Dialogues Over El Zapotillo an Elaborate Joke?

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Representatives from CONAGUA at the second mesa de diálogo

Marco von Borstel

Perhaps one of the most elaborate April Fools jokes played this year was done so by representatives of the Mexican Federal Government and the National Water Commission. On April 1st they started a series of mesas de diálogo – face-to-face discussions – with representative from the communities of Temaca, Acasico and Palmarejo, all who will be affected by El Zapotillo Dam.

The agreement to hold these talks came about because of the huge public opposition to the project expressed throughout Mexico and internationally by communities, NGO's and civil society members. This opposition has manifested itself in hundreds of letters sent to authorities involved in construction of the dam, large protests and marches in the streets of Guadalajara and Mexico City, and many more actions. However it was expressed most recently and perhaps most clearly on March 27 when more then 200 community members and supporters from around Mexico occupied the dam site, calling for cancellation of the dam and a dialogue with authorities involved in the project. This peaceful protest was a result of desperation and exasperation, after more than five years of campaigning against El Zapotillo Dam.

More than 200 people occupied the dam site on March 27 to demand that thier voices be heard

Marco von Borstel

The authorities involved have consistently refused to listen to the affected communities, refused to appropriately consult them on the process, and refused to acknowledge the huge environmental and social impacts of the project. Therefore when these same authorities finally agreed to sit down with the communities and hold three different discussions to talk about the legality of the project, the broader implications of large dams, and alternatives to El Zapotillo, there was a certain sense of relief; a feeling that "finally someone is listening." As I expressed in an earlier blog, the agreement to such dialogues is a great step in itself, setting an important precedent for how such processes should be carried out and showing that the voices of concerned citizens cannot be ignored.

As the final discussion on alternatives came to a close last Friday evening, it was hard to feel that this was not all just an elaborate joke on the part of the officials; a way to appease the communities and buy more time for them to continue construction on the dam, uninterrupted. In the last few days the dialogue has been described by those who were there, as a mesa de sordos – a discussion of the deaf – and a mesa vacía – an empty discussion.

Listening to the discussion live on video stream (thanks to Mapder – The Mexican Movement of Those Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers – for this amazing coverage) it was incredible to hear Abigail – head of the Comité Salvemos Temaca, Acasico and Palmaerjo, Mary Chuy, and Padre Grabriel speak with such passion about their six-year struggle, about what they are fighting for, and then, as the camera panned out to see the five men sitting across from them, all with the same uninterested expression on their faces, one trying – not very convincingly – to stifle a yawn. It was clear that these representatives had no interest in being there and even less interest in answering to the concerns and alternatives presented by representatives from the Comité. As Abigail aptly put it "esto no es una mesa de diálogo: es una mesa de evasivas" – this is not a meeting of dialogue, but rather a meeting of evasive answers.

Signs of solidarity with Temaca and in protest to El Zapotillo Dam were hung around Guadalajara

Carmen Diaz

While the officials may be playing both deaf and dumb (pun intended), it is clear that this will not deter those campaigning to cancel El Zapotillo Dam. The affected communities will continue to fight, and they will do so with the national and international communities behind them. As the dialogue streamed live on Friday, Twitter and Facebook exploded with real-time updates, comments and messages of solidarity from around the world. The struggle of Temaca, Acasico and Palmarejo is the struggle of many and is replicated in communities worldwide. Governments and authorities around the world are turning a deaf ear to environmental and social impacts, to the concerns of affected communities, and to the potential for alternatives to large, destructive hydropower projects.

The next step for Temaca is the mesa resolutiva – a resolution discussion – which is preliminarily scheduled for May 15. In the meantime, to borrow an image from Padre Gabriel, Temaca's song continues to get stronger and louder. As officials filed out of the meeting on Friday, the emblematic song "Temaca vive, la lucha sigue" reverberated around the room. Try as they might, this moving song of solidarity and struggle could not be ignored.