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Repression of the National Strike in Columbia Strengthens – Thus Far, Three Demonstrators Have Been Killed

“The spirit that we have is that the territory should be for those who care for it, who inhabit it, who produce the food, who look after the water and the common goods. This is in contrast to a model that intends to create an infrastructure of mining and extraction of petroleum at the expense of the peoples that have historically inhabited these lands.”

In spite of strong repression, the campesinos, indigenous peoples, and African descendants of the Cumbre Agraria, Campesina, Étnica y Popular de Colombia (Agricultural, Rural, and Ethnic Peoples Summit of Columbia) have sustained a national strike for more than ten days that began May 30, 2016. Up until now the toll has been 3 indigenous people dead, 200 people injured, and 105 more facing criminal charges.

“Three indigenous people have been murdered by the Fuerza Publica del Estado (the Colombian military and national police). The response of the police has been savage repression”, said Sandra Rátiva, member of the Peoples’ Congress, one of the 13 organizations that make up the Cumbre Agraria, in an interview.

In at least 70 strategic points in 24 states throughout all of Colombia, demonstrators are maintaining blockades of the principle routes that connect the country to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. There is participation in the strike by more than 100,000 indigenous people, rural inhabitants, African descendants, and other marginalized sectors of Colombian society, and other social sectors like students, academics, and international solidarity groups are now joining the movement.

The strike is a response to the disregard of Decree 870 by the National Government of President Juan Manuel Santos, which was signed May 8th, 2014. The agreement took into consideration the demands of the Cumbre Agraria, which were aimed at creating a mandate for quality of life improvements, for structural agricultural reform, sovereignty, democracy, and peace with social justice, revisiting eight points: lands, collective territories, and territorial legislation; a self-determined economy against the model of displacement; mining, energy and rural life; cultivation of coca, marijuana, and poppy; political rights and guarantees of justice for victims; social rights; urban-rural relations; and peace, social justice, and political solutions.

“From 2014 to 2016 the government has not fulfilled this first round of negotiations, beginning with the disregard of the 8 points. It is for this reason that since August of 2015 we decided to begin preparations for this national strike. We call ourselves the Jornada de Minga Nacional (National Conference of Collective Labor). We call it collective labor because we all contribute something to this action,” explained Rátiva.

At the time of this interview, the 9th of June, as a result of the refusal of the government to enter negotiations, the spokespeople of the 13 organizations of the Cumbre Agraria met in Gualanday, in the state of Cauca, to plan strategies to continue the strike, and to discuss points over which to negotiate with the government. “The government has produced false statements about supposed regional negotiations, affirming that we don’t presently have the goodwill necessary to negotiate. Their objective is to fragment the movement,” added Rátiva.

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Photos by Congreso de los Pueblos

No Guarantees of Safety

While the Minister of the Interior, Juan Fernando Cristo, has declared that the government would provide full guarantees for the legitimate exercise of social protests, his declarations contrast sharply with reality, as repression is already being endured. “The minister has given the order to evict the blockades without regard for either our intentions for negotiation, nor consideration of our petitions that seek a series of just policy transformations in the rural areas of the country. The response of the state has been strong repression and they have tried to divide the movement, offering small concessions in a few regions where they didn’t have a presence before the strike,” said the militant of the Peoples’ Congress.

Furthermore, the Colombian Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded that the authorities of the country explain the deaths of the three indigenous people during the strike. “The facts should be brought to light by the judicial authorities, and our office offers full support in doing so. It is imperative to adopt all possible methods to avoid the possibility that situations like these repeat themselves,” declared the organization in a statement published on its website.

Cumbre Agraria and Resource Extraction

In 2011 Columbia signed a Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada. A similar agreement followed in 2012 with the European Union.

“In Colombia, as in Mexico, we have a very strong neoliberal model. We have had fourteen free trade agreements signed, and the WTO, IMF, and World Bank are demanding compliance with these agreements. There has been a massive advance of the transnational agricultural and energy industries. In Colombia, President Santos has said that one of the principle drivers of his development project is precisely the engine of mining and resource extraction. It has to do with extractive projects of enormous magnitude in both the mining and energy sectors,” argues Rátiva.

“There is a strong resistance from the urban population, the campesinos, and the black and indigenous communities to the extractive projects of mining and hydroelectric energy. For example, in the west of Colombia there is resistance in the municipality of Valdivia, where the Movimiento Rios Vivos (Living Rivers Movement) is fighting against the construction of dams and the choking of our rivers, which, as in the rest of the country, are part of the extractivist model. In the rest of the country there is a latent threat of mining and it makes up part of the reason for why we have mobilized. Because the spirit that we have is that the territory should be for those who care for it, who inhabit it, who produce the food, who look after the water and the common goods. This is in contrast to a model that intends to create an infrastructure of mining and extraction of petroleum at the expense of the peoples that have historically inhabited these lands,” emphasized Rátiva.


From noise demonstrations and cultural activities to forums and mobilizations, diverse sectors of Colombia have demonstrated their solidarity with the strike.

The 4th of June saw a meeting of the Comisión Política de las Asociaciones, Organizaciones and Pueblos Indígenas (Political Commission of Indigenous Associations, Organizations, and Peoples) affiliated with the Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (National Indigenous Organization of Colombia) who denounced the militarized response of the state to the actions of the Cumbre Agaria and also announced actions to strengthen the movement. “We continue in collective labor, in all gathering places, until the national government gives constitutional guarantees of the legitimate exercise of the right to protest,” said the pronouncement.

Also the research group, Conflicto, Región y Sociedades Rurales (Conflict, Region, and Rural Societies) of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana declared their solidarity with the Cumbre Agraria. They assure that as researchers of rural issues they are well aware of the problems faced by campesinos. “We see with concern the negligence of the government, the delaying tactics, and the lack of real solutions to the problems of rural Colombians. We support the Cumbre Agraria because from our work and as a result of multiple research projects that have been done about rural Colombia we’ve been able to verify that this country needs to solve the structural problems of rural life.”

The Summit

The Cumbre Agraria was created after a similar repression was experienced during a strike in 2013. “The farmers’ strike of 2013 received a lot of solidarity from the urban sector, but also suffered violent state repression. And so in 2014, the Cumbre Agraria was formed, the most important space of national convergence in Colombia,” added Rátiva.

Translated by Scott Campbell

After Police Attack, Barricades Reappear in Oaxaca

In the waning minutes of June 11, federal police, the federal gendarmarie, and state police carried out a violent raid against striking teachers blockading the Oaxaca State Institute of Public Education (IEEPO). The attack comes almost ten years to the day when a similar state attack on striking teachers on June 14, 2006, led to a five-month, statewide rebellion.

