By Gustavo Castro Soto
Due to its impacts on the environment of communities in developing countries, the construction of large water dams has brought together a wide range of opponents. His actions have already halted several projects conceived primarily for profit from natural resources.
Due to its impacts on the environment of the communities of developing countries, the construction of large water dams has brought together a wide range of opponents. His actions have already halted several projects conceived primarily for profit from natural resources. The message is clear: There will be more resistance in the future if international financial institutions and investors in these infrastructure works continue on the privatization path and do not respect the will of the peoples involved. Latin America plays a key role in getting the message across.
The most recent regional manifestation of growing concern was the III Meeting of the Latin American Network against Dams and for Rivers, their Communities and Water, held from October 17 to 21, 2005 in Cubulco, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. The event was a watershed in the movement to defend the people of the basins of the world and recorded fundamental advances in the hemispheric and international struggle. In the end, the meeting was a resounding success for organized civil society in order to change current development patterns.
Peasant and indigenous organizations and communities of the Latin American and Caribbean region affected directly or indirectly by the construction of dams, the pollution of rivers and the privatization of electric power, axial as well as independent organizations of environmentalists, were invited to the meeting. , human rights, organized groups and networks of civil society that work and coordinate in the fight around these problems. More than 400 delegates from 25 countries and 112 organizations, including Catholic and evangelical churches, fronts, movements, and alternative media, came together as the Latin American Network Against Dams (Redlar), and with clear objectives.
Objectives of the III Latin American Meeting Against Dams
• Analyze, discuss and build alliances and strategies to face threats to our rivers, communities and waters;
• Consolidation of the network and its operational aspects;
• Analyze integration initiatives such as PPP and IIRSA, their relationship with free trade agreements, and their role in promoting the construction of dams;
• Analyze government policy on these initiatives and their role as promoters of dams;
• Conduct an updated mapping of international, regional and national financial institutions and companies that support the construction of dams;
• Evaluate the struggles in the region, their successes and failures;
• Develop common strategies towards a Continental Action Plan;
• Prepare a regional agenda; Y
• Strengthen the fight for justice and reparation for the survivors of the massacres, forced evictions, and other damages that occurred due to the construction of the Chixoy dam.
The countries represented were: Canada, United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Spain, Italy, Japan, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Germany and England.
Participants pointed to the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), and the Andean Development Corporation (CAF), among others, as responsible for the violation of human rights and privatizations throughout the continent. Legal aspects were also addressed: repair of damages; economic integration processes, free trade agreements, the Puebla Panama Plan (PPP) and the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA). For the first time, the issue of the dismantling of dams on the near horizon, the possibility that past experiences give, and the fulfillment of the average lifespan of most of the dams built almost 50 years ago was addressed.
Due to the excellent live radio coverage from the Indymedia-Chiapas page, the voice of the event even reached the European continent.
Global problem leads Latin America in a tie
The members were aware of dealing with a world problem. More than 47 thousand large dams stop 60% of the world's rivers. They have resulted in the loss of 50% of the wetlands, causing environmental injustice at the same time. In Brazil alone, more than 2,000 dams, most of them hydroelectric, have displaced 1 million inhabitants, while 20 million live without electricity, and those that do pay 10 times more than foreign industries. In Mexico, the La Parota Hydroelectric Project intends to expel more than 20 thousand inhabitants from 17 towns in the state of Guerrero, by flooding their subsistence crops.
The 1960s was the height of the construction of large dams in the hemisphere, averaging 180 per year. In the 1990s its construction decreased by 40%, mainly in the United States where closures of operations exceed construction permits and more than 400 dams, most of them small, were dismantled.
After the signing of free trade agreements and with them the privatization processes of water, electricity, gas and oil and the elimination of tariff barriers, companies migrate to the south in the form of a mining industry, of paper, maquiladoras, textiles, auto parts, etc. For this reason, the demand for energy increases in countries where there are no environmental controls and where land and labor are cheaper.
At the beginning of the 21st century in South America there are 979 large dams of which more than 60% are in Brazil. Dam construction peaked in the 1960s and 1970s when 17 were inaugurated each year. Hydropower supplies more than 50% of electricity generation in 10 countries in the region. 93% of electricity in Brazil comes from dams, 73% in Venezuela, 68% in Ecuador, 74% in Peru, 100% in Paraguay; 57% in Chile, and 68% in Colombia.
In the Mesoamerican zone of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), encompassing Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, almost all the rivers have been dammed. However, a new project threatens them: the Electrical Integration System for Central America (SIEPAC) in order to interconnect the entire electrical system in a single network, with a single law and regulations for the region, and with financing from the IDB and CABEI. This project will exacerbate the foreign debt of the already very impoverished countries and the proposal to regulate at the regional level leaves regulation in the hands of large transnational corporations over and above national sovereignty and opens the door to privatize the entire energy and water sector.
