<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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Atenco is on Alert and Organizing Against Government Appropriation of its Lands

Residents View Water Agency Project as a Trojan Horse to Revive International Airport Project

By Fernando León
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

November 17, 2010

Residents of the town of San Salvador Atenco in the state of Mexico still find themselves on alert over the construction of an international airport on their ejido (communally owned) farmlands. According to members with the Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT in Spanish initials), the federal government has tried to come between the residents and is creating divisions to seize their land through the National Water Commission (CONAGUA).

For nearly two years the federal government has infiltrated the lands in Atenco, buying acres of the same land that had been a part of the 19 expropriation decrees published by ex-Mexican President Vicente Fox in October 2001. This time they have been bought under a project called the “Relief Area and Environmental Rescue in Lake Texcoco.” There is a difference in the price of 7 pesos per square meter that the government had offered in 2001. This time they’ve offered 157 pesos per square meter to the ejidatarios, although for the residents “neither the 7 pesos that they first offered, nor the 157 pesos that they’re currently offering are going to remove us from our lands.”

Since February 2009 CONAGUA has started approaching local residents to try and convince them of the need for an “environmental” project that would benefit them. According to the federal agency, the “environmental rescue” project in Lake Texcoco will:

-Improve the quality of life of the population located in the eastern part of the Metropolitan Area of the Valley of Mexico, reducing health affects and increasing the proportion of green areas per resident.

-Increase the rate of recovery of lake bottom soils and decrease the health affects caused by particle emissions in the atmosphere that the metropolitan population breathes.

-Create an environment-friendly park that benefits residents in the area

However, according to members of the FPDT interviewed by Narco News the project is only a disguise for the federal government’s real goal: the construction of an international airport for Mexico City. In 2001 the same lands were expropriated for the construction of the airport, but the mobilization of the people who would be affected with the FPDT ended what was the largest private investment project of Fox’s presidency.

In August 2002 the expropriation decrees were annulled, and the people in Atenco and the surrounding lands were able to keep their land. After the FPDT’s victory, the movement strengthened its position as a major player in the different political, economic and social issues affecting their communities, organizing a movement that has great support among the population. In this context, in May 2006 the federal government and the state of Mexico avenged their defeat in 2001 with a brutal assault on the town, which ended with beatings, torture, two people murdered and dozens of women raped by police officers who belonged to three different levels of government.

After that the strategy of the FPDT focused on freeing the more than 200 political prisoners that the government was keeping in custody. Three years later in 2009, the FPDT and different social groups in the country launched the Liberty and Justice for Atenco campaign, which sought the liberation of twelve prisoners who were still in federal penitentiaries in the state of Mexico. In July 2010 the twelve prisoners were finally released after the effective mobilization of the campaign and a legal defense that demonstrated the weak legal arguments that were holding the prisoners hostage.

With the liberation of the political prisoners the FPDT was able to regroup and focus on the struggle to defend their lands against the new threat represented by CONAGUA. The organizing that was a part of the struggle for the release of the political prisoners has succeeded in strengthening the FPDT against these new challenges. FPDT member Trinidad Ramírez del Valle told Narco News in an interview that the residents of Atenco are “continuing the fight of 2001, because we know that our land is still being threatened and today it is being done through the CONAGUA project in a shameless manner.” And that is why today the FPDT is betting on the annulment of the buying and selling of land already acquired by the federal government, warning that it exerts pressure on ejidatarios to sell their land so the government can build its airport.

Heriberto Salas, FPDT member, at the National Encuentro of Organizations and Struggles of The Other Campaign.
Foto DR 2010 Fernando León.
FPDT member Heriberto Salas told Narco News that the original airport project involved the expropriation of more than 5,000 hectors of core ejidos in Ixtapan, Atenco, Acuexcomac, Tocuila, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz, Chimalhuacán, Huexotla and Nexquipayac. Salas, a native of Nexquipayac, says that the ejidatarios who have sold their land there have done so due to pressure from the government, furthering a “new government strategy of individually negotiating with the ejidatarios.” This strategy, carried out family by family, “is trying to create divisions between them and the other ejidatarios,” Salas says.

In the case of the Atenco ejido the FPDT has succeeded in controlling the town’s ejido commission for another three years. Last October a commission slate sympathetic to the FPDT and headed by Hermenegildo Márquez del Valle—relative to FPDT leader Ignacio del Valle—managed to win against two other groups who were representing the interests of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in Spanish initials). The PRI—a political party that has ruled the state of Mexico for more than 80 years—is trying to sell the ejido lands for the CONAGUA project.

The project currently threatening the lands in the municipality of Atenco involves the sale of the same exact ejido lands that were affected by the expropriation in 2001. This fact generates so much distrust in the local residents because in addition to that there are currently large road projects under development in the area. For the FPDT, the project is a confirmation of the struggle that began the movement. Almost ten years after the failed expropriation for the airport the FPDT remains on alert. As Ramírez del Valle says, ever since then “we don’t trust anyone who is with the government.”

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