Mexico: Chiapas indigenous protest dams, electric rates

About 1,000 indigenous people and campesinos held a march in Huixtán in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas on Feb. 25 to protest the high rates the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) charges, to oppose the construction of more dams in the region, and to demand that electric power generation not be privatized. The march was organized by the Feb. 29 Popular Struggle Front, which was also marking the eighth anniversary of its founding.

The front's leader, Pedro Álvarez Vázquez, charged that the CFE "has installed towers with high-tension lines on the land of communities and ejidos [campesino cooperatives] to carry power to other municipalities, and it doesn't pay anything to the owners…who can't work on the land because of the danger." In addition to charging high rates, the commission doesn't maintain the lines and transformers properly, causing power outages, especially during rainstorms, according to the activist."[I]t isn't possible that they give us the power at such a cost when Chiapas has various hydroelectric dams that generate electricity for other parts of the country," he added.

Álvarez Vázquez said the march included indigenous people from some 20 Huixtán communities that have been resisting payment for electricity for more than a decade, along with organizations in solidarity from Las Roas, Altamirano and Socoltenango municipalities. (La Jornada, Mexico, Feb. 26)

In related news, federal authorities arrested schoolteacher and environmental activist Lucila Bettina Cruz Velázquez in Juchitán de Zaragoza in the neighboring state of Oaxaca as she was leaving a meeting with the CFE's regional director on Feb. 22. She was released on bail 24 hours later, charged with the illegal deprivation of freedom of CFE workers and with obstruction of "the exploitation of national riches." (In Mexico activists are sometimes charged with"illegal deprivation of freedom" when they block access to buildings or roads.)

Cruz Velázquez is a member of the Assembly of the Indigenous Peoples of the Tehuantepec Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory and has been a leader in struggles against high electric rates and against a project for building wind turbines in the Tehuantepec Isthmus. The human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern over her arrest. (Proceso, Mexico, Feb. 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 26.

See our last posts on Mexico, Chiapas and regional struggles for control of water.