Teachers in Mexico have been on strike since May 15, demanding, among other things, an end to the neoliberal educational reforms being pushed forward by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. For a roundup of events during the first 15 days of the strike, see the most recent Insumisión column.

While things have been tense in Oaxaca, with Governor Gabino Cué announcing that he had hundreds of police ready to remove any teachers encampment or blockade, there have been no big confrontations until tonight. This is likely due to the fact that the state held elections on June 5 and did not want to take any action prior to that which might interfere. Then earlier on Saturday, federal police arrested Francisco Villalobos, the Organization Secretary of Section 22, the Oaxacan branch of the National Coordinating Body of Education Workers (CNTE). He is being charged with aggravated robbery for allegedly stealing free schoolbooks in 2015.

In response, teachers set up blockades at major intersections throughout the city of Oaxaca and elsewhere in the state. Then came the raid on the teachers’ position at the IEEPO. At the same time, electricity was cut in the Zócalo, the city’s main square, where the teachers also have an encampment.

In response, teachers and civil society began building barricades blocking off access to the Zócalo, communicating information using the union’s radio station, Radio Plantón.

Via Facebook, a compa from Oaxaca shared with me that “30 police trucks are headed to the Zócalo…On the edge of the city there are five buses full of riot police and more police trucks. The city center is under siege.” Another communicated that all up and down Independencia Ave there are shoes, belongings and trash scattered about, indicating that several people have been arrested.

At around 2:30am Oaxaca time, it was announced that the Secretary General of Section 22, Rubén Núñez, was arrested on the border between Mexico City and the State of Mexico. The top two officials of Section 22 are now in state custody.

At the time of this writing, 3:30am in Oaxaca, Radio Plantón is reporting that military planes are now arriving in Oaxaca. They predict intense confrontations in the coming days. We will do our best to keep this page updated.

Green Economy: Social and Environmental Conflicts

In the last two years 300 activists of the environment were murdered. Help visibilize violence against environmental activists and amplify just climate alternatives.

The environmental and climate crisis has been an increasingly constant concern in many places around the world. From the young and elderly, women and men, to institutions, companies and governments, all have expressed concern about the environmental costs that have been provoked due to unrestrained economic growth and rampant consumption.

In this reality the United Nations proposed a new economic model, the “Green Economy”, beginning in the 1990s. The plan was designed to assist governments in "greening" their economies by reshaping and refocusing policies, investments and spending towards an emerging range of sectors. These areas include “clean” technologies, renewable energies, hydroelectric dams, wind farms, renewed water services, green transportation, eco friendly waste management, building green cities, agriculture and promoting sustainable forests.

On the other hand, there are a plurality of original peoples, indigenous and farmworkers, in many parts of the world who believe in other world views, and whose connection with nature and the land has been historic and constant. Yet over the course of the last two or even three decades, specifically in Latin America, these indigenous peoples have been displaced or evicted from their ancestral lands to make way for megaprojects under the guise of ‘sustainable development and conservation of the environment. In many cases, these people have been criminalized, even charged under anti-terror laws, as they seek to have a voice and resist this particular kind of “development”. In Latin America rate of murders of environmental activists, mostly indigenous, have increased. These individuals have struggled to stop clean energy megaprojects, industrial agriculture, deforestation, mining, among others. murders of activists.

Many of the people being killed in these struggles are not only protecting their local land and water. By keeping carbon in the ground, and defending ecological farming practices, they are showing the rest of us how to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Our project is to rigorously investigate the real impact of this new model of the Green Economy. Likewise, we seek to expose different alternatives that are being created from below in response to environmental and the climate change crisis.


1. Creating a Green Economy watch dog organization, essentially a website or digital platform where the following materials will document and make public the relationship between the Green Economy and Human Rights violations:

  •  Interviews, expert analysis, articles and reports made during the period in which we will tour and document Mexico-Central America
  •   Multimedia, Photographs, video reports
  • Maps and documents

This material will be directed towards and made free and accessible for the indigenous and farmworking communities, their leadership organizations, NGOs, non-profits and independent media.

2. Production and final publication of a book-report derived from research and interviews conducted in the course of the trip, with the aim of observing the link between the Green Economy and human rights violations against indigenous peoples, farmworkers, minorities, small-scalle producers, and placing emphasis on the role of women.

The book will be made available in print as well as in a digital format. The electronic version will be accompanied by an interactive and dynamic map, which will allow for the user to locate in each of the countries and regions of Mexico and Central America, the major projects of the Green Economy model. The map will also provide visual and textual elements that identify and locate the major transnational companies as well as their financing, and the groups of people who are directly and indirectly negatively impacted by the actions of these companies.

Our commitment is to deepen our research and reach the places where the commercial or mass media fail to reach.

We kindly request that you be part of this project, give it a push, and support not only independent and ethical journalism, but to better our understanding of the dramatic changes to our environment, the people most affected, and to emphasize ground-up democratic solutions.

About the team members:

Renata Bessi (Brazil) is a freelance journalist. She has written for : Truthout the Americas program and collaborates with the Mexico based Subversiones Communications Agency. Bessi was a finalist for the "Libero Badaro of Jornalismo" award in 2014 in Brazil, with her exhaustive report “Transposição do Rio São Francisco ameaça terras indígenas”.  She has also published in Upside Down World, Agência Pública de Periodismo Investigativo and Repórter Brazil.

Santiago Navarro F. (México) is a freelance journalist and photographer. Navarro F is a member of the the Subversiones Communications Agency and is a collaborator of the community radio station of the Autonomous University of Chapingo. Navarro F has also published in Truthout, the Americas program, and Upside Down World.
The documentary "Aquí estamos, no estamos extintos (2015)" (Here we are, we are not extinct) of Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F., was recognized by the jury of the International Film and Video Festival of Indigenous Peoples - 2015 as best documentary in the category of socio-organizational process of Indigenous Peoples. The documentary was exhibited in Chile, Argentina and Spain.

Clayton Conn  is a photographer and journalist whose work has been published in such outlets as Free Speech Radio News, Upside Down World, and NACLA. He was formerly a member of the editorial group of Desinformémonos. Since 2014 he has been the Mexico correspondent for TeleSUR English.

The Dark Side of Clean Energy in Mexico

A palm hat worn down by time covers the face of Celestino Bortolo Teran, a 60-year-old Indigenous Zapotec man. He walks behind his ox team as they open furrows in the earth. A 17-year-old youth trails behind, sowing white, red and black corn, engaging in a ritual of ancient knowledge shared between local people and the earth.

