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Mexico: Federal Court Halts Controversial Wind Park

All links are in Spanish, unless otherwise indicated.

The largely indigenous opposition to wind farms in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec of Oaxaca, Mexico won a tremendous victory on 7 December 2012 when a District Seven Federal Court judge granted an injunction (amparo) temporarily halting the construction of a controversial wind park in San Dioniosio del Mar in the southern state of Oaxaca. The judge, located in Salina Cruz, ruled that ”based on article 233 of the Injunction Law, this unequivocally orders the suspension of the challenged actions as being in violation of the land rights of the community.”

While the indigenous Ikojts (Huave) peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec celebrated and called for government and industry to comply with the decision, their grassroots struggle continues.

The day following the court decision, Marena Renovables – the international consortium constructing the park – announced they would not “yield to blackmail” and would continue dialoguing with the communities. Their government relations representative Edith Ávila indicated that the project represents an investment of a billion dollars and maintains that it would bring immense benefits to the community. They aim to continue construction as planned.

The governor of Oaxaca, Gabino Cué Monteagudo, announced that the amparo was “a bad sign for private investment in the state.” He is on record saying that he hopes this judgment does not set a precedent for development in the rest of the region.

Wind Farm, Isthmus of Tehuantepec

A wind farm in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. Photo by Rachael Petersen, January 2011.

International actors have entered the conflict. Noticias Net reported that on the inauguration of the new president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, the Australian ambassador Katrina Cooper delivered a request to the Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade to “resolve the conflict in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which has prevented the start of construction of the largest wind farm in Latin America.” Australia’s Macquarie Infrastructure Fund is one of the companies that makes up the consortium of Mareña Renovables, along with Mitsubishi Corporation, a Japanese conglomerate, and PGGM, a Dutch pension fund service provider.

The planned 396 megawatt (MW) San Dionisio Del Mar project, located in areas referred to as Barra Santa Teresa and Santa Maria del Mar in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, will be the largest wind farm in Mexico and one of the largest in Latin America. The 132-turbine project, valued at around 985 million US dollars, will provide electricity to the largest beverage companies in Latin America: Femsa and Cuahtémoc Moctezuam, allowing them to save ten percent of their energy costs, according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The San Dionisio del Mar project is supported by investments from over fifteen banks, including the IDB, which has lent 72 million US dollars [en] for its construction.

Oaxaca, wind hotspot of the world

The government of Mexico continues to build wind farms at a lightning pace, with a current 521 installed MW [en] and goal of 3,000 total MW [en] by 2014. Throughout 2012, Mexico has laid the groundwork for around 900 MW of wind capacity -­ all but 70 MW in Oaxaca, one of the world’s best regions for wind resources. There are 14 wind energy projects in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec of Oaxaca alone with over 400 wind turbines, as well as five other projects under way.

However, much of the land in Oaxaca is inhabited by indigenous peoples or owned collectively by peasants as ejidos. Local resistance to wind development is as old as the parks themselves. Multinational wind companies operating in the area have been saddled with accusations of unfair contracts, bribing local leaders, inadequate consultations and unfulfilled promises. Local opposition to wind farms continues to grow amid an increasingly violent and complex backdrop saturated with political alliances between local and national and municipal government, transnational wind companies, and land owners.

Winds of resistance in the Isthmus

Anti-wind protestors are met by state police in Union Hidalgo, Oaxaca 30 October 2012. Photo from the Asamblea de Pueblos del Istmo, used with permission.

Many indigenous peoples of the principle impacted communities maintain a traditional fishing culture that relies upon the ocean for both sustenance and commerce. They fear the park, constructed partly over a narrow stretch of land, will impact vital marine resources and delicate mangroves. They also emphasize that the construction provides little benefit to communities and violates their land rights, citing contracts that often pay only 100 pesos per hectare per year, a sum too small to compensate the loss of natural resources and land. The Secretariat of Indigenous Affairs in Oaxaca has also recognized the human rights violations that have occurred in the creation of wind farm contracts throughout the region.

Several groups have mobilized to protest – and blog about – ongoing resistance in the wind-rich regions of Oaxaca. The communities resisting the San Dionisio project together update a blog, titled “Communities resisting the mega- wind project San Dionisio del Mar,” with images, videos, and statements about their activities. The principle anti-wind group, la Asamblea de Pueblos Indígendas del Istmo en Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio, maintains a Facebook page and blog with reports on wind development news. UCIZONI, or Unión de Comunidades Indígenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo, a group that has defended indigenous rights in Mexico for over 25 years, created a YouTube video, which has since been removed, to provide background information on San Dionisio del Mar and first-hand accounts from community members impacted by wind development. Many other interviews and testimonies from communities opposing wind development remain available on the group's YouTube channel.

The December 7 federal court decision follows a series of violent confrontations in the region between local protestors, industry, and state police. In a press conference on 11 December 2012, inhabitants of San Dioniosio del Mar and San Mateo del Mar called for government and industry to honor the amparo and to indefinitely suspend the Mareñas project. They stated that

A partir del 2007, año en que se anunció la entrada de empresas trasnacionales de energía eólica en nuestro territorio, se inició un hostigamiento, una represión policiaca contra el pueblo, tanto de las empresas como por parte de los gobiernos estatal y federal, coludidos con los presidentes municipales de toda la región del Istmo.

In 2007, the year in which transnational wind energy companies entered our territory, began the harassment, a police repression against the community – as much on the part of the companies as well as the state and federal governments with collusion from mayors across the entire region of the Isthmus.

The newspaper La Jornada reports that the defense of their territory has cost the Ikojts people  “at least 14 violent events, intimidation and harassment in the last four months.” The blog of the Chiapas-based organization Servicio Internacional Para La Paz has a comprehensive overview of conflicts surrounding the wind park since September 2012.

An information gap, an uncertain future

Zapoteca blogger, journalist and ethnohistorian Gubidxa Guerrero writes that although Marena Renovables denies the the federal court amparo will affect construction, this issue could quickly become one of national significance. He notes that a lack of public information is the main culprit in the politicization of wind farms in Oaxaca:

La información es vital para tomar una decisión que afectará por treinta años el destino de sus terrenos (que es la duración promedio de los contratos). Por desgracia existe un vacío de información que provoca que unos cuantos vivales la aprovechen para dos fines: sembrar el pánico contra los proyectos, o presentar selectivamente sus “bondades”.

Information is vital in order to make a decision that will affect lands for thirty years (which is the average duration of the contracts). Unfortunately, there is an information gap that provokes some “punks” to take advantage of the situation for two ends: to sow panic against the projects, or selectively present their “goodness.”

The Federal Court decision is a vital first step in stopping – or at least delaying – wind energy development in Oaxaca in order to allow a more honest evaluation of the impacts and benefits of wind energy in the Isthmus. However, it remains to be seen if the government and wind industry will respect the requests of Huave peoples of the Isthmus to end the San Dionisio project altogether.

Fore more detailed background on the situation in Oaxaca, please see:

Upside-down World: Indigenous Communities in Mexico Fight Corporate Wind Farms [en]

AIDA: The challenge of deploying wind energy in Mexico. The case of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec [en].

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