The impacts of mega-projects on the right to land and housing
The area in which the hydroelectric project known as “La Parota” is planned to be constructed is located primarily in the municipalities of Acapulco, Juan R. Escudero, San Marcos, Chilpancingo, and Tecuanapan, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. If built, the dam will flood 17,000 hectares of deciduous forest, including crop land, highways and bridges, and 21 communities (4 communal-property and 16 common-property (ejido) communities and one privately-owned property). 25,000 people would be evicted from the area to be flooded by the dam’s reservoir.
Mexico’s state-owned electricity company, the Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad — CFE), initiated development of this project in 1976, with the goal to take advantage of the waters of the Papagayo and Omitlán rivers. Since then, the CFE has carried out sporadic prospecting and zoning campaigns in the region. Since 2002, it has intensified its activities in the communal and ejido properties, and with support from federal, state and local governments has begun to carry out topographic studies, install machinery, and level hills to build roads, as well as many other types of activities related to the planning and installation of the dam.
The project has been rejected by a very significant percentage of the region’s inhabitants. The dam would affect the daily lives and livelihoods of thousands of people, in particular the numerous families in the region dedicated to traditional communal and common-property farming activities such as crops (corn, hibiscus, papaya, melon, etc.) and livestock raising. The project would also produce serious ecological impacts, in particular causing irreversible damage to the regional ecosystem and the extinction of an endemic species (the Papagayo frog), as well as possible damages to public health as has occurred in relation with other dam projects. All of this would represent grave potential violations of the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of the farmers and rural inhabitants — consecrated in the International Convention on ECOSOC Rights and other international instruments ratified by Mexico, such as the rights to free determination, housing, water, and sustenance, among others. (1)
Chronology of events
In June 2003, inhabitants from the region began a resistance movement which would later be named the “Consejo de Ejidatarios y Comuneros Opositores a La Parota” (CECOP) (Council of Ejido and Communal Farmers in Opposition to La Parota).
On 25 April 2004, the President of Indigenous Communal Properties of Cacahuatepec, in alliance with the CFE, convoked a General Assembly of Communal Properties with the purpose that the communal owners approve the implementation of studies and technical works in preparation for construction of the project. In accordance with the Minutes of said Assembly, the communal owners granted said approval.
However, on 24 June 2004, 1,590 communal owners filed a demand within the competent Unitary Agrarian Court to nullify said Assembly, as well as all the minutes, agreements and documents which have been established resulting from the illegal approval motion. The demand specified that the convocation to said Assembly did not comply with legal requirements, in that it failed to follow procedures established by agrarian law and was scheduled to be carried out in a location distinct from the customary site. The demand also notes that the Assembly was completed in only around 30 minutes with a supposed quorum of 3,000 communal property owners, and with the presence of CFE representatives and other public functionaries. The communal farmers have presented evidence to demonstrate that many of the signatures established in the minutes are false and do not belong to legally recognized communal members. There are also several testimonies that the CFE paid 200 Mexican pesos for several of the signatures established in the minutes.
In July 2004, within a criminalization campaign carried out by the government toward project opponents, arrest warrants were issued against community representatives and members, and four communal farmers were arbitrarily detained. Penal processes continue to be pursued against two of these.
On 13 December 2004, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales — SEMARNAT) conditionally approved the Environmental Impact Statement elaborated on the La Parota Hydroelectric Project. In March 2005 the communal farmers filed a petition to review this conditioned authorization. To date the resulting administrative process remains unresolved.
On 15 July 2005 the Unitary Agrarian Court agreed to allow the review measure solicited by 1,590 communal farmers and ordered that that the existing state of things be maintained, ordering that the CFE be notified to abstain from carrying out any studies pending definitive resolution of the case.
On 5 August 2005, at the request of the CFE, the President of Indigenous Communal Properties of Cacahuatepec emitted a new convocation to celebrate another General Assembly of Communal Properties in the community of Campanario, municipality of Acapulco, on 14 August 2005, to obtain the consent of the communal farmers to carry out the land expropriation process to open way to construction of La Parota, and for the CFE to carry out the zoning modification procedure applying to said lands. In this context some farmers belonging to Communal Properties of Cacahuatepec asked the independent organization Espacio DESC (which incorporates organizations working in the field of economic, social and cultural rights) to observe said Assembly. (2) The resulting observation commission elaborated a report, annexed to the present document, outlining the illegalities committed in the convocation and attempted realization of this Assembly, which could not be carried out due to a confrontation which developed between project opponents and hundreds of police forces present at the site of the Assembly.