Neither of the two notices the sound of our car as we arrive “because of the wind turbines,” Teran says. Just 50 meters away, a wind farm has been installed by the Spanish company Gas Natural Fenosa. It will generate, at least for the next three decades, what governments and energy companies have declared “clean energy.”

Along with this farm, 20 others have been set up, forming what has come to be known as the wind corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, located in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The corridor occupies a surface area of 17,867.8 hectares, across which 1,608 wind turbines have been installed. The secretary of tourism and economic development of Oaxaca claims that they will collectively generate 2,267.43 megawatts of energy.

“Before, I could hear all the animals living in the areas. Now, it seems the animals have left due to the wind turbines.”

The Tehuantepec Isthmus stretches just 200 kilometers from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, making it the third narrowest strip of land connecting the Americas, after isthmuses in Nicaragua and Panama. In this area, mountains converge to create a geological tunnel, which funnels extremely high-speed winds between the two oceans. Energy investors have focused on the region after the government of Oaxaca claimed that it’s capable of producing 10,000 megawatts of wind energy in an area of 100,000 hectares.

“Before, I could hear all the animals living in the areas. Through their songs and sounds, I knew when it was going to rain or when it was the best time to plant,” Teran said with sadness and rage in his voice. “Now though, it seems the animals have left due to the wind turbines.”

What Teran does not know is whether the turbines, built in accordance with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), as defined in the Kyoto Protocol, are generating alternative energy that will actually help to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of large corporations and industrialized countries. The main objective of these polluters is to prevent global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius before 2100, according to the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), better known as the COP21, which concluded in December 2015. “I don’t know what climate change is and neither do I know about the COP. I only know that our ancestral lands are being covered by these turbines,” Teran said.

At the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, participating countries passed the UNFCCC in response to climate change. With this accord, states set out to maintain their greenhouse gas emissions at the levels reached in 1990. At the third Conference of the Parties (COP3), held in Japan in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was approved by industrialized countries, with the aim of reducing national emissions to an average of 5 percent below the 1990 levels, between 2008 and 2012. In order to help reduce the costs of this reduction, three “flexibility mechanisms” were designed: emissions trading, joint implementation and the aforementioned Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), under which a large number of the wind farms in the Tehuantepec Isthmus have been constructed.

According to the Kyoto Protocol, these mechanisms are meant to permit industrialized countries and private companies to reduce their emissions by developing clean energy projects in other parts of the world where it is more economically viable, and later include these reductions into national quotas. The second period of engagement of the Protocol is 2013-2020. In this period, countries in the European Union (excluding Iceland) have agreed to a collective emission reduction of 20 percent with respect to 1990 emission levels.

The Clean Energy Extraction and Energy Transition Financing Law states that Mexico will install technology to generate 25,000 megawatts of clean energy by 2024. “Mexico has an obligation to limit the electrical energy generated by fossil fuels to sixty-five percent (from the current eighty percent) by 2024,” the law states.

Teran continues sowing his corn while we ask him about the benefits he’s gained from the wind corridor and, a bit irritated, he responds: “They have not provided me or anyone in my family a job, and I don’t want anything to do with these companies or the government; I just want them to leave me in peace on my land. To let me live as I did beforehand.”

Wind Farms for Sale

The US Department of Energy and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), with the justification to help accelerate the use of wind energy technologies in the state of Oaxaca, developed an atlas published in 2003, which mapped the wind potential in the state of Oaxaca. The mapping confirms that the isthmus is the region with the largest wind potential.

"This wind resource atlas is an important element of the Mexican strategy to ensure availability of the necessary information and to define specific renewable energy projects as well as tools access to financing and development support," according to the atlas document.

The paper organizers say they will not share specific maps related to the respective areas of wind potential due to the confidentiality required in possible contracts signed between companies and the government of Mexico. Although more than a decade later, with the arrival of more parks in this territory, it has become clear which of these sites are mainly located on the shores of Laguna Superior.

"Clean energy is part of the continuity of the exponential economic growth of capital"

For all the good intentions the United States had to cooperate with Mexico to invest in renewable energy, USAID made another document in 2009, called "Study of Export Potential Wind Energy of Mexico to the United States", which confirms that the greatest potential of this energy is concentrated in the states of Oaxaca (2,600 megawatts) and Baja California (1,400 megawatts). In August 2015, the government of Mexico officially announced that the wind farm "Energía Sierra Juárez" in Baja California, the first wind project between Mexico and the United States, will export energy to California. And they are waiting for an interconnection to export the energy produced in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

"This mapping is only one part of a series of mega-projects that are designed for this area," said biologist and coastal ecology and fishery sciences professor and researcher Patricia Mora, of the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Integral Regional Development of Oaxaca (CIIDIR Oaxaca) based at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional."Not only is it wind energy, but also oil and gas, and also mining, an infrastructure for the movement of goods. Therefore, this wind mapping is only a pretext to map the full potential of this whole geostrategic area, which functions as a type of catalog to offer it to businesses."

The wind corridor was designed from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed in 1994 by Mexico, the United States and Canada, subsequently given continuity with the international agreement, Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), and now remade into Proyecto Mesoamerica. The project's main objective was to "create favorable conditions for the flow of goods, oil, minerals and energy."

"Clean energy is part of this context. It's part of the continuity of the exponential economic growth of capital; it is not something alternative to it. It's another link that is painted green," Mora said.

Not-So-Clean Energy

To set the turbines, hundreds of tons of cement that interrupt water flows are used. “It is worth mentioning that they are using the cement company Cemex, who also has a wind farm in the Isthmus,” Mora said.

The population of Venta, where the first wind farm was built, was literally surrounded by turbines. Insufficient with the already installed complex, under the argument of self-sufficiency and with a capacity of 250 megawatts, the park called Eurus, built in 2009, was auctioned off with capital from the Spanish company Acciona and transnational construction materials company Cemex.

It seems that Cemex is the role model of the CDM, a clean and responsible company that has registered several projects this way. In its 2013 report, Cemex boasts of expanding their projects with the CDM model. “Six new initiatives were registered as CDM in 2013, which include four alternative fuel projects in Mexico and Panama and two wind farms located in Mexico, among those Eurus and Ventika.”

In 2015, the Eurus wind farm won the prize awarded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB Infrastructure 360​​°) in the category of “Impact on Population and Leadership,” which recognizes outstanding sustainability practices in infrastructure investments in Latin America and Caribbean.

