13 September 2009

Gov't abandons plans for Guerrero dam

The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has canceled plans to build a massive hydroelectricproject near Acapulco known as La Parota that would have produced enough power to light up the state of Guerrero for an entire year. The project had been a crown jewel in the infrastructure plans of successive PAN administrations, but generated enormous controversy among the local campesino populations. The campesinos alleged the CFE failed to properly consult them on relocation and never made proper offers of compensation for their small plots of land near the Papagayo River.

The CFE officially canceled the project due to a lack of financing - and the dam was among a series of projects nixed by the federal government for similar reasons - but the utility had encountered stiff opposition from campesinos and human rights groups, who successfully took the case to court.

I wrote on the controversy over La Parota for The News in the fall of 2007. The story pointed out that irate campesinos and locals facing expropriation over the past 15 years had derailed projects by staging riots, taking hostages and wielding machetes. The failed attempt at building a new international airport for Mexico City earlier this decade in the State of Mexico - where machete-wielding campesinos forced the Fox administration to back down - was perhaps the most notable example. But La Parote was different: The campesinos, backed by environmental lawyers, went to court - and even obtained an injunction against parts of the project.

Whether the federal government and CFE return to La Parota remains to be seen - the dam was first proposed in 1976 and could provide drinking water for fast-growing Acapulco - but the strategy of campesinos mobilizing to fight expropriations that previously would have turfed them from their properties with scant compensation appears to gaining traction.

As examples, just witness the difficulties earlier this year in Tula, Hidalgo, where the state government was unable to expropriate ejido land in a timely enough fashion to meet the deadline for winning the construction of a Pemex refinery. (The state did win the refinery project, but only after a farcical competition with perhaps the most polluted town in Mexico - Salamanca, in the PAN stronghold of Guanajuato - to obtain the necessary land for Pemex.) Or, the Altamira port project near Tampico, where former PAN presidential candidate and legal bigwig, Diego Fernández de Cevallos, won an injuction on behalf of two ejidos facing expropriation that could cost the Transportation and Communications Secretariat billions of pesos.

The campesino skepticism of expropriation offers is understable: Ejiditarios in Tula told Notimex in April that the first time the government came for 50 hectares of their land in the 1970s, they were offered nothing more the five pickup trucks as compensation.

No comments: