Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Talking of Tensions in Development: Reflections from the Cerro De Oro Case, Oaxaca, Mexico

Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Talking of Tensions in Development: Reflections from the Cerro De Oro Case, Oaxaca, Mexico

Article excerpt

In 1972, the Mexican federal government decreed the construction of the Cerro de Oro Dam on the Santo Domingo, San Juan Evangelista, and Tesechoacán rivers in the state of Oaxaca. This work displaced around twenty-six thousand Chinanteca natives who inhabited thirty-seven ejidos, on thirty-six thousand hectares of communal lands destined for agriculture under article 2 7 of the Agrarian Law of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. The Agrarian Law (1915) was one of the main outcomes of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) and the pillar of the agrarian reform undertaken by the political regime to redistribute land and certify possession. Though imperfect, it has been central to empowering rural and indigenous peoples to protect their land and territories after the revolution. Since the 1980s, when Mexico started implementing neoliberal policies, and in the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations from 1990 to 1992, this land regime, which permits the collective tenure and administration of indigenous or rural groups' land under the category of "ejido" has increasingly been dismantled through legal reforms that allow for the privatization of the communal lands.

The Chinantecans suffered violent evictions and lost their livelihoods as people were relocated to land unsuitable for cultivation. Only 10 percent of the land they were relocated to could be sown with rubber, corn, palm, and citrus fruits; they had previously lived in prime land for planting corn, beans, chili, sesame, tobacco, rice, and sweet potatoes, so they lost their food sovereignty. Communities were fragmented, and some of them relocated to the neighboring state of Veracruz. Thus, most people lost their language, and their political, economic, social, and legal systems were substantially weakened (Bartolomé & Barabas, 1990). As a result of the displacement, the Chinantecans' lives were totally altered, to the point that certain authors talk about it in terms of "ethnocide" (Bartolomé & Barabas, 1990).

To date, the Chinantecans have not been adequately compensated for their land after having been relocated. They live in crowded spaces, without utilities such as sewerage, water, and electricity, which the state had promised (Coalición Internacional para el Hábitat, HIC-AL, & Environmental Defender Law Center, EDLC, 2010). Currently, they still demand that the Mexican government take the necessary actions to remedy violations to their rights and to end the violence and criminalization that have been exercised against them since the dam's construction (HIC-AL & EDLC, 2010).

At the beginning of the dam's construction in 1974, the population from the affected ejidos was not informed or consulted, as revealed by some testimonials: "The authorities did not make us conscious participants in the development of our destiny[;] the only things we had were confusing news and the presence of people operating machinery in the area" (HIC-AL & EDLC, 2010, p. 8). In 2010, thirtysix years later, conversion works began to turn the Cerro de Oro Dam into a hydroelectric facility. Once again, the affected communities were not informed or consulted. However, unlike the intervention in the 1970s and 1980s (the dam's construction started in 1974 and the reservoir filling in 1989), there are currently several legal instruments-including international human rights treaties and agreements, as well as soft law standards within the governance framework-that exist to protect the rights of populations that may be affected by such projects and to regulate project implementation. These instruments pose certain obligations on states and outline the responsibilities of international financial institutions (IFIs) and private companies, respectively.

The Cerro de Oro case is interesting because in early 2011, unexpectedly, the project was suspended not specifically because of human rights violations but because of the particular political context and the implementing companies' violation of the funding agency's social and environmental standards. …

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