In February 2015, community activists from the organization Defenders of the Earth and Sea announced, “about 150 wind turbines owned by Acciona and located in the Eurus wind farm and Oaxaca III, have spilt oil, from the blades and main coil, which has polluted the ground and the water, affecting several farmers and ranches surrounding the area.”Both wind farms have 1,500-megawatt turbines, which need 400 liters of synthetic oil, while the 800-megawatt turbines only need 200 liters of oil per turbine per year.

The Costs of Clean Energy

The dominant development model in the production of electricity from wind power in the Tehuantepec Isthmus is stated as a formula in which everyone wins – the government, developers and industry. The model has been of self-supply, in which a private developer of wind power generates energy production contracts for a wide portfolio of industrial customers (Coca-Cola, Cemex, Walmart and Bimbo, for example) for a certain period. In this way, companies can set prices lower than the market for the long term, and separately they enjoy the financial benefits of carbon trading, which on one hand, allows them to continue polluting and, secondly, to speculate on the sale of these pollution permits to other companies. Developers can access financing schemes for “green” projects through organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UN.

The communities are also presented as winners in these projects for the development of self-sufficiency and the income they receive from the lease of their land.

Why the Resistance?

In November of 2012, the consortium Mareña Renovables set out to build the largest wind farm in Latin America in the Barra de Santa Teresa, in San Dionisio del Mar, Oaxaca. The Barra is a strip of land between two lagoons that connects to the sea in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Here the Indigenous community of Binni Záa (Zapotec) and Ikojts (Huave), together with the community of Alvaro Obregon, opposed and blocked all access to this strip of land. In response, the state sent about 500 troops from the state police to unblock access, acting with extreme violence. The Indigenous community resisted until the government suspended construction of the wind park. In response to constant harassment and persecution,the Alvaro Obregon community created a community police force called "Binni Guiapa Guidxi" on February 9, 2013.

What was known as Mareña Renovables has changed its name and its form several times. The Spanish energy company, the Preneal Group, which had signed exploration contracts and obtained permits from the state government, sold the rights to the project for $89 million to FEMSA, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Company and the Macquarie Group, the largest investment bank in Australia. These companies quickly sold part of their stakes to Mitsubishi Corporation and Dutch pension fund PGGM, signing at the same time a power purchase agreement with FEMSA-Heineken for 20 years.

They also sought to speculate with the reduction of 825,707 tons of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to the emissions of 161,903 cars.

"Mother Earth is sick; the disease is global warming. They want to profit with the same disease that they have caused to Mother Earth," said Carlos Sanchez, a Zapotec activistwho participated in the resistance against the installation of the wind farm in Barra de Santa Teresa Park and the installation of a park by Gas Natural Fenosa in Juchitan de Zaragoza."Under the pretext of reducing global warming, they come to our territories to control our forests, mountains, our sacred places and our water."

Sanchez is also founder and member of the community radio station Totopo, created to report on mega-projects in the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. During an intermission of his radio programming, we asked Sanchez about what the Zapotec people know about the CDM. "It is a discourse between businessmen. They are labels exchanged between companies to justify their pollution and do not explain anything to Indigenous peoples," he said.

"Could we, with our forests, also sell carbon credits, bypassing these companies? Who will buy?" Sanchez asked. "It is no coincidence that only those who understand these mechanisms are the only ones who benefit as employers and the state."

He added, "We do not even benefit from the energy produced. If you walk by the communities you will notice what the clean development they have brought consists of, and I challenge one of the owners of the companies to see if they want to live in the midst of these turbines."

Following the demonstrations made by Indigenous peoples on May 8, 2013, the secretary of tourism of the state of Oaxaca, José Zorrilla Diego, announced the cancellation of the proposed Renewable Mareña in the Barra de Santa Teresa. Shortly after the announcement of the cancellation, the state government said the project would continue in other areas of the isthmus.

Human Rights Violations and Perspectives

Community organization against the wind farm in the Barra de Santa Teresa was the first major resistance against the ways in which these companies are developing their projects on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Sanchez reports that, not coincidentally, it is in this period that the companies began hiring hit men, with the backing of the state."We see gunmen escorted to the state police. Some of us have been persecuted with absurd lawsuits, accusing us of kidnapping, attacks on the roads, and damage to other people's private property. The radio station has undergone several attempts at closing, with the invasion of the federal police and Navy," Sanchez said.

Sanchez reports that since 2013, he does not go to public places. His mobility is restricted to the community. "We endorse the protection mechanism of the Ministry of Interior. But we have realized that their task of protection has been given to the state police, the same people who attacked us. I do not know whether they have come to protect me or arrest me. So I rejected this protection mechanism and started a small personal protection protocol," Sanchez said. "The state supports the wind companies," he added.

The Committee for the Integral Defense of Human Rights Gobixha (CódigoDH) Oaxaca demanded the immediate intervention of the federal and state governments to stop the wave of violence against supporters of the Popular Assembly of the People of Juchitan who have been victims of threats, harassment, persecution and attacks, including the murder of one of its members. This followed the conflict rooted in the construction of the Bii Hioxo wind farm, according to CódigoDH. But there was no response.

The company Gas Natural Fenosa rejects the accusations, ensuring, "While certain groups have filed several allegations regarding violations of human rights of communities affected by the project, Gas Natural Fenosa says they are unfounded, that they lack objective justification, and are incompatible with the commitments made by the company's Human Rights Policy."

New Strategy, New Park, Old Problems

It did not take long for the government's 2013 promise - to relocate the project from the Barra de Santa Teresa toward another zone in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec - to take shape. In 2014, the company Mareña Renovables, now called Eolica del Sur (Southern Wind), found a new place to develop clean energy and contribute to the goals of reducing greenhouse gases in Laguna Superior.

In 2016, the project foresees the installation of 132 wind turbines of three megawatts each in an area of 5,332 hectares, avoiding the emission of 879,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year, according to the company.

An independent report released by researchers from different fields and universities points out various inconsistencies in the environmental impact study submitted by the company and approved by the Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources (SEMANART).

The first contradiction is in regards to the company that made the study. The company responsible is Especialistas Ambientales (Environmental Specialists). And according to the constitutive act of the company, it was possible to determine that the founding partner is the engineer Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, current undersecretary of planning and environmental policy of the SEMANART.

The document warned that there are many inconsistencies with respect to the surface of Baja Espinoza Forest (Selva Baja Espinosa), which is to be cleared for the construction of this project. Evaluating the information available on the environmental impact statement's (EIS) own field research, "our analysis shows that the developer intends to cut 100% of the tree surface without proposing any measure of compensation."

