Interview: Victory Over Mexico's La Parota Dam

by Monti Aguirre
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Since 2004, thousands of Mexican farmers have been fighting the construction of La Parota Dam in the state of Guerrero. They have staged blockades, protests and legal actions and have faced violent police repression in return. In May, the Mexican press reported that the government would postpone La Parota Dam until after 2018. World Rivers Review interviewed Rodolfo Chavez Galindo, a leader of the vibrant movement to stop the dams, about the battle over La Parota.

Rodolfo Chavez Galindo (right) and Felipe Flores have been at the forefront of the fight to stop La Parota Dam.
Rodolfo Chavez Galindo (right) and Felipe Flores have been at the forefront of the fight to stop La Parota Dam.
Maribel Roldon
WRR: How is the local movement organized?
RCG: The Council of Communal Lands and Communities Opposed to La Parota Dam (CECOP) was created by farmers and indigenous peoples to defend their lives, land, water and natural resources. It is composed of more than 5,000 men and women from 39 villages. Its principal strength is that decisions are made in a communal way, in assemblies that have been held every Sunday without fail during the six years we have been fighting the project.

The movement began on July 28, 2003, when the peasants of three villages blocked engineers with the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) from entering community lands. The CFE had illegally entered the community's land without people's permission. The land compensation process had not started, nor the environmental licensing process. The CFE cleared thousands of trees - which is a federal crime - opened roads, and brought in heavy machinery to begin construction. People got angry when they cut trees, fences and crops.

WRR: What was the reaction of the government?
RCG: The CFE removed the machinery from the peasants' lands. The community set up guard posts to ensure the CFE would not return. The CFE has not been able to re-enter these lands since 2003. The resistance was strengthened by lawsuits, which have suspended the project until now.

The CFE tried other tactics, paying off government officials to try and expropriate the land. They convened fraudulent assemblies. When the farmers who were the owners of the lands tried to enter these assemblies, the CFE impeded their entry with 1,500 police that repelled the farmers with tear gas. Instead, the CFE filled the meetings with people they brought from the cities who were not farmers, a move that was totally illegal.

WRR: Besides road blocks, what other tactics have you used to fight the project?

RCG: Faced with these serious violations, the movement turned to the law. They asked the courts to nullify the assemblies and after three years won a court order. In 2008, the CFE admitted that it could not begin work on the dam because it had not obtained the required permissions, and it had been defeated in the courts.

Lawsuits were also brought on environmental grounds based upon CFE's illegal deforestation and on criminal grounds based upon forged signatures used by CFE to legitimize the fraudulent assemblies. Using the law has been one of the movement's strongest weapons, but the most important has been the strength and determination of the movement itself.

WRR: Has CECOP presented its case at an international level?
RCG: We presented the case of La Parota to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) through a petition signed by 102 Mexican organizations. The DESA Committee issued a recommendation that the Mexican government respect the decisions won by the farmers in the courts, that they respect their legitimate property rights and that any decision be based on a process of free, prior and informed consent by the farmers.

Other UN officials visited the area and recognized the farmers' rights to defend their land. They also confirmed violations of the rights of indigenous peoples and the right to information and consultation.

WRR: How did farmers react when the Mexican press reported that the government is postponing La Parota until 2018? Is this true?
RCG: We have received no official information about this from the CFE. And, our demand is that the project be cancelled once and for all, not postponed!

After delivering a petition to President Calderón demanding a meeting with the CFE, we met with them on May 21, 2009. Our position is that La Parota Dam in Guerrero state, the Paso de la Reyna Dam in Oaxaca, and the Arcediano and El Zapotillo dams in Jalisco must be cancelled, and that those displaced by El Cajón Dam in Nayarit must receive just compensation.

To win, we will need unity among diverse movements, beginning with dam-affected communities. We must integrate our struggle with others suffering from environmental degradation in Mexico and in other countries. And, we must strengthen the struggle for an alternative energy policy.