[read original post en Español]

The Yaqui people living in the town of Loma de Bácum, in Mexico’s northern state of Sonora, have been fighting the Mexican government and Sempra Energy—a U.S.-based natural gas holding company with subsidiaries in Mexico—for years. Despite the unequivocal rejection by Loma de Bácum authorities of Sempra Energy’s proposed pipeline project, as well as a federal judicial decision barring pipeline construction on Yaqui territory in Bácum, Sempra Energy continued to build its pipeline through nine miles of their farmland.

“Wherever you are, you can defend your nation and your culture … The earth has no voice, the sea has no voice, but we do”.- Yooram Luturia filmed by Marabunta Filmadora in a workshop with WITNESS, supported by InsightShare. February 2018

It’s important to understand the unique challenges that arise when discussing Mexico’s “right to consultation” for indigenous communities. While this is a federally mandated requirement resulting in, for example, the need for foreign and multinational companies to obtain permission from tribes in order to build extractives projects on their land, indigenous communities are often ignored, left in the dark and forced to fight projects that are already well underway. In the case of Sempra Energy’s Guaymas-El Oro pipeline, 7 other Yaqui communities had already given consentamidst allegations that Yaqui representatives who gave consent were self-chosen, and others reporting that the Sempra Energy representatives came with promises of jobs and development—but with no warnings of risks such as methane explosions that could potentially affect 15,000 people in the region. The Yaqui community of Loma de Bácum continues to be the sole holdout.

In response to the Bácum Yaqui’s rejection of its construction project—a rejection that is buttressed by the their legal right to consultation, a district judge, and a federal tribunal—Sempra Energy said “…it would not modify the outline of the project, justifying obstacles in contracts, legal terms, and economics.” Simply put, Sempra Energy was inconvenienced by the Yaqui’s official wishes and resumed construction anyways.

Meanwhile, the Bácum Yaquis are citing jarring security concerns in their continued resistance. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission’s Report on the topic notes that “… the pipelines are not within an industrial complex; on the contrary, they are deployed throughout the land owned by third parties, between cities and roads, or on agricultural land, rivers, and natural sites, including private property, agrarian centers, protected natural areas, and indigenous territories. Therefore, in case of hydrocarbon leakage, the risk of spills, contamination, and explosions is extremely high.”

As resistance to the Guaymas-El Oro pipeline continues, government authorities in Sonora and Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission have been using different tactics to assist Sempra Energy against the rights, wishes, and safety of the people of Loma de Bácum, including criminalization and persecution of activists who are resisting, violence, conflict, and spreading misinformation around the project. In one such case, a group of government-sponsored men along with pro-pipeline supporters attacked the town’s inhabitants with sticks, stones, and even guns just as school was let out for the day. One of the attackers was killed, with his death arbitrarily pinned on a local man who is still in prison with due process nowhere in sight.

This past June, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission issued a recommendation to Lic. Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, Mexico’s Secretary of Energy, to repair the damage caused to the Yaqui communities. The Commission stated that the Secretary of Energy “omitted due diligence, supervision, control, and guarantee of the [Yaqui’s] right to consultation and [he is] responsible for the violation of the right to consultation affecting the collective property of the Town of Loma de Bácum.”

WITNESS training with the Yaqui community of Loma de Bácum

This year, WITNESS, with the support of InsightShare, has twice visited Loma de Bácum to continue exploring ways in which video can support their fight. During the training sessions, we have discussed planning, recording and editing video on mobile devices, live broadcasts, as well as the construction of an offline/online strategy that serves as a framework for the Yaqui’s video efforts and security considerations.

These are some of the resources that were explored in our training sessions: [en Español]

The Yaquis are using video to bolster their cause and to continue advocating other tribes the importance of being able to defend their lands. Additionally, they are using video to record and preserve evidence of attacks by Sempra Energy and government authorities, as well as to document verification visits by authorities regarding the state of the Guaymas-El Oro pipeline operations.

This is a key moment in the Yaqui’s struggle. WITNESS will continue to support the communities that defend their territories and their right to freely determine the future of their communities.

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