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

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Photo: Temacapulin, Mexico

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 second blog from this trip.

The town of Temaca is a village of about 600 people who live very much as their grandparents did. Children run around the main plaza and the sound of music floats through the night air into their homes. The people here describe their village as a “unique town, deeply rooted in culture and tradition, with a peaceful environment, hospitality of the community, traditional meals, and clean, fresh air along with beautiful views of mountains and waterfalls. A special place, perfectly aged with history and wisdom.”

This lovely village, along with two other towns in the area, is slated to be completely drowned by the Zapotillo dam, one of hundreds of new dams planned by the Mexican government. The people are putting up a fierce fight and that is the reason this village was chosen for the hearing.

We had a wonderful welcome to this community last night. There was a lovely communal meal of tortillas and sauces in the courtyard outside the beautiful 250-year-old church. We will have all our meals, prepared by the local community, in this courtyard.

The tribunal began this morning in an open-air tent in the main plaza with perhaps 250 people from the local community as well as other communities impacted by dams in attendance. I am one of a number of civil society “judges” to hear testimonials from legal and human rights experts and from the people from these communities. The testimonials are broken into three categories: dams that have been built, ones under construction, and ones in the planning stage.

Community leaders presented their welcoming vision to us.

The delegation speaking against La Parota dam

PHOTO: The delegation speaking against La Parota dam

Then a speaker from a community where a dam was built long ago said that one can never leave a struggle behind, it is never over. For those who only care about local struggles and forget the rest, he said, “God help them” as human rights are non-negotiable and cannot be limited by time or place.

Another pointed out how we are now in a terrible new phase of neo-liberal globalization in which there is no longer rules for corporations and their access to resources. Not only are governments not placing limits on these corporations, they are removing institutional impediments by signing trade deals that give corporations new rights, dismantling environmental rules, and denouncing those who resist these projects as “extremists” who don’t care about their country or the economy. He could have been speaking about Canada.

The panel is also learning that indigenous rights are not important to the authorities when dams are built. “They get out or they drown… We are going to buy them lifeguards and boats so they have nothing to worry about,” said one official several years ago at a press conference.

And we heard from the Council of People United for the Defence of Río Verde, whose members travelled for 27 hours by bus from Oaxaca to talk to us about the dam they are fighting.

Later we watched a powerful film called How to Destroy a 500-Year-Old Community in 15 days. The title kind of says it all.

This afternoon there have been very powerful testimonies from communities fighting impending dams. The passion and the hurt people are experiencing is right on the surface. I find myself wishing that this was some kind of global tribunal that could immediately enforce what our findings will be. But even without that, this people’s tribunal process is incredibly important and will make a huge difference in the long run.

There are several themes that are clearly emerging for me.

First, these massive dams are the result of NAFTA and the Latin American project to pave NAFTA’s way called “Plan Puebla-Panama,” now known as the “Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project” because of the unpopularity of the Plan Puebla-Panama. But it is the same project. Its base document is called “Promoting Regional Hydroelectric and Geothermal Centres” and is linked to the document “Connectivity of the Regional Proposal of Transformation and Modernization of Central America and Plan Puebla-Panama.” It is all about creating a massive multi hydro/ energy/ highway/ fibre-optic corridor through the region for the benefit of big corporations and governments that serve them. We were told that there are plans for 60 new dams in El Salvador alone!

Second, this is part of the same neo-liberal corporate-driven resource exploitative agenda we are witnessing in Canada. One of the indigenous speakers from the Las Cruces hydro dam struggle in Veracruz told us how they have had free access to the river and fish, but now they are bringing in a market model in anticipation of this dam. He said, “what else would you call this but the privatization of our lives?” Another said, “They are institutionalizing our ways.” The words of First Nations people we heard on the Council of Canadians’ “No Pipelines, No Tankers Tour” in British Colombia were strikingly similar.

Third, the amount of racism involved in these projects is breathtaking. Over and over people tell us about government and company officials who tell them they are just “Indians” who know nothing. At a 2009 court hearing regarding the Cerro de Oro dam, which the community has been fighting for 40 years, the judge flung these words at the 400 local people in the courtroom: “Get out of here. You are a bunch of indigenous people who know nothing of the law. This office isn’t for you. You don’t know what is going to happen here.”

What is so clear is that it is just the opposite. The indigenous people who have come before us have a very clear grasp of their rights and they are adamant that they will not give them up. Something very important is happening. As the other side shows its hand, people come together to resist. People in these communities have had their lives turned upside down and have been threatened, intimidated and jailed. Nothing stops them. They are clear that they are fighting for an ancient culture that holds the seeds for all of our healing.

It is now 7:10 p.m. We are still hearing delegations and then there will be a cultural evening -- all outside where it is now quite cold. Kids are all around the plaza. We will be here until 10 p.m., I am sure. I am tired and cold, but so happy to be here with these extraordinary warriors.

Maude’s first blog from this trip can be read here. Blue Planet Project organizer Claudia Campero is with Maude in Temacapulin, her blog from this afternoon is here.

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