Mexican Dams Postponed

by Monti Aguirre
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

For six years the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) dodged concerns by communities resisting construction of La Parota Dam on the Papagayo River in Guerrero State. The communities' fierce opposition never flagged, to the point that CFE recently announced it is postponing the project at least until 2018.

When word of the dam proposal spread, it was first met with bewilderment. But after CFE cleared thousands of trees to open up roads for project construction, and company trucks attempted to go through peasants' communal lands without permission, the potentially affected people were soon blocking roads and organizing themselves. A widespread movement of opposition had begun.

CFE promoted the belief that the project was needed at any cost within the decade, and began resorting to dirty tricks to move the dam forward, including fake consultations, violent police repression, and bribing local government officials. These tactics proved counterproductive, and led to legal actions against the agency. Successful lawsuits have suspended the project for the past few years.

CFE officials said the company would review the project but that it would not be built if a deal could not be reached with local people. Officials also said the country has sufficient electricity reserves at the moment; frail financial times have also influenced the decision to postpone the project.

Another dam down

La Parota is not the only dam encountering stiff opposition and undergoing a change of plans in Mexico. The governor of Jalisco State recently announced the cancellation of the Arcediano Dam proposed for the Verde River by the Jalisco State Commission for Water and Sanitation. This project was of great concern to people in the Guadalajara Suburban Area, who worried about the dam's possible impacts on the health of three million residents who would receive water from the dam. The Santiago River, from its source in Lake Chapala to the Arcediano site, receives wastewater from both domestic and industrial sources. In 2001 the National Water Commission stated that the Santiago River was unsuitable as a source of raw water to supply drinking water.

Although canceling the construction of the dam is good news for concerned residents, government authorities have made a substantive investment, people have been evicted, and the historical first suspension bridge in Latin America has been destroyed. It is unclear who is going to pay for damages, and what the new project might look like.

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