Transnationals dupe campesinos by offering low prices for land.
A wind power project on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southeastern Mexico has stripped massive amounts of land and natural resources from hundreds of indigenous campesinos in Oaxaca. Those affected are mostly from non-Spanish speaking indigenous communities.
Members were manipulated into giving up their lands in up to 60-year tenancy contracts through misinformation.
Faustina López Martínez, originally from the village of Juchitán, complained that the companies promised agriculture aid without ever following through. On the lands where she used to plant corn to sell, the Spanish company Union FENOSA plans to install windmills to generate wind energy for the next 30 years, and possibly extending to double the term. In exchange, López will receive 150 pesos (less than US$15) each year for the rent of each of her 3 hectares (7.4 acres) of land.
Javier Balderas, director of the Tepeyac Human Rights Center located in Tehuantepec, signaled that the project to build wind parks on the Isthmus, which has been imposed on the native peoples by displacing them from their lands, is part of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) strategy – an ambitious integration and development project launched in 2001 whose objective is to link nine Mexican states to Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua y Panama.
Indigenous rights violated
According to Balderas, the Mexican government violates International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples by denying them the right to consultation to determine whether they will be jeopardized before pursuing any program to exploit their lands’ resources. The state further impedes their right to participate in utilizing, administrating and conserving their natural resources.
Based on these arguments, a team of lawyers from human rights organizations in Oaxaca and Mexico City have filed a lawsuit to annul at least 185 tenancy contracts for the wind park construction by transnational companies, principally from Spain, including Iberdrola, Endesa, Preneal, Gamesa and Union FENOSA.
In response, the companies say that they operate in Mexico backed by an agreement signed by the Federal Electricity Commission, which is directed at encouraging development through large capital investment in the region to generate jobs.
However, Eduardo Zenteno, president of the Mexican Wind Energy Association, presents figures that seem to contradict this statement.
“In the next three years, the companies will invest $3 billion in Oaxaca in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Wind Tunnel in the following way: 78 percent will be invested in purchasing wind turbines, 14 percent in the electrical system, 6 percent in civil work and 2 percent in other spending.” He added that the electrical energy produced will be sold to companies with chain stores like Wal-Mart and Soriana, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola and Cemex.
Transnationals were attracted to the isthmus since it is a geographically strategic area for wind park construction. According to the Atlas for Wind Resources in Oaxaca, an investigation sponsored in 2004 by the US Energy Department and the US Agency for International Development, or USAID, the best areas to develop wind resources in Oaxaca are on the Isthmus and the greatest resources are in the hills, cordillera and coast.
The La Venta Wind Park II was constructed in 2003 on one of the hills, named La Venta, in the Juchitán area and is currently the biggest wind park in the region with over 98 windmills installed over 800 hectares (nearly 2,000 acres). La Venta is a rural indigenous community that lacks basic services where the state government periodically sends doctors and lawyers to attend the community.
Balderas explained that this is clear evidence that the transnational business model is not encouraging development or bringing about jobs for the Isthmus communities. Furthermore, during the three-month long construction of La Venta II, only 200 local workers were hired, which dwindled down to three hires at present: two janitors and one secretary.
Communal lands are not to be rented
Unlike what happened in La Venta, where there are no agrarian authorities to watch over communal lands, in the Santiago Niltepec community, east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the fear of losing lands has prevented campesinos from leasing their lands to Union FENOSA.
José Santiago Ramírez, secretary of the Santiago Niltepec Community Goods Commission, says the Spanish transnational offered 30-year contracts and 1,000 to 1,200 pesos – $98 to $117 – per hectare (2.5 acres) to the campesinos annually to rent their lands. But no company can have a contract directly with the landowner since 95 percent of the population’s lands is communal.
For Marco Antonio Velásquez, the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade technical secretary, the Isthmus case is not the only one. In Acapulco, Jalisco and Nayarit there has also been social resistance to damn construction which would result in thousands of displaced persons.
“It’s not just a few companies who maliciously want to strip the communities [of their lands]. It’s a policy that has been deliberately applied with the help of the municipal, state, and federal governments that has usurped power with the clear intention of protecting transnational corporations to move forward with their businesses,” he said.
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