At first, reports were that that Mexico’s La Parota hydroelectric dam had been scrapped for good due to limited funds. After five long years of opposition rallies, blockades, legal battles, and widespread intimidation, the peasant community of Cacahuatepec in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, could finally give up their fight and claim victory.
But as it turns out, there was no such cancellation. Mexico’s state power company, the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), had postponed construction of the 900MW hydroelectric dam citing the country's “sufficient generation margin, the difference between capacity and peak demand.” This is a huge letdown for the people of Cacahuatepec.
Back in 2006, I worked on a story about how the dam would affect the surrounding indigenous peasant community. Located near the tourist destination of Acapulco, residents make a living growing a variety of crops and community-owned lands, known as ejidos. Construction of the $1 billion hydroelectric project meant that an estimated 25,000 people faced the very real risk of being pushed out so that the Mexican government could flood their crops and dry up the Papagayo River. The project faced serious opposition from the United Nations, human rights organizations like Amnesty International and the World Bank, which argued that the dam's energy output would be inefficient and would come at a high ecological and economic cost.
My article, published in Summer 2007 by Orion Magazine, seemed to foreshadow the bad times ahead for the people of Cacahuatepec. But after I left, the peasants received increased international support and exposure for their battle against the CFE, and continued their passive resistance under the guidance of the Consejo de Ejidos y Comunidades Opositores a La Parota (CECOP), a grassroots human rights group.
Benigna Vásquez Dominguez was the one of the women I met in Cacahuatepec. In her 70s, Vásquez Dominguez was actively involved, keeping watch at the roadblock built by villagers to keep the construction trucks out. “My husband, my son and myself want to continue helping the movement in every way that we can,” she told me as she swung on a hammock that faced the dirt road and the farmlands where she worked during the day. She didn't believe that the dam would bring development to her community and was wary of leaving Cacahuatepec without being consulted or without receiving any type of reparations. “They told us that once the Papagayo River is turned into a dam, we’ll be able to make a living by fishing,” she said. “But I’m not a fisherman—I’ve never fished before. The only thing I know how to do is farm.”
Fortunately for Vásquez Dominguez and her family; for community leaders like Felipe Flores Hernández and for people like Eugenia Cruz Zamora—whose husband was killed during a fight with supporters of the dam—there now is better news: construction of the dam has been delayed until 2018. But the community refuses to accept delay as a solution. My conversations make it clear that resistance to the La Parota Dam will not let up until the Mexican government and President Felipe Calderón cancel it for good.
* Ruxandra Guidi is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. She is an independent journalist based in Austin, Texas, and her work can be found at Fonografia Collective.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.