of the 47 communities under threat, those communities still maintain roadblocks that prevent dam proponents from entering their villages. As community leader Felipe Flores said, "A project can not be imposed with blood and fire when people do not want it."