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In Mexico to participate in the Permanent Peoples Tribunal on the impacts of dams - day three

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Maude Barlow is in Mexico to participate in the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on the impacts of dams, to visit Real de Catorce where a proposed mine threatens sacred land and local water, and to speak at a public forum in Mexico City on the right to water. This is her third blog from this trip.

PHOTO: Guadalupe (Lupita) Lara makes her presentation to the tribunal

Beautiful sunshine. Lovely singing day. Tent full to hear more testimony.

Started off with a moving and dignified presentation by Guadalupe (Lupita) Lara, a woman of about 65 years of age, on the forced eviction of her home and land for the Arcediano Dam, a massive dam in the state of Jalisco that was to provide water for Guadalajara but was later cancelled due to corruption and cost overruns.

She told us how the state moved in and destroyed her home and all the other homes in her town, and she described, weeping, how they came in and turned off their water and electricity months ahead of coming in and tearing down homes without having made any plans for their relocation. Anyone who resisted was threatened with death. They had to abandon farm animals and pets. “Poor people have no rights,” she said. “My struggle now is only for dignity.” And fighting she is, through the courts, before tribunals, to the Pope, in the media, even travelling abroad to tell her story! She is now writing a book on her experience. The government will come to regret treating this extraordinary woman in this way.

Last night, one of the last presenters turned to us and said he had brought “the hope of my people” in his bags all the way from Veracruz where they are planning 112 dams. He said, “We have no riches, but we have anger and knowledge and love and courage. I leave with you, the jury, these dreams of my people.” I felt a great burden about accepting these dreams. I don’t want to raise hopes and expectations we cannot fulfil.

Something new for me in terms of understanding the threats of big dams is the extra threat of damming badly polluted rivers. In many of the testimonies we heard, people refer to using filthy water that is too polluted for daily use for the dams. Apparently, 80 percent of the 4500 dams that have been built in Mexico are contaminated with already polluted water. That’s in addition to the methane and mercury contamination already associated with big dams.

We have also heard testimony that some dams will use underground pipelines to transfer rivers to the dam site.

The presentation of the Temalca delegation (where we are staying) was particularly moving as the tent is filled with the local people. Former President Vicente Fox called this and the other two towns to be drowned by the Zapotillo Dam “ghost towns.” I can tell you this is not so. Temalca is a vibrant beautiful living community of gracious and fine people.

One woman told us that deaths are already taking place as the stress of the impending drowning of their ancient homes is causing illness. A doctor confirmed this statement in his presentation, reporting deep anxiety in children, 26 deaths of older people, as well as heart and stomach illnesses and emotional problems, all connected to the proposed dam. One woman said that she cannot work anymore, all she does is cry all day. And sadly many young people are leaving this town seeing no future here.

Another presenter said that she would rather have a gun to her head than have this threat of total community annihilation. This community appealed to the Pope for help. He sent them a photo of himself.

A recurring theme is that many people living in these impacted communities do not have legal title to their land. They are simply farming the same land handed down from their parents and grandparents, but the government does not recognize their legal title to their ancestral land.

More soon.

Maude’s first two blogs from this trip can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=17740 and http://canadians.org/blog/?p=17779.

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