Based on numerous sources investigated by CIEPAC, there are documented plans of at least 340 dams in the PPP area that threaten around 170 rivers, among which are the largest and most beautiful in the region, a large amount of biodiversity, of its species of plants, trees, animals and fish unique in the world. Hundreds of archaeological sites, sacred places and cemeteries are also threatened; fertile lands and infrastructure (roads, schools, clinics, houses, bridges, etc.) and thousands and thousands of rural and indigenous women. The construction of these dams will further exacerbate the negative social and environmental impact.
Responding to the challenge requires courage
Faced with this, the peoples resist with scores of beaten, persecuted, imprisoned, murdered, threatened and displaced. And despite the lies, deception, cheating and other actions by companies and governments, the peoples continue to march and mobilize, in meetings, encounters and strengthening networks and organizations to defend the lives of all in search of alternatives.
The 21st century dawns with many struggles and resistance. The I International Meeting of People Affected by Dams and their Allies held in Curitiba (1997), Brazil, and its call for the International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life every March 14, was taken up by other processes that took shape in the immediate years. The new century began with the II Continental Encounter Against Dams in Argentina (2002) and the II International of People Affected by Dams and their Allies in Thailand (2003). The networks began to weave in the struggle and resistance for the defense of human rights and in the search for sustainable development.
The resistance that was isolated in Central America managed to organize itself under the First Mesoamerican Forum Against Dams (2002) and the following year it took place in Honduras and then in El Salvador (2004), strengthening their alliances and strategies. The mobilizations never seen before on March 14 began to be visible. From the Mesoamerican Forums, the Petenero Front Against Dams (2002), the Chiapaneco Front Against Dams (2003) and the Mexican Movement Against Dams and for the Defense of Rivers (2004) were formed and resistance began to consolidate. in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, among other entities and countries.
In Honduras, the resistance struggles of many organizations were strengthened, including the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh). In Costa Rica, the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (Fecon) and other organizations maintain a strong resistance against dam projects. In El Salvador, the Bajo Lempa Group strengthens its resistance, while in Panama organizations such as the Accompaniment Team to Fight Against Reservoirs of Caritas Panama, the indigenous Kuna communities and the April 10 Movement in Defense of the Tabasara River (M-10 ) strengthen their fight.
In South America the struggle and resistance continues. In Colombia they militate against the Urra dam. In Bolivia they oppose the Pavas, Arrazayal and Bala dams on the Beni River that would flood indigenous territories. In Brazil, the government is promoting the construction of eight dams on the Tocantis and Araguaia rivers, one of the richest ecosystems in biodiversity in the world. Here the IDB would lend the resources to the Tractebel company in Belgium, whom the residents have pressured through marches and other actions. In the Tibagi River, the intention is to build four dams that would flood the last rainforest regions of the Atlantic coast, indigenous lands and 40 archaeological sites. All of these cases are just small examples of resistance on the continent.
Experience synthesis reveals obstacles, challenges
At the recent Cubulco meeting, a synthesis was prepared of the experiences of the following 13 countries: Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States. The document compiled the obstacles and challenges faced by the inhabitants of the basins, axially as a list of the strategies and actions implemented, with their respective errors.
The production model imposed by big capital was identified as the main obstacle. The oil crisis that justifies big capital to intensify the exploitation of hydropower with the construction of more and more dams, axial as the tendency to privatize electricity and natural and strategic resources in the logic of the market, strengthen the alliances between the big capital in the hands of a few transnational water and electric power corporations. These often bear local names or are camouflaged in other companies such as Unión FENOSA, Endesa, Iberdrola, Alcoa, Suez and Vivendi, and have the backing of governments — not only dictatorial but also “democratic”.
The accumulation of wealth in the hands of multinationals is facilitated by legislative changes in land, water and electricity; tax exemption for transnationals; and the use of coercion and militarization to silence and criminalize the social mobilization that demands its just demands and respect for human rights. While energy production remains in the hands of the large multinational energy, water, mining or oil industries, among other sectors, more than 20 million Brazilians do not have electricity, an example that is repeated throughout the country. Latin America and the Caribbean.
Thousands of dams have already been built at the cost of millions of displaced and affected by them. The great challenge for Redlar and the social movement is to free Chile from 40 large dams and 15 other projects, four of which are intended to be built in Patagonia; face 494 in Brazil, plus 942 small dams, and avoid the expulsion of another million Brazilians from their lands, resist 95 projects in Panama, 45 projects in Honduras, and 45 projects in Mexico, among others in several countries.
