Juan Carlos Flores Solis, Mexico: ‘They tried to break my spirit’
Juan Carlos Flores Solis: ‘They are destroying the land and water, so this time if we don’t succeed in stopping them there is no way back.’
Meet the people fighting to defend human rights of others internationally
Over the weekend more than 100 human rights defenders left Ireland for countries and regimes around the world where they face threats ranging from harassment and imprisonment to torture and death for their work in asserting the rights of others.
They were visiting Ireland for the Dublin Platform hosted by Front Line Defenders which every two years provides an opportunity for activists to network, campaign and receive moral and practical support.
Operating on the “protect one, empower a thousand” principle, Front Line provides practical help such as technology to support communications, security tips and a rescue service for defenders who have to flee their country.
The organisation also keeps their profiles high in the hope that hostile governments will be less likely to target them under an international spotlight.
Here is one who pleads that the light never goes out.
The battle Juan Carlos Flores Solis is fighting sounds like a typical big industry versus small landholders struggle. If only it was as simple as that.
His stance against the massive gas pipeline, thermal electricity plant and associated developments along a 160km zone in central Mexico has brought him into conflict with his government, the military, a state utility, energy corporations from two continents, a Dutch pension fund, the Inter-American Development Bank and the list goes on.
He spent 10 months in prison as a result of his activism, on charges a judge declared were unfounded, but when he recently submitted a constitutional petition questioning the use of the army to protect the project, a further arrest warrant was issued.
“In prison I was in a cell six metres square with 20 people,” he says of his detention.
“I did not experience physical aggression but there was a lot of harassment and there were many delays in my trial.
“It was an attempt to break my spirit because hope was created that I would be let go but it was crushed again and again. The message is, you are in our hands, you don’t belong to yourself, you belong to us.”
Flores Solis is spokesman for the People’s Front in Defence of the Water and Earth, which works to protect the rights of indigenous people and small farmers in the connecting regions of Morelos, Puebla, and Tlaxcala where rich volcanic soils make for fertile agricultural land.
The government wants to turn the area into a power-exporting industrial hub but opponents say the project, plus a new highway and other associated infrastructure, will wipe out many farms while the demand for water will leave remaining land parched.
They argue farmers were pressured into signing over their land and they decry the heavy-handed tactics of the police and military.
They also fear catastrophe should the frequent rumblings at the Popocatepetl volcano become strong enough to rupture the pipes.
They say the fact that the military are also responsible for civilian safety during volcanic episodes has been used to intimidate the locals into submission.
The Mexican revolution of 1910 began in this region when small farmers rose up against the big hacienda owners starving them of land and water.
“At that time the land and water were still there so it was a question of who had rights to them. Now they are destroying the land and water so this time if we don’t succeed in stopping them, there is no way back.”