|English | Español||February 20, 2017 | Issue #67|
The Hemisphere's Social Movements Present in the International Court of Conscience
Neither Governments Nor Corporations Attended Despite Being The Main Defendants
By Fernando León
Participants in the International Court of Conscience in Mexico City.
DR 2010 Foto Fernando León.
América del Valle, after being exiled for the last four years due to persecution from the Mexican state, was there with the People’s Front in Defense of the Land from San Salvador Atenco in the state of Mexico to recount the successful struggle the Front had carried out in the last decade against the construction of an international airport on their land. During her presentation she also spoke about the revenge undertaken by the state against the people of Atenco, who stopped the largest infrastructure project of the Vicente Fox administration. The project would have only benefited international corporations and real estate interests in the area.
In the same way, Baldemar Velázquez spoke about how important organizing migrant workers in the United States is to the farming fields in that country. Velázquez is a part of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, an organization that fights giant companies like Campbell’s Soup and Phillip Morris for the recognition of migrant labor rights through collective bargaining agreements.
The Narco News team attended the first day of the event and spoke with different social movements from the hemisphere that had shown effective community organization. Among them there were two similar cases of mobilizations against infrastructure projects that are affecting local communities in both Mexico and Guatemala.
On July 28, 2003 inhabitants of villages located thirty kilometers from Acapulco in Guerrero noticed that some workers had destroyed fences and roads in their communities so that construction machinery could enter the area. The workers were hired by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE in Spanish initials), a publicly-owned Mexican company that was paving the way for an energy megaproject from the Vicente Fox administration: the La Parota dam.
Chávez Galindo, a member of the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to the Parota Dam (CECOP in Spanish initials) told Narco News that “the inhabitants that would be affected decided that nothing would be built there because the land belonged to them.” He said that this meant “a direct confrontation with the CFE and the federal government, because it was clear to them that it wasn’t necessary to consult anyone, least of all those affected.”
The project has never been accepted by the eleven communities that would be affected by the construction of the dam. The government has used illegitimate “assemblies” that happen to vote in favor of the project, but they’re composed of people that don’t make up the communities and were allegedly taken directly by the CFE and the federal government. During the last one held on April 28, 2010 the place was surrounded by more than 1,500 state and federal police who were protecting the “assembly.”
This demonstrates an invalid approval of the project, and that the government only has the “acceptance” of an illegitimate “assembly” for the construction. Both the government and the CFE are trying to ignore the communities and continue to reject the true assembly that took place on August 12, 2007. On that day, the assembly was called by both sides of the conflict: the federal government and the CFE through a regional ejido commission imposed on the majority, and a legitimate commission made through a vote of residents in the region. Eugenio Laris Alanís, the head of projects and financial investment at the CFE, even attended the assembly.
At the assembly, Laris Alanís gave a presentation on the dam project before 5,000 people—1,000 of them who were in favor of the project. After the presentation, and another one that CECOP did, the assembly voted unanimously against the project, including the 1,000 people that had originally been in favor of it. That assembly was never recognized by the CFE or the federal government.
The La Parota dam is a part of the mega-infrastructure project Plan Puebla Panamá, now known as the Mesoamérica Project. The construction of hundreds of dams to generate electrical energy for export is expected with the megaproject. According to Chávez Galindo, “the federal government and the CFE are the strawmen for multinational corporations with interests in Plan Puebla Panamá,” and he mentions that the project “is about creating a gigantic energy market where they are trying to make up an interconnected energy system between Central America and Mexico, for the benefit of multinational corporations.”
Despite the unpopularity of the project, it has been revived by the CFE with the intention of obtaining resources from the Mexican Congress for the construction. Although the dam has been defeated in assemblies that the government and business do not consider legitimate, the CECOP continues to mobilize with the legitimacy that they have given to the struggle, which they have led for more than seven years in their communities.
For Chávez Galindo the stubbornness of the government has been a part of the struggle “from the way the government moves, totally muddied by its own illegitimacy and breaking its own laws,” he says.
Domingo Hernández is an indigenous Mayan K’iche’ from Guatemala. His long story of struggle dates back to the 1970s when he was part of the Compesino Unity Committee. With the long succession of military governments and their polices of exterminating indigenous people that began in the 1960s, Domingo was expelled from his country and forced to live in exile for 16 years in Mexico (1982-1998). This genocidal policy ended the lives of more than 200,000 Guatemalans in only five years between the late 70s and early 80s.
Since his return to Guatemala, the effects of the counter-insurgency and genocide continue to be seen in the country, where secret grave sites from the genocidal period against the Guatemalan people continue to be found. For Hernández the counter-insurgency succeeded in dividing communities and “the fear of death, the army and the civil patrols meant many people didn’t return to their places of origin,” he told Narco News.
However, despite the signing of peace accords that formally ended the “civil war” 14 years ago on December 1996, there is now a new confrontation over the policies of Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom Caballeros taking away natural resources from indigenous communities in the country.
The removal of resources is accompanied by a familiar history for Guatemalans, and Hernández says that “since the signing of the [peace] accords, Colom Caballeros has been the one who has remilitarized the country the most.” The army is returning to the communities hit by the counter-insurgency policy. However, this remilitarization responds to a new historical context.
For Hernández, the presence of the Guatemalan armed forces in certain areas is due to the presence of abundant and ideal natural resources for exploitation by multinational corporations. These rich territories inhabited by indigenous populations are where social movements are emerging today.
Regardless of the unfounded fears from the army, police, and civil defense patrols in the 1980s, the indigenous communities are mobilizing to defend their lands. In these populations, the same inhabitants have promoted community surveys to find out the opinion of those who live there and would be affected by road projects, mining, or generating energy through hydroelectric dam projects. To date they have conducted 47 of these surveys, where close to a million people have said no to giving multinational corporations their lands.
According to Hernández, the new stage of social mobilization is coming from indigenous people. These people are looking to respect their “ancestral ways of resistance, their ancestral ways of cohabitation with mother nature, and the ancestral way of making decisions,” which is why they have promoted the surveys.
It’s from a context of defending their land that these different communities have managed to unite, presenting a new stage of social mobilization in the country that seeks to rearticulate the different social movements that the Guatemalan government had tried to wipe out a one point in time.
The Court of Conscience has served to reorganize many of the parallel struggles that are taking place in the hemisphere and the planet. However, the governments and corporations denounced in different cases were not in attendance, which in the legal system means an immediate ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. The judges still issued rulings against those who are attacking the organizations, communities and people who attended the forum and reported their cases.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism