Mexican communities oppose wind projects

The wind hasn’t stopped blowing on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca. Night and day it rustles leaves, sweeps across the sea and spins the blades of wind turbines.

To drive wind energy production in this Mexican region, in 2004 the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), published the “Wind Energy Resource Atlas of Oaxaca” assuring that communities would receive social and economic benefits from renewable energy.

According to the atlas, the wind potential of much of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is “excellent,” so it was unsurprising when in December 2012 the Mexican Wind Energy Association (AMDEE), which unites the leading companies in this sector, already had 15 wind farms in the area.

“The companies divided up our land, like the Spanish when they came to America,” Bettina Cruz Velázquez, a member of the Assembly of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory, told Latinamerica Press. “I recognize there is worldwide concern about climate change, but what is motivating the companies is turning our air into money. Green energy is a business that profits from cheating the communities; they destroy our way of life and menace our food sovereignty, forcing us into displacement.”

There are 10 multinational companies running 15 projects on the isthmus in Oaxaca — Iberdrola, Acciona, CFE, Enel Green Power, Gamesa, Cemex, Peñoles, Eléctrica del Valle de México, Renovalia, and Demex — and the Mexican federal government’s Energy Regulation Commission has approved more projects. The goal for the government of Oaxaca is to generate 2,000 MW of renewable energy by 2015.

No prior consultation

All the energy companies seem to be operating under the same scheme that doesn’t include any free and informed prior consultation to the 15 indigenous communities on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as established by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples ratified by Mexico in 1991, in addition to several national laws.

To obtain the right to possession of the land for 30 years, company representatives go door to door, asking campesino families to sign draconian contracts that set the amount of payment for the land lease. In addition, they promise work, development, infrastructure investments and reduced electricity bills once the wind farm is in operation.

In reality, 10 of the wind fields on the isthmus function under the premise of “self-sufficiency,” which the federal government’s Energy Secretariat defines as the “production of electricity for subsistence purposes, provided that such power is intended to meet the needs of individual and legal entities and isn’t inconvenient for the country.” The “individual and legal entities” using the energy produced by the wind farm to meet their needs are large transnational corporations, including Nestlé, Femsa-Coca Cola, Bimbo, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

What Oaxacan farming families are receiving in return are pure crumbs. According to Roberto Garduño, of the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, in Europe the standard rent wind companies pay for land represents 3.9 percent of total production costs, while in Mexico it’s between 0.025 percent and 1.53 percent.

In many cases these contracts are illegal, given that much of the land used for the wind farms isn’t private, but rather communal. “In this property system, land belongs to the community; families have the usufruct on it without being owners,” attorney Raúl Rangel González told Latinamerica Press. “Only the community assembly may give the company the right to operate.”

Source: Orsetta Bellani | Latinamerica Press