Yaqui Launch Defense of Water and Territory

Dozens of social organizations, unions and indigenous groups are backing the defense of Mexico’s natural resources and indigenous peoples’ rights The Yaqui indigenous people launched three simultaneous routes this week as part of a National Caravan for the Defense of Water, Land, Work and Life.

The convoy aims of reaching the historic Zocalo square in Mexico City on May 22. It will travel through 23 states of Mexico, with the goal of bridging different social struggles into a so-called “National Process.”

Specifically, the caravan seeks the cancellation of all megaprojects that affect life, water, land and air; the cancellation of recently approved neoliberal structural reforms; an end to the militarization of the country; the presentation alive of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students; the recuperation of food and energy sovereignty; and the freedom of political prisoners. Caravan participants also underscored the need to maintain an active struggle against the so-called General Water Law, that federal lawmakers postponed in March after widespread public outcry denounced it as an attempt to privatize the administration and distribution of the resource. “With this reform, water won’t be available to anyone, because they increasingly seek to privatize it, over exploiting groundwater and aquifers, and what is left is not even water, it is something highly contaminated,” said caravan participant, Laura Gutierrez of the rights group Water for All, Water for Life.

For five years the Yaqui people has experienced head-on the effects of such public policy. In 2010, the Sonora State government approved the Independence Aqueduct project. The 172 kilometer-long megaproject transports more than 60 million cubic meters of water per year from the Novillo dam — fed by the Yaqui river — to supply the growing urban complexes of Hermosillo as well as the large agroindustry in the region.

The project was proposed and initiated by the current Sonora governor, Guillermo Padres, of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). The project openly violates a 1940 presidential decree by then-President Lazaro Cardenas, which guarantees that at least 50 percent of the water from the Yaqui River is for the Yaqui people. The project was initiated violating the indigenous people’s right to an open and free prior consultation. In 2011, the environment secretary, Semarnat, approved the environmental impact statement and granted permission to begin the project, which also included the use of 50 million cubic meters of water for construction. Since the start of the project, the Yaqui people has maintained stiff resistance, utilizing protests, roadblocks, and legal injunctions to fight against the aqueduct that they argue is an attack “on our entire identity.” Sonora State authorities have responded by incarcerating two of the people’s most visible spokesmen, Mario Luna and Fernando Jimenez, both who have received federal court rulings for their freedom. Although in 2013 Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled against the construction of the project, Sonora State authorities have not responded in dismantling or stopping the pipeline.


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