Companies start work without consulting indigenous peoples on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
The wind hasn’t stopped blowing on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca. Night and day it rustles leaves, sweeps across the sea and spins the blades of wind turbines.
To drive wind energy production in this Mexican region, in 2004 the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), published the “Wind Energy Resource Atlas of Oaxaca” assuring that communities would receive social and economic benefits from renewable energy. According to the atlas, the wind potential of much of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is “excellent,” so it was unsurprising when in December 2012 the Mexican Wind Energy Association (AMDEE), which unites the leading companies in this sector, already had 15 wind farms in the area.
“The companies divided up our land, like the Spanish when they came to America,” Bettina Cruz Velázquez, a member of the Assembly of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory, told Latinamerica Press. “I recognize there is worldwide concern about climate change, but what is motivating the companies is turning our air into money. Green energy is a business that profits from cheating the communities; they destroy our way of life and menace our food sovereignty, forcing us into displacement.”
There are 10 multinational companies running 15 projects on the isthmus in Oaxaca — Iberdrola, Acciona, CFE, Enel Green Power, Gamesa, Cemex, Peñoles, Eléctrica del Valle de México, Renovalia, and Demex — and the Mexican federal government’s Energy Regulation Commission has approved more projects. The goal for the government of Oaxaca is to generate 2,000 MW of renewable energy by 2015.
No prior consultation
All the energy companies seem to be operating under the same scheme that doesn’t include any free and informed prior consultation to the 15 indigenous communities on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as established by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples ratified by Mexico in 1991, in addition to several national laws.
To obtain the right to possession of the land for 30 years, company representatives go door to door, asking campesino families to sign draconian contracts that set the amount of payment for the land lease. In addition, they promise work, development, infrastructure investments and reduced electricity bills once the wind farm is in operation.
In reality, 10 of the wind fields on the isthmus function under the premise of “self-sufficiency,” which the federal government’s Energy Secretariat defines as the “production of electricity for subsistence purposes, provided that such power is intended to meet the needs of individual and legal entities and isn’t inconvenient for the country.”
The “individual and legal entities” using the energy produced by the wind farm to meet their needs are large transnational corporations, including Nestlé, Femsa-Coca Cola, Bimbo, Nissan and Mitsubishi.
What Oaxacan farming families are receiving in return are pure crumbs. According to Roberto Garduño, of the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, in Europe the standard rent wind companies pay for land represents 3.9 percent of total production costs, while in Mexico it’s between 0.025 percent and 1.53 percent.
In many cases these contracts are illegal, given that much of the land used for the wind farms isn’t private, but rather communal.
“In this property system, land belongs to the community; families have the usufruct on it without being owners,” attorney Raúl Rangel González told Latinamerica Press. “Only the community assembly may give the company the right to operate.”
The case of Barra de Santa Teresa
An emblematic case demonstrating the discriminatory and violent attitude the wind companies have toward the isthmus’s indigenous communities is the project Mexican consortium Mareña Renovables wants to implement in Barra de Santa Teresa, a 27 km (17 miles) strip of sand and mangroves. The project includes a US$1 billion investment to build 132 turbines that would produce 396 MW of electricity.
“When they started to do studies, there was a massive fish kill. Here, we live from fishing and the Barra de Santa Teresa is our daily bread. We don’t want this project and the pushback came strongly after the municipal president Miguel López Castellano sold out to the company, signing the permit for its entry,” a resident of San Dionisio del Mar who preferred to remain anonymous told Latinamerica Press.
Repression against those who opposed the project has been strong. In February, Governor of Oaxaca Gabino Cué Monteagudo said in a statement that “all necessary action would be taken to avoid such a substantial investment from leaving the state.”
Assault groups are mobilizing to silence project opponents, who are visited by strangers who threaten them in front of their children. They have also tried to forcibly remove people from the Municipal Palace of San Dionisio del Mar, occupied by the community since January 2012 after overthrowing Mayor López Castellano, who received 20.5 million pesos ($1.5 million) from Mareña Renovables under the pretext of land use rights, though he hasn’t clarified where that money went.
In October 2012 a group of hooded people, apparently members of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the same community, tried to stop the humanitarian convoy that traveled to San Dionisio del Mar to deliver food to the Ikjot and Zapotec indigenous communities who oppose the construction of the mega wind farm project in the area. They poured gasoline over community member Isaúl Celaya López, threatening to burn him alive.
Nevertheless, the judicial system has sided with the indigenous communities of Barra de Santa Teresa. A court in the town of Salina Cruz ruled Oct. 9 to temporarily suspend construction in response to a request for protective action from the General Assembly of San Dionisio del Mar.
In statements to the press, Miguel Ángel García Aguilar, a member of that General Assembly, called the ruling “a resounding victory in the fight for respect of the land and the rights of indigenous communities.”
“We demand that all authorities involved in the wind farm project of San Dionisio del Mar, and the consortium of Mareña Renovables, comply with the provisions of the suspension issued by the federal judge,” he added. —Latinamerica Press.
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