<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Morelos Residents Fight Back Against a Garbage Dump that Is Polluting their Land and Poisoning their Children

With Protests, Blockades, and Now Joining Forces with the Zapatista Other Campaign, the Citizens of Alpuyeca Have the Government on the Defensive

By Amber Howard
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Morelos

April 27, 2006

The people of the town of Alpuyeca, Morelos are suffering from serious health problems. Respiratory diseases, breathing problems, and skin infections are the most visible results of what townspeople say is the contamination of their water from the Tetlama open-air garbage. This dump, used by the five surrounding communities and accruing 1,300 tons of garbage per day, has been in use for the last thirty years — too long, according to Paloma Estrada of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Morelos, who addressed Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos earlier this month at a meeting of the Other Campaign in Zacatepec.

At the Other Campaign meeting in Zacatepec, Morelos.
Photo: D.R. 2006 Enlace Zapatista
“First we noticed that our children were becoming sick,” said Estrada. “Then we realized where the pollution was coming from and that it was contaminating our water… Garbage dumps should normally be in use for 10 to 20 years. Anything after this time can be destructive to ground water, aquifers, and the soil.”

At the meeting of workers in Zacatepec — a city whose largest employer is a sugar refinery — on April 12, another neighbor of the dump, Luis Montoya Ortega, spoke about the consequences of pollution before the assembly of more than 1,000 people. “One of the most obvious contamination sites is the Platlaco River, which runs from north to south through the state of Morelos. Now children aren’t even able to bathe in the water and it could be getting incrementally worse,” he said. “Land, air and water — that’s all we want.”

On March 14, a group of Alpuyeca community members, including Montoya Ortega, demanded the closing of the dump by blocking the federal highway between the city of Cuernavaca and Alpuyeca with large boulders, signs and protesters. According to local press reports, after approximately 15 hours of unmoving traffic, state and local authorities promised to begin the necessary steps to close the waste site. Rafael Martinez, sub-secretary of the state government, mentioned that he would meet with local mayors to start to figure out how to minimize the amount of garbage being transferred there in the months to come.

The governor of Morelos, Sergio Estrada Cajigal did not comment on the importance of shutting the garbage dump and simply demanded that the highway be opened. Cajigal was quoted by reporter Miguel Angel Garcia in the newspaper La Jornada de Morelos: “I have asked for police presence and in the case that these uncompromising people don’t listen to reason, the police will have to remove them.” One of the protestors and community members, Guadalupe Zallego, said the blockade was necessary so that “the deaf government of Estrada Cajigal pays attention to us. We are tired of going to meeting after meeting, without arriving at anything, exhausting all the legal options and, still, nothing.”

While Montoya Ortega claims the government promised a definite closure within 90 days of their protest, Paloma Estrada isn’t so sure. In her comments during an Other Campaign meeting in nearby Tlaquiltenango on April 14, she mentioned that while the closure of the dump is important, she believes that the solution to the health problems and other contamination issues will only come after significant long-term ecological and bacterial tests are complete. After the first set of preliminary tests came back saying the area was contaminated, the Independent Human Rights Commission of Morelos began working with local authorities, trying to get soil, water, and air tests done to be able to quantify the true damage of the environment. So far, their requests have not been met.

“Our struggle,” highlights spokeswoman Estrada, “isn’t just about the garbage dump. It goes beyond that. What we are asking for is the health and wellbeing of our people. That is why we are on our feet and in the struggle.”

Estrada describes how the earth in this agricultural area is porous, meaning any kind of runoff from the dump seeps into the groundwater. “If the soil is permeated with contaminants, they are going into the fruits and vegetables the area produces. This is another reason why the tests need to be completed as soon as possible.”

One of the necessary tests will be to check for heavy metals and hydrocarbons. The Human Rights Commission is still waiting to hear back from the municipal officials, but they believe that their requests, including reparations for health problems and other damages, are both fair and respectful. As Estrada explains, “Not one of us here agreed to make Alpuyeca the site of this dump. Now it is not just an ecological issue, it is a health problem. We must have reparations.” Many of the people continue to drink the water, unable to afford to buy purified in bottles. “The important thing now is to know the level of danger incurred upon consumption. If we are drinking water from there, what happens?”

The Human Rights Commission, as part of its plea for reparations, is asking the government for a clinic to take care of the people with health problems due to the pollution, a grade school — currently the community has none — so that they can educate the children on ecological issues, and to clean up the river.

Montoya Ortega came to present his story to Delegate Zero because he sees the Other Campaign as “wanting to unify and create a strategy during these times of struggle, so that the government doesn’t keep stepping on our natural resources, or on the people. This is what we have in common with the Other Campaign; this is why we are adherents. I like its ideal and struggle for just causes. We have to do this together.”

In his speech on April 12, Marcos echoed the sentiment. “This voice, which is small here in Zacatepec, will become huge and cross the border into the North.”

Estrada and the Human Rights Commission are preparing to present their struggle to the Indigenous National Congress coming up on the 5th and 6th of May. “We aren’t experts,” said Estrada, “but we are becoming informed, to be able to recognize the problem.” She spoke about how a group of community members rented a bus and traveled to the capital to see different trash dumps and compare them to their own. Another important aspect is that the process of closing a garbage dump isn’t immediate; it most likely will require twenty years of monitoring. This means someone will need to be there to guarantee that the government complies with its promises, that the dump is closed down in an ecological fashion, and that no one continues to dump their trash there. “It is a time bomb,” Estrada declared. “It’s going to take many steps, it is a process, but we will be here for as long as it takes.”

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America