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When the Wind Blows, the Cradle Will Rock

Ric&Diana | 29.03.2007 20:04 | Oaxaca Uprising | Analysis | Globalisation | Social Struggles

In the windy isthmus of Oaxaca, the Spanish Company Iberdrola, together with the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), is mid-way through a massive construction project of thousands of windmills on the lands of poor peasants. The company is clearly not only taking advantage of the winds of the region, but also of the poverty, lack of organization and the stronghold control of the PRI in that area.

Wind power has been praised internationally as a possible solution to the world's energy problems. Renewable so long as the wind blows and purportedly a cleaner, less damaging source of energy, wind power has companies jumping on the bandwagon to invest in such "green technology".
However, just as in any matter where money and power are concerned, careful attention must be paid to the power relations involved.
In the windy isthmus of Oaxaca, the Spanish Company Iberdrola, together with the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), is mid-way through a massive construction project of thousands of windmills on the lands of poor peasants. The company is clearly not only taking advantage of the winds of the region, but also of the poverty, lack of organization and the stronghold control of the PRI in that area.
Unemployment in Oaxaca is extremely high, such that the cities can no longer absorb the migration of peasants who leave their lands in search of jobs. The farmers whose lands are being siphoned off depend on those lands for their very survival.
In La Venta and surrounding communities, the CFE is renting land for 30 years at 3,000 pesos (less than 300 USD) per year, which, divided by 360 days a year, comes no where close to the state’s already unconscionably low minimum wage of 45 pesos per day. Campesinos have complained that their lands- even lands not being rented but that are in the vicinity of the windmills- have become drier and less productive and that plagues normally not a problem in the region have appeared due to the windmills’ killing of migratory birds.
And who gets the power generated? Industry- or future industries dreamed up by NAFTA and the PPP will suck up all the electricity. There will also be lines to carry electricity all the way to Mexico City and even as far as the United States.
On March 6, 2007, three hundred police were sent in to throw out protesting farmers who were gathered to prevent the expropriation of their lands through the quickly advancing windmill construction project.
In response, on March 17, 2007 in the community of La Venta the "Front of the Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and in Resistance against Plan Puebla Panama (PPP)" was formed. Community leaders of La Venta, La Ventosa, La Mata, San Dionisio, Santo Domingo, members of the APPO (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca) and UCIZONI (Union de las Comunidades Indigenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo) came together to organize a united front against the massive windmill construction project on their lands.
Recognizing that the wind power mega-project on the Isthmus of Tehantepec has been little more than a systematic expropriation of communal and ejidal lands, the group has organized in resistance to this and other PPP mega-projects and in defense of their communal and ejidal lands.