"This is particularly worrying," according to the document. "The Selva Baja Espinoza connecting the Priority Marine Regions: Continental Shelf Gulf of Tehuantepec, and Upper and Lower Laguna; and Terrestrial Priority Regions: Northern Sierras of Oaxaca Mixe and Zoque-La Selva Sepultura."

According to Eduardo Centeno, director of the Eolica del Sur company, the EIS is submitted in accordance with Mexican law and contains mitigation measures and preventive measures for the environment, including reforestation.

Another concern of communities is in relation to water pollution in the lagoon and sea area as a result of the oil that will drain on the beaches - 300 liters per wind turbine. Biologist Genoveva Bernal of SEMANART explains that the institution responsible for approving the EIS says the park will not affect Laguna Superior at 3.9 kilometers. "With this distance, it will not have an impact," Bernal said.

Alejandro Castaneira, professor and researcher at the National School of Anthropology and History, who participated in the creation of the report, says the SEMANART authorized an environmental impact study that was wrongly produced. "It is announced that parks are generating clean energy. Are we going to use clean energy to produce Coca-Cola and Lay's chips while poverty continues?" Castaneira said.

A Far From Participatory Process

After the events of 2013, Eolica del Sur and the state convened for the first free, prior and informed consultation, under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization for Indigenous peoples, 22 years since the arrival of the first wind farm in Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This consultation was initiated in November 2014, and completed in July 2015, and is regarded as an essential element for the project to become effective.

On the one hand, both the federal and state governments (as well as the company) claim that the consultation fulfilled its role, which justifies the project, since most of the participants approved. On the other hand, there is enormous pressure for the cancellation of the same consultation because of the irregularities.

At a press conference, Bettina Cruz Velázquez, a member of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Defense of Land and Territory, said that the consultation was carried out after local and federal permits and approvals of land use had already been given by authorities. This shows the federal government's decision to strip Binni Záa(Zapotec) of its territory. "The consultation is a simulation. They do not respect international standards," Cruz Velázquez said.

A petition for relief was filed for the 1,166 Indigenous Binni Záa in order to protect Indigenous rights and defend their territory against the wind project. On September 30, 2015, the judge issued an order to suspend all licenses, permits, goods, approvals, licenses and land use changes granted by federal and local authorities, until the final judgment is issued.

"The state allows these projects on the one hand, allowing all the state and federal agencies to expedite permits," said lawyer Ricardo Lagines Garsa, adviser to the community. "Yet Indigenous peoples are not aware of these legal proceedings, so that they can actually participate in decisions. The whole isthmus territory has been divided between companies [due to] the lack of awareness of the peasant and Indigenous communities who live here."

Who Benefits From "Clean" Energy?

According to documents from the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, international experience has shown that remuneration paid by energy companies erecting wind farms on leased land oscillates between 1 and 5 percent of the gross income of the energy produced by the turbines. "However, the case of Mexico is drastically different if you take into account the much lower value compared to international standards: here, remuneration is between .025 and 1.53% [of gross income]."

The Tepeyac Human Rights Center states that "because there is no organization that regulates the value of land in Mexico, energy companies pay landowners far less than the actual value, which can provoke tension in communities in which wind farms are set up."

The criteria that have been used to justify the implementation of wind parks in Mexico as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as total energy production, are insufficient to determine the benefits, risks and broader implications of wind energy production, according to the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico. "The criteria ignore or underestimate the complexity and cognitivist and ethical uncertainty of the risks and impacts created by wind parks on a large scale," the commission stated. "They cannot be seen as a viable energy alternative if they continue to reproduce and deepen socioeconomic and environmental inequalities between countries and between social groups within individual countries."

This story was made possible thanks to the Internews' Earth Journalism Network and produced in collaboration with Armando Carmona. 

Fracking Expands in Latin America, Threatening to Contaminate World’s Third-Largest Aquifer

A fracking well in Colorado, pictured in 2012

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking - a method whereby hydrocarbons trapped within rocks are extracted - is expanding rapidly in Latin America. Fracking emits benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, which are considered by the World Health Organization to be carcinogenic and responsible for blood disorders and other immunological effects. Despite these adverse health effects, however, reserves have already been mapped out in Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

In Mexico, recently passed energy reform legislation promotes fracking as a means of extracting shale gas - and with the reform, the government has opened the oil industry up to the private sector. More than 1,000 wells using the technique are currently in operation in at least 11 of Mexico's 32 states. These fracking efforts are largely being carried out by North American companies such as Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes, among others.

"I didn't know anything about oil, but after our water started to get contaminated, we found out that more than 240 wells in our region were using that thing they call fracking," Mariana Rodríguez, from the community of Papantla, Veracruz, told Truthout. "Now all our water sources have become contaminated."

According to Francisco Cravioto, a researcher from the Alianza Mexicana Contra el Fracking (Mexican Alliance Against Fracking) and a member of the Research and Analysis Centre of the Mexican civil organization FUNDAR, most of the communities facing contamination have very little knowledge about fracking. "The scale of the effects only becomes clear when they begin to experience them directly, as in the case of the northern region of Veracruz in Mexico, where at least 240 fracking wells are already in operation," Cravioto said.

Argentina, meanwhile, is considered the Latin American fracking capital because of the wells in the Neuquén Basin, a vast oil-producing region that covers the Neuquén Province and is home to the Vaca Muerta rock formation. This year in Argentina, fracking was used to drill into more than 1,000 shale gas reserves of compact sand and tight oil in slate or shale. According to International Energy Agency figures published in 2015, only the United States, Canada, and more recently Argentina and China produce large volumes of shale gas; the latter two countries are spearheading the development of shale extraction.

Polluted Waterways

Fracking takes a heavy toll on the environment wherever it is used. It produces large volumes of toxic and radioactive waste and dangerous air pollutants, and destabilizes the climate and local communities.

One of the greatest current fracking threats in South America is located in the Entre Ríos region of Argentina and the neighboring area of Uruguay in the Paraná Chaco, where the extraction of shale oil and shale gas is planned. According to Roberto Orchandio, an engineer and former oil industry employee in the United States and Argentina, contaminated water poses a serious danger. "In this region, the Guaraní Aquifer can be found, which is the third-largest in the world and holds 20 percent of South America's water, spanning an area that includes southern Brazil and part of Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay," Orchandio told Truthout. "So, we are concerned that if they have to drill into the aquifer, it will be contaminated and therefore destroyed. We have to weigh up if this is worthwhile."

"Contaminated water is a huge problem. In some places it will be a disaster, like in the north of Mexico where there isn't any water and wasting it is illogical, because they are places where people won't be able to live," Orchandio said. "Every new well has a water leak rate of at least 6 percent, caused by a combination of poorly constructed foundations, pipeline accidents and corrosion."

