Image: Educa Oaxaca

More than six years after a controversial dam in Mexico was officially cancelled, community activists who opposed the megaproject face continued criminalization.

The Ejidos and Communities Council Opposed to La Parota Dam (CECOP) was formed to stop the proposed La Parota dam on the Papagayo River in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero.

An “ejido” is an area of communal agricultural land in which community members individually farm parcels of land and collectively maintain communal holdings.

International Rivers explains, “[La Parota] would have flooded close to 17,000 hectares of land and displaced more than 25,000 people. An additional 75,000 people were expected to be affected by changes to the river ecosystem downstream of the dam.”

Affected communities formed CECOP in 2004 and joined with MAPDER (the Mexican Movement of Those Affected by Dams and in Defence of Rivers) to oppose the dam.

The Environmental Justice Atlas notes, “Several protests were met with violent police repression, which resulted in two deaths and violated the rights of affected communities.”

After years of struggle, La Parota was cancelled in August 2012.

Unfortunately, the story does not end there.

Academic Vasundhara Jairath has written, “The introduction of the project that divided not only communities, but also friends and families, between those in favor of the dam and those opposed to it, has had serious implications on communal relations in this region. […] State forces have amply exploited, exacerbated, and actively created this division to foment high-intensity violence.”

For example, Peace Brigades International (PBI) has noted, “On January 7, 2018, after a violent incident in the community La Concepción (Guerrero, Mexico) that caused the death of eight people, a security operation took place where three people lost their lives and at least 25 were detained, the majority of whom are members of CECOP.”

PBI adds, “Given these incidents, the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, accompanied by PBI, took on the legal representation of those detained.”

Tlachinollan works to defend the rights of the Indigenous Na savi, Me’phaa, Nauas, Nn´anncue, and Mestizo peoples of the Montaña and Costa Chica regions of Guerrero.

On March 1, Tlachinollan posted (in Spanish) on their website, “On Tuesday, February 27, Tomas Cruz Valeriano and Clemente Cabrera Benítez were freed, after half a year of being imprisoned… The two accused of dispossession will continue their trial in freedom despite being innocent.”

Educa Oaxaca, another group accompanied by PBI, reports that the bail for the two CECOP activists was “368 thousand pesos”, which is just over CAD $25,000.

Tlachinollan adds, “For 16 years already of tenacious struggle, […] a repressive government has endeavored to bend CECOP by criminalizing their struggle and generating divisions in the communities to wear them down internally.”

On March 2, the Mexican newspaper El Sol de Acapulco reported (in Spanish), “Leaders of social organizations linked to CECOP and CRAC-PC reported having been victims of human rights violations when they were beaten, threatened and tortured in the port of Acapulco by a group of state police officers, who stripped them of a bus a private company that they kept retained and using for mobilizations.”

SIPAZ explains, “The Communal Police (PC) and the Regional Coordination of Communal Authorities (CRAC) are examples of communal-justice institutions created by indigenous peoples. […]The vision of the indigenous peoples organized in the CRAC has been to integrate their rights and cultures as indigenous into its policies.”

And the Mexican newspaper La Jornada recently reported (in Spanish) on a media conference held by CECOP and CRAC-PC both of which are members of The Movement for the Freedom of Political Prisoners the State of Guerrero (MOLPPEG).

That article reported that the Movement is demanding, “the definitive cancellation of the La Parota dam, the cessation of the criminalization of the social struggle in Guerrero and the judicialization of those who defend the land and human rights, the cancellation of 50 arrest warrants against members of the CECOP, justice for their comrades in both organizations who have been murdered, and punishment for those responsible for those crimes.”

The struggle continues for the Indigenous land and water defenders who are protecting the Papagayo River, their territory and their community.

Image: Educa Oaxaca

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...