Plan Puebla Panamá
The implementation of Plan Puebla Panama was announced officially on March 12, 2001 by the former president Vicente Fox, with the pretext of generating "development" in an "underdeveloped south" through Mesoamerica's regional integration. The official version states that PPP is an investment program aimed at promoting the economic development of south-eastern Mexico in order to achieve integration into the international market. The donors and investors include the Federal Government, national and international private companies as well as USAID and the World Bank.
Three key elements outline PPP’s foundation and intentions:
1. An investment program where national, international and federal capital will invest in specific areas. The role of the State is to create the best conditions for foreign investment.
2. Economic development according to the neo-liberal model. Based on economic growth, inflation control and the free market. While the employment opportunities and quality of life for the population are not considered, the control of macroeconomic indicators is emphasized.
3. Integration into the international market: the opening of borders to competition, despite the disasters brought about in the local economy, is the basic condition posed by the Interamerican Development Bank and the World Bank for Mexico to receive the loans.
In other words, Plan Puebla Panamá is a strategy to force the region into the broader process of neo-liberal globalization; starting from a number of projects and initiatives which seek to extend the market into a region rich in natural and human resources, which so far, has remained relatively “untapped”.
The first step towards "development" according to PPP is the integration of the Mesoamerican transport system. The World Bank has identified the high costs of transportation as one of the major obstacles in making the region competitive. This is the sector where - despite the resistance of indigenous communities - the biggest results have been accomplished. The most visible project is the Oaxaca – Isthmus highway.
There have been several protests organized in resistance to the highway projects. The Chontal communities have managed to stop work on the Huatulco highway that passes through their lands.
An essential legal tool in their battle has been Convenio 169 “Sobre los Pueblos Indigenas y Tribales” adopted by the International Labor Organization in 1989, and ratified by the Mexican parliament in 1990. The importance of the Convenio lies in the recognition of indigenous people as permanent societies – it speaks of people rather than populations. In this sense indigenous people have rights, which the state has the obligation to guarantee. This impels the recognition of a new relationship between the state and indigenous people, obliging the state to offer conditions of equity, respect and to protect the social, cultural and political autonomy of indigenous people.
In the Convenio 169, particular importance is placed on land, consolidating the notion of territory as a space that people occupy or use to exist and develop. Territory not only refers to the land itself, but also includes all the elements or resources which are necessary for its permanence and development. The state is required to consult indigenous people whenever there is any intention of exploiting any kind of resources. The Convenio also obliges the state to fairly compensate for any damage caused.
Without a doubt, the demand for land is one of the major unresolved problems in terms of respect for indigenous people in the Mexico of Calderón and Fox. Despite the fact that in 2002, indigenous people from Oaxaca presented a petition to the International Labor Organization that denounced the flagrant violation of Convenio 169 brought about by the construction of the Oaxaca – Isthmus- Huatulco Highway, which was built without any consultation of the local people. Today, the highway has already been completed. Clearly, there is a huge gap between the rights guaranteed by Convenio 169 and the practices of the Mexican state.
The communities of La Venta, La Ventosa, La Mata, San Dionisio and Santo Domingo see themselves threatened by the carrying out of the mega electric program which involves the creation of thousands of windmills in an area of 120.000 acres. The objective of Iberdrola and the CFE is to create only one legal regulation for the electricity of the entire region, one administrator, one company and one integrated network.
To the present, local people have not been able to exercise their right to be informed and consulted regarding the exploitation of their communal lands. With the intervention of the local commissariat and corrupt authorities who rely on threats and deceit for persuasion, ejidal landowners have signed contracts with the CFE, which only the CFE holds copies of. Besides the extremely low 3000 pesos rent per year (less than 8 pesos or 70 cents USD per day) and the clearly unfavorable 30-year length of the contract, there is a clause in some contracts that states that if the landowner were to die during those 30 years, the land would automatically become property of the CFE with no compensation.
Despite pressure and deceit, the area currently rented comprises only 40% of the total area needed for the project financed by an investment of 110 million USD by the Spanish multinational company, Iberdrola. Following the corruption of local authorities, illegitimate land concessions, arrest warrants issued against resisting landowners, and the arrival of 300 police to repress a protest of campesinos claiming their land, the communities in the Isthmus area have come together to create a united resistance.
The "Frente de los Pueblos del Istmo en Defensa de la Tierra y Resistencia ante el PPP" has the support of the APPO and Section XXII of the Teacher's Union. Last Tuesday 27th March a joint action took place in Jalapa del Marques in a march against the construction of the hydroelectric power plant and expansion of the dam Benito Juarez, financed by the same Spanish multinational, Iberdrola. On March 31st, a state forum will be held in the autonomous municipality of San Blas Atempa to consolidate and expand the "Frente de los Pueblos del Istmo" within the Oaxacan political context, in order build a compact resistance against the exploitation of campesino lands for the wind power mega-project, financed by USAID, the World Bank and Iberdrola.

Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria. No Seas Presa de las Represas: Manual Para Mejor Conocer y Combatir Esta Plaga. Abril 2005.

“Frente de los Pueblos del Istmo en Defensa de la Tierra y Resistencia ante el PPP” Asamblea Constituyente. La Venta, 10 marzo 2007.

Red Oaxaqueña de Derechos Humanos. IV Informe: Los Derechos Humanos Frente al Plan Puebla Panamá. Agosto 2003.

Red Oaxaqueña de Derechos Humanos. V Informe: El Plan Puebla Panamá un Proceso en Marcha. Septiembre 2004.

UCIZONI. “20 Años de Lucha Indígena.” Junio 2005.

UCIZONI. “Plan Puebla Panamá existe y Mesoamérica Resiste.” Febrero 2006.

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