According to Argentina's Observatorio Petrolero Sur, an organization that advocates for sustainable energy consumption and production, less than half of the water used is recovered. This contaminated residual water is placed in water tanks, where exposure to the open air causes the chemical compounds to evaporate. The contaminated water is sometimes reinjected into other wells.

Observatorio Petrolero Sur has documented that within the first days or weeks of fracking in a region, a significant quantity of the water used in fracking returns to the surface, after being injected into rocks under great pressure and causing fracturing. Orchandio points out that large volumes of methane are also released. "Between 0.6 and 3.2 percent of an unconventional well's total production - be that one barrel or millions of barrels - is emitted as methane gas during the extraction process, along with the flowback fluid (the water mixed with the chemicals)," he told Truthout. "Methane has a greenhouse gas effect that is 25 times more potent than that of carbon dioxide."

Cravioto describes the exploitation of the land for fracking as "territorial dispossession," noting its disproportionate impact on Latin America's Indigenous population. "In Mexico, Indigenous peoples and campesinos [peasant farmers] have been hardest hit," he said. "Their ancestral lands are being destroyed, those lands where their history, traditions and knowledge are stored. Entire ecosystems, and superficial and subterranean aquifers are being destroyed."

Orchandio expressed fear that Latin America may follow in the footsteps of the United States, where fracking has rapidly spread, impacting human and environmental health. In the US, lawmakers have often worked to accommodate the plans of corporations - even in the face of considerable resistance by their constituents.

"I'm terrified by the thought that they might be able to do the same thing in Argentina that they did in Texas, where they banned fracking and then some time later banned the banning of fracking," Orchandio said. "No one will be able to live in places where they decide to extract these hydrocarbons because everything they leave behind is dead, and the same is true for Mexico or Brazil."

Energy Independence

According to Orchandio, fracking was previously eschewed in Argentina due to its high costs and the environmental impacts. "Since the US made incursions into unconventional wells, in the year 2010 alone, there were a total of 2.5 million fracking wells across the world. Its irruption began in the US and centered on three states: Pennsylvania, Texas and in particular North Dakota, which is its greatest exponent and has become the American Saudi Arabia," he said.

Extracting unconventional oil is much more costly than extracting conventional crude oil, said economist Javier Martinez, and the recent fall in oil prices caused by increased supply is making it less profitable. "The allocation of titles - future oil purchase papers - is creating a speculative bubble that is going to burst," he told Truthout.

Orchandio, who is part of an Argentinian group that produced the book 20 Myths and Truths About Fracking, said that unconventional hydrocarbons only offer a temporary "fix" for waning fossil fuel supplies. He believes that wells have a life span of approximately six years, and that in the first year of operation up to 70 percent of their capacity can be extracted. "The productivity of these wells is too low. To maintain a production quota, you have to drill wells like crazy," he said. "To name one example, in North Dakota, they have to drill 1,500 wells per year. It's an abomination. In the US, all of the richest areas, the large pockets of hydrocarbons known as sweet spots, have already been found and fracked, and there aren't any more left."

Orchandio added that hydrocarbon reserves are rapidly dwindling on a global scale as well. "The reserves shrink by between 4 percent and 5 percent per year, so that means they fall by approximately 12 percent in three years; this 12 percent or 13 percent of global production is the equivalent to what Saudi Arabia produces," he said. "This tells us that every three years we have to put a new Saudi Arabia into production, but there isn't another one. They are advancing rapidly to exploit more unconventional wells in other countries. A collapse of the technology matrix is approaching, and it is a national security issue for the US."

Espionage and the Opening of New Hydrocarbon Wells

Numerous exposés in recent years have suggested that US-orchestrated espionage and actions taken in the name of "national security" have supported the spread of fracking across the globe. The documents leaked by the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, for example, confirmed that the NSA spied on the internal communications of Pemex in Mexico and Petrobras in Brazil, as well as other state-owned energy giants, seemingly with the aim of gaining leverage over their decision-making.

"With regards to the NSA espionage, it does not seem to be a simple operation to steal industrial secrets," said Dr. John Saxe-Fernández, author of the book Energy in Mexico: The Situation and the Alternatives. "It is espionage in order to identify the weak links in the chain of command, in order to know where to penetrate, who to negotiate with, who to promote, who to remove from the economic and political process."

Meanwhile, this year the investigative news site DeSmogBlog revealed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped the Mexican government to weave a web of pretense in order to open up the energy sector - primarily involving conventional oil and gas, which are currently being extracted through fracking - to large multinational companies with the energy reform that was consolidated in 2014. According to the report, the Mexican government acquiesced to the demands of ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and independent oil producers in the United States, among others, agreeing to let these energy firms capture the first nonconventional hydrocarbon wells that are currently being put up for tender in Mexico. Before the aforementioned energy reform, the sector was in state hands, with no possibility of opening it up to the private sector.

"The energy reform opened the door for national and multinational private companies," Cravioto said.

In Argentina, meanwhile, the country's leading oil-and-gas-producing company, YPF, has signed a secret agreement with Chevron to explore and exploit unconventional resources in the Vaca Muerta formation, with Chevron setting the rules. Some time later the executive branch gave its approval to this agreement through "Decree 929/13," which stirred debate and opposition among citizens due to the fact that YPF was recently nationalized and therefore its status as a public body means that it cannot hold secret negotiations.

After the agreement was signed in 2013, Argentinian Sen. Rubén Giustiniani asked to be given access to the complete text in order to divulge it to the public, Giustiniani claims. However, the Argentinian authorities turned down his request. Giustiniani was challenging the supposed existence of "secret clauses in the contract," including a hypothetical "commitment that forces the country to hand over an area that is the third-richest in unconventional oil and gas, for more than 35 years," and a "clause that ensures the payment of bonuses in perpetuity, even if Chevron pulls out of the deal."

"The multinational companies that want to invest in Argentina seek guarantees for the price of extraction, and changes to legislation that are required to guarantee their investments," Orchandio said. "We don't know what direction the unconventional oil industry is heading in Argentina. Investors claim that they will come to Argentina only if the economic conditions improve; basically, they want us to pay them to take away the oil." On November 10, 2015, three years after Giustiniani's denunciation, Argentina's Supreme Court ordered that the clauses of the YPF-Chevron deal be made public.

Growing Resistance to Fracking in Latin America

In Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, opposition to fracking is growing.