On 14 August 2005, the Commissariat once again called for a General Assembly to be held on 23 August 2005 in the Municipality of San Marcos. This Assembly established consent, among other things, for the CFE to carry out the expropriation process of the lands designated for dam construction. However, on 7 September 2005, 3,282 affected persons filed a demand within the Unitary Agrarian Court to nullify the minutes of said Assembly as well as the convocations of 5 and 14 August 2005 and all minutes, agreements and documents which have been celebrated derived from said illegal approval. (3)
On 27 November 2005, in the community of Ejido de Dos Arroyos, state and municipal police used clubs, stones and tear gas to impede opposing ejido farmers from manifesting against the Assembly convoked by the CFE with the purpose to obtain the consent of the ejido to the land expropriation process. The Assembly was not carried out on that occasion, but on 16 December it was held in a community located outside of Ejido de Dos Arroyos, in violation of Agrarian Law and with votes obtained through payment and emitted by persons who do not belong to the affected ejido. (4) On 27 December, the Ejido de los Huajes Assembly was also held outside of its jurisdiction and therefore in violation of Agrarian Law, with votes emitted in favor of expropriation by persons who were paid and who did not correspond to the ejido. Approval was also voted that same day in Ejido La Palma. Dam opponents have filed protests against these three Assemblies within the Unitary Agrarian Court.
On 17 January 2006, the Unitary Agrarian Court resolved to nullify the communal Assembly of 23 August 2005 held in San Marcos. The resolution establishes the nullification of the minutes of the Assembly and of the agreements subsequently subscribed with the CFE, thereby implying that the CFE today lacks all legal justification for any incursion within Cacahuatepec communal territory.
During this process, three communal farmers have been murdered, in each case as the result of the tension and rupture of the social fabric which has occurred since the CFE began incursion within the region, according to declarations by regional inhabitants. The first assassination took place on 18 September 2005 following completion of a CECOP Assembly. The second occurred on 10 November 2005 and the third on 29 January 2006, the last of these produced within a context of extreme tension provoked by the CFE which promised to pay for the patron-saint party of the ejido to which the deceased farmer belonged, against the majority decision of the inhabitants.
On 17 March 2006, the La Parota case was addressed within the First Public Hearing of the Latin American Water Tribunal (Tribunal Latinoamericano del Agua — TLA). (5) The case was presented by the CECOP against the CFE, the government of the state of Guerrero, SEMARNAT and the Agrarian Procurator’s Office. In its verdict, also included as an annex to this document, the TLA considered, among other questions, that the environmental impact statement and its corresponding authorization do not contemplate the damages to the public health or quality of life of the population that will result from construction of the reservoir, which exposes the population to a higher risk of water-related epidemics and illnesses, thereby violating the Mexican Constitution, the general law of ecological balance and environmental protection (LGEEPA), the national waters law, and the general health law.
The TLA also determined that the affront to the fundamental rights of the threatened communities is another of the project’s social costs, emphasizing that the project violates article 27 of the Mexican Constitution which recognizes the legal personality of the ejidal and community nuclei and protects their property rights over the land, for human settlement purposes as well as productive activities. The expropriation of communal and ejido lands clashes with the principles of this constitutional provision, considering that the project’s benefits do not apply to the inhabitants nor does the project contribute to their development. Rather, the project contributes to increase the population’s poverty level through expropriation of their lands.
Finally the TLA declared that La Parota hydroelectric dam project should be cancelled. In its verdict also resolved that mega-projects with multiple objectives should not be carried out, such as the La Parota project, whose objective is not oriented to production of renewable energy and whose high social and environmental costs are borne by the original inhabitants of the lands and financed by public resources. And, finally, the federal, state and municipal entities are exhorted to remedy the actions in violation of the human rights and procedural rights of the affected population.
Violations of economic, social and cultural rights
Before detailing the economic, social and cultural rights violations, it is important to emphasize the persistent violation by the CFE of the right to information which has characterized the La Parota process since its beginnings, in accordance with numerous testimonies of affected inhabitants. The state-owned company has never carried out an adequate information campaign which would allow the inhabitants to evaluate the costs and benefits of the project, the characteristics of the possible relocation plan, compensation conditions, etc. In addition, the apparent consultation and invitation to participate issued by the federal and local governments to the affected population has lacked the minimum legal requirements for its validity. As already noted, all the assemblies carried out violated the right to consultation and the right to participation of the affected population, both amply recognized in national as well as international legislation. Among other elements, these rights were violated through the grave irregularities related to the assemblies in accordance with procedures established by Agrarian Law, the intimidation and threats suffered by the communal farmers in efforts to coerce their votes in favor of dam construction, the purchase of votes, presence of police forces, and changed assembly meeting sites with the purpose to impede project opponents from exercising their right to receive information and express their opinions.
