Stopping the Construction of a Dam to Prevent Your Home from Being Flooded
Posted on April 12, 2011 by Priscila Néri
The roughly 300 families that live in Temacapulín – a tiny town nestled between four green hills along the Verde River in the state of Jalisco, Mexico – have been fighting against big odds for the past five years for the basic right to stay in their homes. Faced with the threat of eviction from their lands to make way for the construction of the El Zapotillo Dam, they have tirelessly mobilized, protested, and sought legal recourse to prevent their community from being flooded. Two of those activists – Emma Juárez and Maria Felix – attended our Mexico video advocacy training with HIC-Latin America in January and talked to us about their struggle:
Local courts and the Jalisco State Human Rights Commission have sided with the residents of Temaca, citing clear violations on the part of Mexican federal and state water authorities (CONAGUA and CEA respectively) in the process of proposing and then beginning construction on the El Zapotillo Dam. Among the most glaring irregularities: the dam wall – initially cleared by environmental regulators to stand at 80m high – is actually being built at 105m high, a 25m difference which essentially means that three entire communities (Temaca, Acasico and Palmarejo) will now be completely submerged because of the new dam (a consequence that was not considered ‘significant’ enough to require a new environmental assessment of the project before construction began(!).
In addition, affected communities were never properly informed or consulted about the project, a clear violation of international human rights treaties that Mexico is party to as well as of international guidelines on development projects and displacement. There are several recommendations around this, but some of the key ones include: #1: governments should avoid removing a community at all costs and explore all other available options before moving forward with an eviction; #2: if – after all options are explored – the removal of a community is proven to be the only possible solution, governments should involve the affected community at all stages of decision-making around the project; the community must be adequately resettled and must end up in equal or better living conditions. Neither of these principles has been respected in Temacapulín. In a self-consultation organized by the community (and grounded in both municipal law and international human rights frameworks), 98% of residents voted against the project.
As is usually the case when it comes to dams and human rights, the core issue in Temacapulín is about more than whether or not to build a dam. What is really at stake are questions around justice, power, and decision-making. Whose voices were heard and taken into account when planning this project? Perhaps more importantly – whose voices were denied?
In Temacapulín, construction on the El Zapotillo Dam began in January 2010 and continued to move forward despite legal orders mandating a halt (including the most recent February 2011 injunction). It continued to move forward despite numerous attempts from the affected communities and allied organizations to alert local authorities to their responsibility to uphold the law. There were threats made to community activists who were speaking up. The companies involved in the construction – Mexico-based Peninsular Compañía Constructora and Grupo Hermes and Spain-based FCC Construcción – have not addressed the pleas of the community.
So on March 27, the community network leading the resistance - Comité Salvemos Temaca – held an emergency meeting and decided to take emergency measures: a peaceful occupation of the dam site to stop construction and oblige authorities to listen.
During the blockade, our partners shot and edited a video with the support of HIC-AL and allies like Centro Prodh – this video is now being used nationally to increase support for the Temaca resistance:
Five days into the blockade, the government agreed to establish dialogue with the Temaca community – a first since the process was initiated five years ago. As a gesture of goodwill, the activists agreed to suspend the blockade and the government agreed to drop the threat of pressing criminal charges on the activists. This second video, also made by another participant of our training – Pato Esquível from IMDEC – shows how this mediation process came about:
Now, all eyes are on this negotiating process – will the Mexican government uphold the rights of the citizens of Temaca?
You can take action to support the struggle of the Temaca community by:
>> Forwarding these videos and inviting your friends and family to add their voice to Temaca’s campaign to save their community.
>> Signing this petition asking President Calderón and the Mexican government to halt the illegal construction of the El Zapotillo Dam.
>> Joining Ecologistas en Acción in demanding that FCC Construcción stay true to their stated commitments to ethics and social responsibility in Temaca.
You can also continue to follow the campaign:
- On Twitter on the #Temaca hashtag.
- On Facebook on the campaign page for Los Ojos del Mundo Están Puestos en TEMACA.