In Brazil, in response to the tendering of blocks for the exploration and exploitation of shale over an area of 168,348 square kilometers, organizations, researchers and activists who belong to the No Fracking Brazil Coalition (Coesus) are keeping up constant protests and actions. In October 2015, in Paraná, Bahia, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Acre and the Federal District, there were protests outside the offices of the fossil fuel companies that will participate in the Brazilian government's tendering of new blocks for fracking. The Brazilian protesters were joined by demonstrators in 28 countries, including Portugal, England and Spain, who demonstrated outside Brazilian embassies and consulates.

In Mexico, the Mexican Alliance Against Fracking has carried out a range of activities under the campaign banner of "Say no to fracking in Mexico!" One such activity was the production of a recent educational video, which included the participation of internationally renowned artists and provided information about what fracking entails. The alliance has been joined by Indigenous communities and campesinos who have protested and blocked roads in order to demand respect from the government for their ancestral lands.

In Argentina, several organizations have joined forces with the Movimiento Artístico-Cultural Contra el Fracking (Cultural and Artistic Movement Against Fracking) to publish a statement in which they appeal to "the precautionary principle" when it comes to fracking, stating, "Given the impacts it has on human health and the environment, our country must halt all ventures of this type, through a moratorium, i.e. through a suspension."

The protests have continued to grow as more residents come to agree with Cravioto's assessment that the spread of fracking is a "war against humanity."

"We have to stop thinking that the market must solve our problems," Cravioto said. "We have to turn around and see those campesinos and Indigenous people who have shown us that another way of life exists, a way of life that is not about competition and destroying the environment in order to produce goods."

By Santiago Navarro F and Renata Bessi

Published in Truthout

Mexican Farmers Accuse Mining Companies of Shady Tactics in Chiapas

Alberto Villatoro, a farmer in the fertile region of Los Cacaos in Chiapas, Mexico, recalls, with a mixture of sadness and anger, how innocently he used to walk over the area's silvery blue rocks.

"I can remember those metals in the river ever since I was a child," he told Truthout. "We would kick them around on the paths, unaware that it was titanium."

Now those same rocks have become highly sought after, and the Chinese mining company Honour Up Trading is seeking to gain control of large swaths of land in Villatoro's community to exploit one of the biggest seams of titanium in Mexico. "We've already had open-pit titanium mining here [in 2009]. Now they want to build the tunnel and leave us living on land resembling an eggshell," he said. "That would be the end of our shared land."

Mexico's government gave the green light for titanium mining to occur below 500 of the 530 hectares that make up the Los Cacaos community, via underground tunnels stretching from the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range up to the upper section of the town.

Villatoro and his neighbors in Los Cacaos express acute fears about the potential environmental effects of Honour Up Trading's plans. "If they build tunnels, the mountain will collapse, because it is a very wet area," Villatoro told Truthout. He believes that local leaders "were tricked into signing off on the exploration process" by the mining company, he added.

Florentina Antonio Morales, a local farmer echoed this allegation. "They came here to trick us, that's the truth," she told Truthout. "They promised us a lot. They said they would build a market, a road, a park for the kids. But none of that went any further than just talk."

The company even went so far as distributing food to gain the support of the community, Morales added. "They give the authorities a bit of money and they trick the people with a food store, like the government does," she said. "I honestly have no need for a food store; I grow my cacao and my coffee ... They are affecting our harvest, our health and our animals' health."

Residents of Los Cacaos are also alarmed about the prospect of increased titanium mining due to its damaging health effects. According to data from the REMA organization, in Mexico's Soconusco region, cases of liver, stomach and testicular cancer are five times higher than average in the Acacoyagua municipality where Los Cacaos is located and where two titanium mines are in operation. Some of the cancer cases have occurred in children. In addition, people who have bathed in the Cacaluta, Doña María and Cintalapa rivers, into which residues from the mines flow, have developed skin rashes and sores.

The increased pollution of the waters in Los Cacaos could affect many other communities as well because the abundant water from that region supplies other communities in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range.

The Undermining of Los Cacaos' Democratic Process

The Los Cacaos community is an ejido, a rural, collectively farmed property. It is one of the distinctive agrarian hubs that still remain as a result of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. "An ejido is a communion of between 100 and 200 people who equitably possess a part of land," explained Villatoro, one of the ejido members. "It is not a piece of property. Ejidos are governed by majority rule, and to that end we make use of assemblies. There is a commission that represents everyone, but the assembly is the highest authority. The commission ensures that what is decided in the assembly actually takes place."

Villatoro said there were irregularities in the convening of the assembly and the formation of the agreement in which the mining project was approved. "They did not meet the requirements of the Agrarian Law," he said. "There were not enough signatures of ejido members that are legally registered on the national agrarian register, and this means those that signed are falling into an irregularity." Furthermore, he added, "on the day the assembly was held, the authorities said that the mining would last for one year. When they brought along the signed agreement, we saw that it was really for 50 years. The ejido authorities had already sold themselves to the company, and many people do not speak out due to fear."

Gustavo Castro Soto, a researcher from the Otros Mundos (Other Worlds) civil association, told Truthout that "what we are seeing is that the companies have started to use a pattern with communities: dividing them. They divide, buy, employ all sorts of pressure and extortion. This happens with all the extractive projects in the country, which has created a range of conflicts."

The contract that grants the El Puntal SA mining group permission to extract minerals from the Los Cacaos ejido stipulates that "the ejido and the beneficiary agree on a payment of 500,000 pesos for the fulfillment of this contract ... as well as a bonus of US$5 per ton extracted." It adds that "plots which contain minerals will have to be negotiated in private with the owner of said plot." The contract also stipulates that a "pay bonus of US$2 per ton extracted" would be paid to the landowner.

These sums of money offered on behalf of the exploitation of minerals are far too small to cover the negative impacts of mining. Moreover, the individualized nature of the contracts threatens the very form of organization specific to the ejidos, which traditionally make decisions that affect the community as a whole through assemblies. Individual negotiations are the reason why communities are divided and internal confrontations are created. Dividing communities through the negotiation of individual contracts is a strategy used in most extractive contracts carried out in Mexico.

An official evaluation published by Mexico's own Environment and Natural Resources Ministry admitted that the mining project in Los Cacaos threatens a region of high biodiversity and ecological importance, but the ministry nevertheless signed off on the project.

Meanwhile, the Environment and Natural History Ministry of Chiapas published its own evaluation of the mining project in September 2014 and issued this damning opinion: "The project entitled 'casas viejas mining project,' to be carried out in the Acacoyagua municipality, is deemed unfavorable given that the carrying out of said actions would cause irreversible damage to the environment."

