Monday - Jul 22, 2019

Wind megaproject at Isthmus of Tehuantepec moved due to indigenous communities opposition

Wind farm project in Oaxaca, México. (PHOTO BY ORSETTA BELLANI)

by Orsetta Bellini

The mega wind farm project that the company Mareña Renovable wanted to build in Santa Teresa (Oaxaca, Mexico) is dead. This is what spokesman Maurice Wilbrink said, from Dutch pension PGGM – which has a stake in transnational Mareña Renovable – in a January 8, 2014 interview with newspaper De Telegraaf. According to Wilbrink the project, which plans to invest one billion dollars for the construction of 132 wind turbines that will produce 396 megawatts, will be moved from the bar of Santa Teresa (Municipality of San Dionisio del Mar) to the nearby towns of El Espinal and Juchitan.

In December 2012 the Mexican Wind Energy Association (AMDEE), which brings together the leading companies in this sector, already had 15 wind farms in the isthmus. The proliferation of wind turbines in this area known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is motivated by the findings of the Atlas of Wind Resources of the State of Oaxaca, published in 2004 by the Department of Energy and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which claims that the wind potential of much of the isthmus is “excellent.” In addition, the atlas asserts that communities would receive social and economic benefits of renewable energy.

However, until now the benefits from the sale of this energy considered “green” did not reach the residents of the area, but the wind companies that sell electricity (Iberdrola, Acciona, CFE, Enel Green Power, Gamesa, Cemex Peñoles, Eléctrica del Valle de Mexico, Renovalia, Demex) and those who buy it. Wind farms working under a “self-sufficiency” scheme, which stipulates that the energy produced is not enjoyed by the local population, but by large corporations such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola Femsa, Bimbo, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

“The companies divided our territory, in the same way the Spanish did when they arrived in America,” complains Bettina Cruz Velázquez, a member of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory. “I recognize that there is a global concern about climate change, but what drives our business is to turn our air into money. Green energy is a for profit business cheating communities, destroy our way of life and threaten our food sovereignty, forcing displacement”.

The decision to halt the construction of wind turbines in the bar of Santa Teresa, a strip of about 27 km of sand and mangroves, has been adopted because of the opposition by the Oaxacan indigenous communities. For months, the community Álvaro Obregón blocked the only land access to the bar of Santa Teresa, while in San Dionisio del Mar residents occupied the town hall.

“When they started doing studies there was a massive fish kill. Here we live of fishing and we get our daily food from Santa Teresa. We do not want this project and fighting became very strong after the mayor Miguel López Castilian was sold to the company, signing permission for their entry,” tells a commoner of San Dionisio del Mar who preferred to remain anonymous.

Clampdown against those opposing the project has been strong, with the actions by public security forces and shock groups of PRI (affiliated to ruling party PRI). In February 2013, Oaxaca Governor Gabino Cue Monteagudo said that he would make “all necessary action to prevent such a major investment is withdrawn from the state.”

In fact, although the struggle by communities has been successful, the investment has not been removed from the state of Oaxaca, moving the problem only a few miles away.

According to De Telegraaf, statements by Maurice Wilbrink, spokesman of Dutch pension PGGM, in El Espinal the consultation with local residents is more or less complete and in the city of Juchitan it will begin shortly for the construction of the wind farm starting in the first quarter of this year. The lack of consultation with the communities affected by the project – a mechanism provided by Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the International Labour Organization (ILO), and some national laws – was one of the facts that led a local court to temporarily suspend the construction of the project on October 9, 2013.

In addition, the Mareña Renovable´s wind farm is illegal because, as in many other wind farms in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, it wants to occupy a land that is not private but communal. “This land ownership belongs to the community, families have the usufruct without owning it,” says attorney Raul Gonzalez Rangel. “Only the community assembly can give the company the right to operate.”

Yet there were not community assemblies to authorize the construction of wind turbines: for the right of possession of the land for 30 years, representatives of companies are going house to house, asking peasant families to sign unfair contracts where they fix the amounts for the payment of land lease, promising work, development and investment in infrastructure.