The movement has implemented many strategies and actions in the history of the struggle.
Among the strategies and actions implemented are:
Actions in the legal and institutional field:
• Make legislative proposals.
• Fight back unjustified environmental permits
• Filing lawsuits, amparos and other legal actions of a local, national and international nature
• Use ILO Convention 169 to support complaints.
• Carry out plebiscites
• Initiate a reparations process in the case of the Chixoy dam.
Organizational and direct actions:
• Hunger strikes, resistance and blackouts, seizures, burns, roadblocks
• Formation of social, community and family organizations.
• Broad mass struggle
• The defense of the territory at all costs, preventing the entry of companies and governments to our lands
• Occupation of dams, curtains, roads and highways, government offices and multilateral banks such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank
• Marches, sit-ins and blockades
• A policy of broad alliances at the local, national and international level with human rights groups, lawyers, unions, environmentalists, producers, teachers, fishermen, associations, NGOs, the press, and among the peasant, black, indigenous and urban population
• Mobilization actions on the International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life on March 14
• Expulsion of machinery from our lands
• Denying in an organized way the payment of water and electricity.
• Political and financial autonomy with respect to churches, political parties and governments
• Unification of local struggles with national ones and other social agendas around the PPP, the FTAA, privatizations, etc.
• Strengthen collective leadership.
• Boycott shareholders' meetings and official meetings
• Avoid the "No, No, No" discourse, and include the positive discourse of an alternative model
• Remove signs and marks from studies in our lands
Education and Outreach:
• Public complaints; information, dissemination, and awareness campaigns; and discussion forums
• Preparation of popular material such as videos, manuals, flyers, posters, etc.
• Brigades on buses and buses and other means of public transport to distribute information and raise awareness
• Generate local indigenous promoters
• Promote relationships with reporters and the press, such as press conferences
• Campaigns in schools and universities
• Programs on community radio
• Paint electric power meters.
• Carry out artistic and educational activities with children.
• Campaign house to house.
The members of the struggle analyzed both their mistakes and their achievements, in an effort to learn from the experience and advance in the process.
The resistance has fallen into the errors of:
• Thinking that we, alone, can stop the dams, when it is a global problem
• Only organize against dams at the local level, without opening ourselves up to the national and international level.
• Relying too much on political parties and the government
• Leaving the authorities and leaders alone, with the result that they are bought or co-opted, tired, bored and abandoned the fight, or are killed.
• Failure to strengthen broad alliances with various sectors, such as universities or groups of lawyers
• Relying on funding from foundations or other actors without generating autonomy in our organizations
• Not believing in ourselves and having an inconsistency between political discourse and practice.
• Believe in the promises of development and well-being that the government has made us for a dam.
Meanwhile, the anti-dam movement and for life, rivers, communities and water have achieved important victories. In Latin America we can celebrate and shout with joy at various successes.
Dam cancellation or closure:
• Chile — 5; Ecuador — 2; Panama — 1; Costa Rica — 5 on the Pactare River;
• In Paraguay, privatization and waterway laws were defeated.
• In Mexico, we have suspended the Itzantun dam and the current fight against the La Parota dam is hope for another liberated river and people.
• We have stopped the privatization of water in El Salvador and the construction of dams in Honduras
• We have formed local, national and regional networks and fronts
• We have strengthened and increased citizen awareness and participation around the issues of dams, energy, water, privatizations
• We have managed to involve in the struggle and unite sectors such as churches, movements and organizations
• The activities of the III Meeting are among the main achievements and hopes
• Gender equality has been promoted, showing that women have stood out in the fight against dams throughout the continent.
The members of the meeting were present the martyrs for the dams. There are murders in Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador and other countries where the brothers have given their lives for a world with living rivers, for a better world for everyone. Their struggle has not been and will not be in vain.
There are many demands
The participants in the meeting signed three letters of solidarity addressed to the different levels of government in various countries. One of these letters refers to the rejection of the construction of the La Parota Dam in Mexico and the clarification of the murder of Tomas Cruz. Another addressed to the National Electrification Institute (INDE) in Guatemala, demands the withdrawal of legal accusations against indigenous leaders who carry out the process of claims for damages by the WB and the IDB for the construction of the Chixoy dam. The third is directed at the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, demanding an end to the criminalization of social and environmental struggles and claiming the constitutional right to free expression and demonstration. This letter is addressed with a copy to the governments of the other countries represented in the meeting and to organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Conference of Major Superiors of Religious, to the presidency of Caritas in Latin America, to the International Court of Justice , among other.
