Dam on the Usumacinta river: Hydroelectric Project or Environmental Catastrophe?
In documents from the CFE (the Federal Electricity Commission) – Programme of works and investments in the electricity sector – the Tenosique Dam project (formerly Boca del Cerro), is a reality, and it is planned to complete its construction in 2017
Under the argument "regional integration and development," free entry is being given to various hydroelectric projects in Mesoamerica, promoted by the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), among others, all of these sponsored by various federal institutions and private companies.
This is no accident, as it responds to the historical negotiations between the governments of the region, from which the emergence of Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) stands out, and its current "strengthening" with the Project for the Integration and Development of Mesoamerica (PM). So, it is no accident that while [Mexico] is undergoing a process of the privatization of the state enterprise of water and therefore also its infrastructure, old projects of large-scale dams and water transfers are also being taken up.
The bowl of the River Usumacinta in Mexico forms part of one of these "renewed projects". The possibility of building a dam on the Usumacinta River has been discussed since 1956, but according to official documents it was not considered feasible for Guatemala to grant permission to flood such a large area, so the project was abandoned in 1960.
In 1970, using the justification of an energy crisis, the Usumacinta Hydroelectric System Plan, in which five dams were planned along the river, was drawn up. The first and most important would be the Boca del Cerro Dam, but. a few years after, this plan was abandoned due to various political priorities of the time.
A few decades later, during the government of Vicente Fox (2000-2006,) the project was taken up as part of binational negotiations between the governments of Mexico and Guatemala, in light of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), and reactivated in full with the PM, which emerged from the Tenth Summit of the Mechanism of Dialogue and Agreement of Tuxtla held in Villahermosa in 2008.
In documents of the Federal Electricity Commission (Programme of works and investments in the electricity sector), the Tenosique Dam project (formerly Boca del Cerro) is a reality, and it is planned to complete its construction in 2017.
The Hydroelectric Dam will be located 9.5 kilometres southwest of the town. In a first phase, the direct impact of this work will affect the Canyon of the Usumacinta, because the curtain, initially planned to be at a height of 135 meters, would be in that area.
Sixty years ago – since 1956 – and still today, considerations and studies about both the environmental and social damage have been available, produced by various academic institutions, NGOs, and even by the government.
Following the construction and operation of the dam, the immediate consequences would be seen in the forced displacement of a large part of the population, and, for the few who managed to stay, their productive activities – fishing and cattle breeding – would virtually disappear. Needless to say, for the lower basin, specifically in the Centla Swamps, the damage would be irreparable.
Several social organizations in Mexico and Guatemala have been trying to mobilize against the threat posed by the construction of the dam, and in response to the numerous acts of harassment towards indigenous communities, a situation which has been documented for at least fifteen years.
With the imminent completion of the dam, the situation is one of great concern, because it requires urgent dissemination, and above all a strengthening in the mobilization of civil society. The construction of the dam would cause an environmental catastrophe in the entire basin of the Grijalva-Usumacinta river system. Nationally, the impact would also be terrible, because the Usumacinta is the most important reserve of fresh water in the country, which means that the hoarding of water resources would represent a direct attack on biodiversity and therefore an extensive socio-environmental conflict which cannot be resolved.
Translated by the UK Zapatista Translation Service