Federal authorities ignored this technical evaluation

In the context of free trade agreements, governments have an obligation to guarantee foreign investments or face being sued in the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), where investment disputes between companies and nation-states are resolved.

"If governments do not guarantee investments, they are accused of indirect expropriation," Soto said. "This condition barely receives a mention. Many multinational companies have sued governments because of laws that hinder investments or because the governments withdraw concessions. There are studies which show that 60 percent of company lawsuits in the ICSID come from the mining industry."

Governments therefore have to adapt laws within their legal framework in order to facilitate investments. "Before the free trade agreement, for example, 52 percent of land in Mexico was communal property," Soto added. "Over half the land area and its riches, such as gas, oil, gold, water and wood, was in the hands of the poor. With the package of structural reforms that the government has been promoting, the land of indigenous people and farmers is being privatized so that international investments can force their way in."

The Case of La Joya

The El Triunfo community in the Escuintla municipality of Chiapas is facing similar problems as Los Cacaos. Honour Up Trading was issued a concession in La Joya, within the community of El Triunfo, which manages and owns the land collectively as an ejido. Established in 2013, the concession would last until 2063.

"We had never had problems with cancer in our communities before, but now there have been many recorded cases since the mines began operating," Paula Velázquez, a health volunteer in Independencia, told Truthout. "Young pregnant women are now having fetal deformities, and miscarriages too. Animals are already dying. That's why we don't want the mines."

Francisco Bautista Hernández, secretary of the ejido committee of the Independencia community in Escuitla, told Truthout, "The government gives out the concessions with no concern for the well-being of human beings, nature or animals. We haven't received any information."

Independencia's ejido is arguably the most well organized town in the region. The community and its leaders are against mining. They have filed complaints on many occasions, mainly against the owners of the La Joya mine. Other communities are less vocal. At least three other mining concessions of a greater size in the same area that border on the La Joya project are, for the time being, keeping quiet.

The mining concessions form a continuous line along Chiapas' Sierra Madre mountain range, which indicates the existence of a large vein of titanium primarily in the whole strip. A huge number of streams and rivers run down along the entire length of the range, which are used by the communities to drink, bathe in and irrigate their crops. "We don't want them to destroy the Sierra Madre because we have lots of vegetation and water," Bautista said. "We have two streams that will be polluted if mining takes place; lots of disease, and human and animal deaths will arrive."

In May 2015, the Civil Protection Ministry for Integrated Disaster Risk Management in the state of Chiapas evaluated the region surrounding the La Joya mine as being at "high risk" of problems resulting from the mine. Nevertheless, the concession was awarded to Honour Up Trading by the federal government.

Gustavo Castro, who is following the process in the region, said the mining company used bribery to get members of the El Triunfo ejido to accept the project. "The ejido members had reached an assembly decision to safeguard the ejido from mining, but the company arrived in late 2014 and offered them $1,000 for each ejido member's vote, and that was when they gave in," he said.

The Global Imperative Behind Mining in Chiapas

The push to increase titanium mining in Chiapas is part of a global response to the demand for titanium created by the increasing popularity of laptops and mobile phones, which require titanium to produce.

Hans Vestberg, the executive director of Ericsson, predicted in 2012 that by the year 2020 there would be 50 billion mobile phones connected. Manufacturing a single mobile phone requires at least 200 types of metals, including titanium.

Titanium is also used in the weapons, aeronautical, naval and nuclear engineering industries and is heavily sought after by the United States, the European Union, Japan and China.

Mexico is one of five Latin American countries where the presence of the material has been identified, along with Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Peru. Mexico's Finance Ministry maintains that the country could meet a significant part of the world's demand for titanium, pointing to deposits in the subsoil of Chiapas.

According to the Mexican government's Comprehensive Mining Administration System (SIAM) and Infomex, 99 mining concessions have been granted by the federal government in the state of Chiapas in 2015, with operating licenses that are valid until 2050 and 2060. The peasant land and indigenous territory granted in concessions totals approximately 1,057,081 hectares, the equivalent of 14.2 percent of the state's area.

Otros Mundos' Gustavo Castro Soto said that in addition to these, there are also many other hectares still awaiting to be granted in concessions, given that there are minerals across the whole state. "There are also suspended concessions, inactive concessions and others that are in force, which does not mean they are currently being mined," he said. "We also know that there is a lot of illegal mining, not recorded on the state's books."

The concessions have primarily been awarded to four foreign companies, according to data from Otros Mundos. Three of them are Canadian: Linear Gold (now called Brigus Gold), BlackFire and Riverside Resources Inc. The fourth is the Chinese company most active in Los Cacaos: Honour Up Trading.

Environmental Impacts on Chiapas

The biodiversity and environmental importance of the Soconusco region in the southwest corner of Chiapas make the threat of mining particularly alarming. According to Soconusco's Regional Development Program, six uninterrupted wildlife reserves exist in the area: three state reserves (El Cabildo Amatal, El Gancho Murillo and Cordón Pico el Loro-Paxtal) and three federal reserves (La Encrucijada-Volcán, Tacaná and El Triunfo).

In La Encrucijada biosphere reserve, mangroves stretch up to 35 meters in height, making them the tallest mangroves in North and Central America. Studies carried out by the Frontera Sur College (ECOSUR) and the Chiapas State Institute of Ecology and Natural History have confirmed that there are 69 species of mammals and 23 families in eight orders in the reserve, located on the strip of mangrove forest along the state's coastal zone.

The Cordón Pico el Loro-Paxtal protected area is connected to the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which is traversed by endangered species such as the jaguar.

The El Triunfo reserve is home to 10 different types of ecosystems, including the globally threatened cloud forest, which allows water to return to the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Ongoing Resistance Against the Mines

Following dissent in the Soconusco region, where one of every three hectares has been awarded in concessions to the mining industry, local residents have carried out protests this year in nearly every community against the impacts of mining.

In September, residents of the Nueva Francia ejido in Escuintla, Soconusco, agreed to impede the operations of the El Bambú mining project, which is in charge of the Mazapa and El Puntal projects that have been mining titanium for more than eight years.

And in August, various municipalities decided to declare themselves "free from mining" in a communit

Close to 300 representatives from the municipalities of Tapachula, Huhuetán, Mazatán, Suchiapa, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Acacoyagua, Escuintla, Cintalapa and Tonalá took that step due to the serious health effects that have become evident in the region.

Soto said, "We join ours to the 2,000-plus 'free from mining' declarations in the country, and to the 80-plus ejido agreements and communal lands, and the 30 municipalities of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla and Chiapas whose inhabitants share the same position of 'no to mining!'"

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