In further regard to ECOSOC Rights violations, by continuing to impose the La Parota dam project by means of illegal assemblies, intimidation, threats, and the use of the police force in opposition to the expressed inconformity of a large group of traditional rural residents in the affected region, the Mexican government is in violation of its international obligation to respect the right to free determination of the affected population, as recognized in article 1 of the International Conventions on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights, denying the population its right to freely decide in regard to its own development. By building the dam, the Mexican government will also be in violation of its international obligation to respect the right of the traditional farmers to access to their wealth and natural resources and to not be deprived of their own means of subsistence.
As outlined above, the CFE has violated the rights of the rural inhabitants of Guerrero to information, consultation, and participation. In specific reference to the right to housing, it is important to note that to date the state-owned company has provided no information on the potential eviction, characteristics of the relocation plan, resettlement sites, the number of persons to be affected, and much less on the type of compensation to be offered in exchange for people’s homes and lands. (6) The Mexican government is thereby also in violation of the right to adequate housing as recognized in article 11 of the International Convention on ECOSOC Rights. If the relocation plan does not contemplate the restitution of lands sufficient to allow the affected inhabitants to maintain or improve their subsistence conditions, the government would also be in violation of the people’s right to land. (7)
If the dam is built, the right to feed oneself of the affected population, recognized also in article 11 of the International Convention, would also be violated, given that the population, which obtains its subsistence from its own agricultural production and fish from the Papagayo river, would be displaced from the natural resources for these activities. The right to subsistence of many indirectly affected by the dam project would also be at risk because of the reduced productive possibilities of the region due to resulting environmental modifications, and in particular due to the fact that establishment of the reservoir would detain the river flow downstream from the reservoir, eliminating the primary life source for the irrigation of lands which are the basic sustenance of that population.
In regard to the right to access to water, it is important to emphasize that this right is already being violated for many regional inhabitants. A large number of communities exist in the region which, despite their proximity to the Papagayo river, lack reasonably accessible water supply systems, thereby obligating women and girls in particular to invest as much as three hours each day to carry water from the river or from wells to their homes. (8) The lack of access to water in these communities also implies a violation of the right to not be discriminated as established in article 2 of the International Convention, considering that a pumping system does exist in the region, created and operated by the government, through which water is extracted from the Papagayo and sent to the city of Acapulco located dozens of kilometers away, clearly demonstrating unreasonably unequal treatment of distinct populations by the government in regard to access to water. On the other hand, there is strong feeling in the region that the La Parota dam will further aggravate the violation of the basic human right to water. The experiences in relation to other dams contribute elements which strongly suggest that the inhabitants of the affected communities will have even more limited access to this vital resource once the dam is constructed.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, after learning of this and other cases presented in the Civil Society Organizations’ Report on the Situation of Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights in Mexico (1997-2006), in March 2006 issued its final recommendations to the Mexican government.
In section D on “Primary motives of concern,” paragraph 10, the Committee manifests concern regarding reports of indigenous and local communities who oppose construction of the Parota Hydroelectric Dam or other projects within the Puebla-Panama Plan, who have not been adequately consulted and who are frequently impeded from participating in local assemblies related to execution of these projects.
The Committee is also concerned that Parota Dam construction will cause the flooding of 17,000 hectares of land cultivated or inhabited by indigenous and traditional rural communities, and will lead to environmental destruction and the displacement, according to reports, of 25,000 persons. The Committee also noted that, according to the Latin American Water Tribunal, the project violates the communal rights to land of the affected communities, as well as their economic, social and cultural rights.
Furthermore, in section E on “Suggestions and Recommendations,” paragraph 28, the Committee urges the Mexican government to assure that the indigenous and local communities affected by the Dam project or other mega-projects on lands and territories they possess or traditionally occupy or use, be duly consulted, and that their prior informed consent be obtained in any decision-making related to these projects which affects their rights and interests as recognized in the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in concordance with Agreement 169 of the ILO on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. The Committee also urges the State Party to recognize the indigenous communities’ rights to property and possession of lands traditionally occupied by them, and if the case occurs, to assure that the indigenous and local communities affected by construction of Parota Dam or other infrastructure projects within the Puebla-Panama Plan, receive adequate compensation and/or alternative relocation and fertile lands for crops, and that their economic, social and cultural rights be safeguarded. In this regard, the Mexican government should refer to the Committee’s General Comments Nº 14 and 15 which refer to the right to enjoy the highest possible level of health and the right to water.
Rodolfo Chávez Galindo, Consejo de Ejidos y Comunidades Opositores a la Presa La Parota (CECOP), rodoprt (@) hotmail.com
Proposed global strategy
Exchange information and create a database which includes systematization of the cases to facilitate their consultation according to similarities among them.