During the pandemic, the construction of energy and infrastructure megaprojects continued, as they were considered essential activities. At the same time, the judicial processes and sanctions filed by the affected communities and those in opposition were paralyzed and the ability to publically protest was weakened by the need for social distancing and confinement.
In the case of the Morelos Comprehensive Project (PIM), the pandemic negatively affected various resistance strategies of the Front of Peoples in Defense of Land and Water (FPDTA). This large-scale energy project consists of two thermal power plants; a 160 km gas pipeline that crosses the states of Tlaxcala, Puebla and Morelos; two 12 km aqueducts to transport drinking and discharge water to the thermoelectric plant, and a 20 km high voltage network.
On the one hand, the indigenous consultation process, started in 2019 in 4 communities of Puebla, was paralyzed. The consultation was to determine whether or not there was consent regarding the gas pipeline already built.
On the other hand, the aqueduct that plans to transport water to the Huexca thermoelectric plantwas completed after evicting a peasant protest camp in Ayala during the pandemic, which had been paralyzing its construction for 4 years.
Regarding the legal strategy in Mexico, led by lawyer Juan Carlos Solís, accompanied by PBI, the lack of compliance with the sanctions resolved in favor of the FPDTA is striking. 20 agrarian and indigenous sanctions have been filed, of which 11 definitive suspensions have been obtained. Of these, one orders the suspension of the operation of the gas pipeline, another prohibits the contamination of the Cuautla River and 9 more relate to the use of water, to avoid affecting the irrigation of communally held lands.
Despite the disagreement of the affected communities, the project has been concluded, with the exception of one of the thermoelectric plants and the second planned aqueduct. The PIM has yet to start its operation, which would imply an immediate impact on the irrigation flow to the communally held land, affecting plantings and harvests, the health of the Huexca (Morelos) community and generating a greater risk in the area, which lies in the Popocatepetl volcano danger zone, aggravating the magnitude of disasters in case of volcanic contingency and / or rupture of the gas pipeline.
Defenders from the FPDTA have faced multiple attacks, including the murder of Samir Flores in 2019 when he was leaving his house in the Amilcingo community. It happened one day after holding a meeting with federal authorities where they questioned the Morelos Comprehensive Project and 3 days before the public consultation promoted by the Mexican government in 2019 was held. Two years have passed since this crime, and the aggressors have not yet been identified, while the harassment and criminalization of Samir’s colleagues and fellow water defenders continue.
In the second anniversary of his assassination, both the FPDTA and national and international voices expressed their opposition to the Morelos Comprehensive Project and demanded #JusticeForSamir, including Miguel Urbán, member of the European Parliament[i] . During the Interactive Dialogue with the Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David Boyd, PBI drew attention to the case of Samir Flores[ii], making a comparison between the slowness of justice and the lack of progress in the investigation with the speed with which the mega-projects are completed, even without having the consent of the impacted indigenous communities.
On Tuesday, March 9, the European Parliament approved the report on the proposed European Directive on Mandatory Due Diligence. It is undoubtedly an advance in the accountability of transnational companies, although according to the Global Campaign Dismantling Corporate Power, there are limitations in the text regarding the need to establish binding regulations[iii]. This Law, which will be prepared by the European Commission in mid-2021, is especially relevant for communities and defenders that have been affected by the economic activities of European companies, such as the People's Front in Defense of Land and Water, affected by the facilities built by Spanish and Italian companies.
A part of the Oral Statement of PBI in the Interactive Dialogue with the Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment:
Peace Brigades International welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, on human rights and the global water crisis1 . We echo the Special Rapporteur’s concerns regarding the impact of extractive industries and hydro-power projects on water supply, quality and the wider environment. In particular we highlight the plight of human rights defenders working to uphold environmental protections in such contexts and urge for their protection.
Human rights defenders working on environmental human rights, including the right to safe drinking water, face ever increasing threats to their lives and livelihoods arising from their crucial work. According to recently published research, 220 land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights defenders were killed in 2020, representing 69% of all human rights defenders killed in the last year.2 Additionally, they face threats, harassment and criminalisation at the hands of both State and non-State actors.
In Mexico, environmental defenders continue to be the most attacked, representing 70% of defenders killed in 2020 and reflecting global trends. Crimes such as the murder of Samir Flores, a member of the Frente Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra y el Agua and an opponent of the Comprehensive Morelos Project, are treated with impunity. Two years after his murder, the aggressors have not been identified but the large scale project was completed without the consent of the affected communities.
We are deeply concerned by the threats experienced by environmental defenders at the hands of both State and non-State actors, and urge for their protection.