Community resistance in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec

In Mexico, the story of renewable energy goes hand in hand with colonial practices of dispossession and violation of the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrow stretch of Mexican territory that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean, the Indigenous Peoples who inhabit the area have been living with the consequences of the imposition of this model for more than a decade. In this area, wind energy has become a symbol of the idea of “sustainable” development for local, state and federal government administrations, and it has become the poster child for development and investment. Furthermore, the installation of more than 2,000 wind turbines has had a significant impact on the dynamics of everyday life.

The communities on the receiving end of the projects are faced with the impact that private capital has on social, economic and cultural dynamics. “Wind enclaves” have been developed at key points (based on their political and economic values), leading to an increase in the cost of housing and services, an increase in sex work and the arrival of supermarket, fast food and restaurant chains to meet the needs of foreign workers in the companies (to the detriment of the local market).

The wind megaproject in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is an example of how the expansionist nature of this so-called development recreates the irregular conditions of leasing contracts and the negative effects on the life of the communities in the area. The aim of these projects is to ensure the continuation of the capitalist accumulation model rather than climate mitigation. Technology is once again used as a weapon for capital and non-appropriable, inappropriate projects are proposed in which technological advances that enable the harnessing of renewable energy sources are costly and require a certain capacity in terms of finance and infrastructure. This limits access to countries with weak economies and especially to their communities while benefiting the private sector.

The aim of these projects is to ensure the continuation of the capitalist accumulation model rather than climate mitigation

Bettina Cruz and Rosa Marina Flores Cruz

In the face of these dynamics, community resistance in the Isthmus continues to be shaped. It is not just a matter of standing up to multinational green capitalism projects, but a fight to defend territory in the face of neoliberal dispossession projects. We are fighting to maintain our binnizá and ikoojts Isthmus life, a life linked to corn (zapalote chico or xhuuba’huiini), to “native” tomatoes and to shrimp and fish. We are fighting to defend a shared space, a living space. This is the alternative proposed from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the legitimacy of our decision to remain a community.

And we keep asking ourselves, in return for all this, what is left for us? The arrival of the wind farms was accompanied by many impressive words such as progress, development and opportunities, linked to the narrative of environmental co-responsibility in the face of climate change. The territory of the Isthmus was given the mission to contribute to the achievement of the international climate change mitigation targets signed by the Mexican government, without even considering the energy needs of our area or the impacts of climate change on our communities. The so-called mitigation policies guaranteed a new window of opportunity for the same old companies to continue implementing harmful projects in our territories, but with a green façade.

Currently, our territory has once again been assigned for the second phase of the wind energy project which aims to double the amount of energy produced in the area. It also deepens the dispossession of territory to be handed over to international finance capital with the Faustian project in the Interoceanic Corridor. This involves the implementation of a communication and freight corridor from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico by means of a high-speed train that will, in the end, make use of the geopolitical advantage of crossing the Isthmus. Attempts to establish this inter-oceanic project have been going on for centuries and finally, thanks to this deceitful narrative on progress, it will be implemented along with a motorway, two deep seaports and a gas pipeline running from Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, to Salina Cruz, Oaxaca and south to Central America.

International decisions on state and government action on the climate crisis, such as at COP-27 in Egypt, continue to affect the lives of hundreds of Indigenous communities to ensure the green growth of capitalism. In Mexico, discussions around energy are exclusionary and perpetuate the role of rural and Indigenous areas as providers of services and raw materials for industry. This applies equally to both fossil fuel and renewable technologies, as the industrial exploitation tactics are the same, implemented by the same fossil fuel companies, producers of waste and hoarders of goods and resources that have caused the current climate crisis.

While the projects that threaten our territory continue, our fight will continue. We will continue to insist that it is not up to anyone other than us to decide what happens on our land. Despite the pressure to abandon that which makes us a community, we will continue to maintain our identity. We know that our existence has been a thorn in the side of colonial interests for more than 500 years, and we will continue to be so.

While the projects that threaten our territory continue, our fight will continue

Bettina Cruz and Rosa Marina Flores Cruz

From the Isthmus of Tehuantepec we will continue our resistance against these projects on our territory, in defence of life and demanding respect for the free will and determination of Indigenous Peoples, particularly the Puente Madera community, who are standing up against the installation of the Industrial Park in the Interoceanic Corridor in their community lands.

Bettina Cruz is a Binnizá woman originally from Juchitán in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. She has a degree in Agricultural Engineering from UNAM, a Master’s degree in Regional Rural Development from the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo and doctoral studies at the University of Barcelona, in Territorial Planning and Regional Development. In 2007 she was part of an organizational process for the defence of communal lands in the Isthmus, forming the APIIDTT. She is part of the National Indigenous Congress and since May 2017 is part of the Indigenous Council of Government.

Rosa Marina Flores Cruz is an Afrozapoteca woman from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, and a member of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory and the Indigenous Futures Network. She holds a Master’s degree in Rural Development from UAM-Xochimilco and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences from UNAM’s Morelia campus. She is currently studying Communication Sciences. Her work has focused on issues such as the climate crisis and environmental education, community resistance, green capitalism, and indigenous and community feminism.