Mexico’s Grassroots Caravans for Water, Land, Work and Life
The three contingents of the Caravan in Defense of Water, of the Land, and of Work and Life converged in Mexico City on May 22. The Yaqui tribe led the caravans, heading out May 11, to traverse the entire country from three routes: northwest, northeast and the south. When they arrived at their destination, their numbers had swelled with hundreds of grassroots activists from many different causes, organizations and locations.
The original demand of the Yaquis sought to defend the water in their dams and their rivers in the face of Sonora Governor Padrés’s Independence Aqueduct project that would drain water from their territory to carry it to the state capital. From there they gathered other regional, sectional and national demands as the caravans made their way through the scarred geography of Mexico.
Water is a pivotal issue that cuts across all regions. In the northwest state of Sonora, the defense of the Yaquis’ water has garnered enormous public sympathy, but there is also the demand to stop the contamination of the Sonora and Vacancia rivers and to repair the damage caused to the environment and to communities.
In Chihuahua, the defense of the Rio Carmen basin and of the submerged aquifers that have existed for thousands of years deep beneath the desert has become a major demand, along with access to potable water for poor families. In a good part of the northeast and the Gulf, citizens are standing up against the use of the sacred liquid to extract gas and petroleum by fracking.
There is also grassroots organization to reject the transfer of the Rio Pánuco for supplying the useless—for the people – aqueduct of Monterrey No. 6, to defend communities and territories against dams like those of Temacapulín and La Parota, to protect community water sources like those of Tepeaca. On the national level, the Citizens’ Initiative of Water has become the rallying point to confront the Peña administration’s “Korenfeld Law”, which continues in force in spite of the fact that its namesake, former director of the national water commission accused of corruption, is dying politically.
Water has nourished the parched earth so that other protests can sprout. The defense of territory is very important. The Rarámuri stopped the cosntruction at the Creel airport, fought against the hotels’ dumping of sewage into their marvelous ravines, and fought against the invasion of their lands by the Gasoducto El Encino-Topolobampo
The pueblos of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec have succeeded in blocking transnationals that push to install more wind parks to generate electricity. Many communities are resisting a new wave of mining that is more destructive that anything known before, as mining companies have already gained concessions to more than half the national territory.
The caravan also stands for life, this especially because so many activists have fallen in the struggle. Ismael Solorio and his wife Manuelita Solis were murdered in Chihuahua in 2012, and just this past Feb. 28, Alberto Almeida was killed. All three were defenders of the Rio Carmen basin.
It is a caravan for democratic freedoms, and so it also demands the immediate freeing of hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience throughout the country. Like Mario Luna Romero and Fernando Jiménez of the Yaqui tribe, Marco Antonio Suástegui Muñoz of the Council of Ejidos and Communidades in Opposition to La Parota Dam, Nestora Salgado and José Manuel Mireles Valverde of the self-defense units of Guerrero and Michoacan.
Work, the right to decent, paid work, is another causes represented by the caravan. The day workers of San Quintin, the labor union members of SME, the street vendors of Puebla, among others, have joined to represent their own demands and support the others.
All these banners, all these causes on the move with the caravans, show us that in this phase of demented capitalism, the facts have changed dramatically. If before we spoke of the inhabitants of the impoverished suburbs as “the reserve industrial army”, now we speak of the communities and people where businesses practice extraction of water, gas shale, and mining as “the territorial throw-away army”.
This was the term used by people of the Sierra Tarahumara at the reception of the caravan in the city of Chihuahua–for the mining projects and for the drug traffickers, the people of the communities are simply in the way. In the way of the powerful who want to control the territory; in the way of state-organized collusion with crime; in the way of drug traffickers who want to seed, process and transport drugs. In the way of allowing mining or forest companies to completely deplete forests and subsoil.
For these people it is easier to agree and pay the tariffs to the cartels and to the gangs than to convince the communities to let them strip the land.
In recent years, Mexico has seen the grassroots caravans that cross its vast geography multiply. Caravans for peace, for the re-establishment of the country, against hunger, against feminicides, to denounce forced disappearances.
Why? Because we are a centralized country that concentrates both the generation of and the solutions to problems in the capital. Because the caravan is a long journey into the conscience of public opinion. Because the caravan is a necessary act for communication and popular education in a context in which the powerful media block coverage of all the injustices enumerated above. Because to pass through many pueblos and communities is not only to communicate the demands and protests, but also to construct a new and greater solidarity among the dispossessed, the excluded.
The caravans are an important instrument in the construction from below to above, from the periphery to the center. The great challenge now is to succeed in keeping the caravans traveling along their alternative routes. So that the accumulation of forces, the broadening of the coming together that they achieve, does not disperse or fade away.
Translation: Esther Buddenhagen, Americas Program
Spanish Original: http://www.americas.org/es/archives/15187