Many ideas were poured into a plan of action in education and awareness. It was proposed to: intensify the search for decentralized, local and sustainable alternatives for access to water and electricity, expand alliances, link with other networks and movements, strengthen research and educational material, strengthen the legal strategy and repair processes , promote the ratification of ILO Convention 169 in countries where they have not been ratified, improve communication and dissemination mechanisms, generate plebiscites, and create a Latin American school on alternatives to dams, water capture and power generation electrical.
The most controversial point revolved around the proposal that Redlar members would not receive resources and financing from the IFIs. For some, the approach to damage repair processes and efforts to force the IDB and the World Bank to compensate for damages was difficult; For others, it was difficult to raise it with peasant and indigenous communities and organizations that were in great need of resources. Given this, although it remains a general principle, it will be adapted to the circumstances of each country.
Among the focal elements at the organization level was the commitment to form the national fronts that are needed. In the Mesoamerican case, the national anti-dam network in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua is missing, while Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama have already created them and, in the case of South America, only Brazil has its national network . At the level of mobilization, March 14 was ratified as the International Day Against Dams and a myriad of diverse actions were deployed to be carried out on that Day in 2006. It should be noted that within the action plan the Continental Campaign against the Spanish electricity companies Unión Fenosa and Endesa for the violation of human rights, the excessive costs of electricity after the privatizations, among other effects that they have brought to the peoples of the continent. In this framework, a call is made for solidarity and to unite joint actions with the solidarity brothers and sisters of Spain and the various organizations such as COAGRET to join this campaign.
The new Redlar Coordination will be in the hands of the organizations representing the countries of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Costa Rica. La Redlar published the Declaration of Chixoy and proposed a IV Latin American Meeting Against Dams for 2008. The last paragraphs of the declaration affirm the principles of the group: “Convinced that joint work is getting stronger and stronger, we continue to stand proposing a different model, hand in hand with the peoples and the goods of nature. Free rivers for free peoples! Water for life, not for death!"
Gustavo Castro Soto is a member of the coordination of the Mexican Movement of People Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers (Mapder) and of the Latin American Network against Dams (Redlar). Article Published by the Americas Program of the International Relations Center (IRC). "Citizen Action in the Americas Series, no. 19 (Silver City, NM: International Relations Center, February 24, 2006).
Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA)
Tel. In Mexico: 52 (55) 52 86 33 23
CEMDA is a non-governmental, non-political and non-profit organization that seeks to contribute to the coordination and union of national efforts to defend the environment and natural resources, through the strengthening, consolidation, harmonization, application and effective compliance of the current legal-environmental system.
Mountain Human Rights Center "Tlachinollan"
Tel. In Mexico: 52 (757) 476 12 20
Its mission is to promote and defend, from cultural diversity, the rights of the Naua, Na Savi, Me'phaa and Mestizos de la Montaña and Costa Chica de Guerrero peoples to design legitimate and peaceful roads that guarantee the validity of their human rights.
Mine # 77 col. Centro C.P. 41304 Tlapa de Comonfort, Guerrero
Center for Economic Research and Action Policies (CIEPAC)
Download its manual "Don't be prey to the dams" http://www.ciepac.org/publicaciones/public.html#repre
Telephone and Fax in Mexico: 52 (967) 6745168
CIEPAC is a Civil Organization of Chiapas whose work is the analysis and research, education and training, and the accompaniment of social processes. It is characterized by not being lucrative, without affiliation to political parties.
Calle de La Primavera # 6, Barrio de La Merced, C.P. 29240
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
World Dam Commission
Historical Dam Archives and Dam Studies.
Communities Opposing the La Parota Dam (CECOP)
Contacts: Rodolfo Chavez
Felipe Flores Hernandez (Guerrero, Mexico) 52 744 408 0340
Jose Venus Hernandez (Guerrero, Mexico) 52 744 488 7058
Coordinator of the Communities Affected by the Hidroelectica de Chioxy Guatemala
http: // www.chixoy.decilo.net
Information on the meeting of the Latin American Network Against Dams and for Rivers, their Communities and Water
Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) http://rds.org.hn/copinh
Tel:  783-0817, 783-0816
Food and Water Watch
Movement Against Dams in Brazil
Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB)
World Water Forum
Mexico City, Mexico, March 16-22, 2006
International Rivers Network
Tel. In the EU: (510) 848-1155
IRN supports communities to protect their rivers. They work against destructive projects and promote equitable and sustainable methods to meet the needs of water, energy and flood management.
Your Chioxy Statement page:
Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade
Tel / Fax: 52 55 5355-1177
Network for Peace in Chiapas
United Nations Environmental Program
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
"Letter to President Vicente Fox expressing his concerns about the hydroelectric dam in Guerrero known as La Parota"