On the Coast of Oaxaca, Afro and Indigenous Tribes Fight for Water Autonomy

Demby, Samantha
Date Written:  2019-05-06
Publisher:  NACLA
Year Published:  2019
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23837

In southern Mexico, a multi-ethnic network of towns has halted the construction of a mega-dam. Now they are organizing to manage their own natural resources and revitalize their culture as native water protectors.



Paso's high level of collective organization is a legacy of not only the community's sustained resistance movement but also its Indigenous, agrarian roots. Paso was founded as an ejido -- a form of communal property -- for Chatino farmers during the 20th-century land reforms that followed the Mexican Revolution. While in recent decades the Mexican government -- pushed by international institutions like the World Bank -- has privatized much of this land, the area surrounding the Paso de la Reina Hydroelectric Project has resisted this tendency. It's still 95% percent communal property.


Struggles to prevent the damming of rivers are also social movements against disappearance. In Mexico, from 1936 to 2006, the construction of over 4,000 dams led to the displacement of approximately 185,000 people from their communities. Human rights organizations say that in the past 10 years alone, the construction of dams in the country has been associated with the detention of over 250 people and the assassination of at least eight water protectors.

The anti-dam movement is also a struggle against the disappearance of a whole ecosystem, made up of myriad forms of life that depend on a river's flow of nutrients and sediment. According to a report from International Rivers, large-scale dams can harm their environments by blocking fish migration, changing the river’s temperature and chemical composition, trapping sediments that are necessary for downstream habitats, and causing the buildup of contaminants. "Even subtle changes in the quantity and timing of water flows impact aquatic and riparian life," the report states. This can "unravel the ecological web of a river system."

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