Mexico: lives claimed in Chihuahua water wars

Hundreds of campeisnos staged a protest outside the Governor’s Palace in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua last week, following the Oct. 22 double murder of two leading members of the activist organization El Barzón. Ismael Solorio Urrutia and his wife Manuela Martha Solís Contreras were shot while driving in in thier truck on the highway near Ciudad Cuautémoc, west of the state capital, Chihuahua City. Supporters are demanding a face-to-face meeting with Chihuahua’s Gov. César Duarte to demand justice in the case, asserting that Solorio had faced numerous threats and attacks in recent weeks. On Oct. 13, Solorio and his son Eric were beaten by men that activists claim were in the pay of Vancouver-based mining company MAG Silver. Solorio and fellow Barzonistas had been opposing the installation of the company’s El Cascabel mine in the municipality of Buenaventura. The Barzonistas say the mine is illegally slated for Ejído Benito Juárez, a collective campesino agricultural holding. The site is belived to hold a rich vein of the rare element molybdenum.

Solorio was also leading efforts to oppose illegal well drilling by affluent farmers in the headwaters of the Río Carmen, depriving water to downstream campesino communities. An advocate on numerous issues facing Chihuahua’s small farmers and campesinos, he had also been a leading voice in the state for the renegotiation of NAFTA. El Barzón, which began 20 years ago as an organization of farmers demanding debt releif, has a strong presence in Chihuahua, where it has blocked highways and occupied government offices to protest NAFTA. (La Jornada, Oct. 26; Vancouver Media Co-op via Upside Down World, NorteDigital, Ciudad Juárez, EFE, Oct. 24)

Last month, hundreds of farmers repeatedly blocked the rail line that runs south of Ciudad Juárez, establishing a protest encampment at the Ferromex railway tracks near the town of Villa Ahumada, preventing trains from passing through the zone and obstructing the construction of a gas pipeline. Representing members of collectively-owned farmlands known as ejidos, the protesters insisted that the National Water Commission (Conagua) investigate and shut down illegal wells and small dams in the Río Carmen Basin. The protesters, in organizations El Barzón and the Democratic Campesino Front (FDC), contend that a small group of Mennonite farmers, with the collusion of state and federal officials, are illegally extracting water to the detriment of other producers and the environment. The Mennonites, who have been established in Chihuahua for nearly a century, argue that they are being wrongfully singled out and harassed. Two years of drought in arid Chihuahua have exacerabted the conflict. (Frontera NorteSur, Sept. 13)

Water conflicts are also brewing in neighboring Sonora state, where the Yaqui indigenous group opposes the Sonora Sí development project, whose flagship scheme is  construction of an “Independence Aqueduct” that would divert water from the Río Yaqui to state capital Hermosillo. The Yaqui charge that the project will deprive their lands of water, and is being undertaken without their consultation. “The aqueduct is an unfair, illegal project, supported by the federal government,” said Yaqui indigenous governor Juan Piña. But Sonora’s Gov. Guillermo Padrés Elias has staked his political future to the six-year plan, and declares, “The Acueducto Independencia is a fact.”

Tomás Rojo, coordinator of the Yaqui Defense Brigade, sees the project as a bid to undercut the state’s agricultural production and thereby give a boost to imports from the US. “As long as there is a scarcity of water in the Yaqui Valley, foreigners will have the opportunity to export their products to Mexico,” he said. (Americas Program, Oct. 23)