Criminalizing the defense of water and natural resources in Chihuahua

Mexico City, May 12, 2022. Thousands of farming families in the north of Chihuahua that make up several ejidos have denounced for over 7 years that the Lebarón family steals their water, which has had an impact on their crops and even dried up the drinking water wells of at least three communities. No authority has taken action and, instead, today 20 people have arrest warrants issued against them for opposing the electrification of the illegal wells that are depleting the aquifers.

Chihuahua is going through a serious crisis due to recurrent droughts that have gotten worse in the past 10 years. Since 2012, several farmers with legal concessions to extract water from the subsoil of the Río del Carmen Water Basin, began to see their harvests decrease due to the depletion of the aquifers, which led them to begin a movement to demand that the authorities close off the more than 400 illegal wells opened in the Basin. Illegal overexploitation not only affects families that have concessions to grow food on their land, but is also causing irreversible damage to natural resources.

The Benito Juárez ejido, in the municipality of Buenaventura, has been severely affected by the overexploitation of the Basin. In addition, since 2012 they have been facing a Canadian mining company that intended to settle on their land for open-pit mining.

The defense of water and natural resources has claimed the lives of Ismael Solorio and Manuela Solís, murdered in October 2012, as well as Alberto Almeida, killed in February 2013. Since then, the case has been brought to the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which granted precautionary measures in favor of 13 people.

The Constitución Ejido, in the municipality of Buenaventura, made up of more than 894 ejido members, is located across from the La Mojina ranch, owned by the Lebarón family, a farm they have used to grow pecan trees even though these lands do not have agricultural permits, precisely due to the overexploitation of the aquifer and water scarcity in the region; however, the Lebarón family without permission and illegally keeps open at least 10 wells that they use to plant 300 hectares of pecan trees, affecting more than 800 peasant families that do have legal concessions to get water.

The situation has been reported to all possible instances, demanding a solution to the problem, but no authorities have implemented any real actions to prevent water theft and the overexploitation of the aquifer. In this context, in 2018, more than 500 members of Constitución, including girls and boys, entered Rancho La Mojina to check whether the wells were working. Upon entering, they were greeted with bullets by the workers who were there, so a confrontation began. which ended in physical injuries and property damage. 11 wells were found to be in operation in Rancho La Mojina, being used to water 300 hectares of pecan trees, with internal combustion engines.

A few days ago we learned that the administration of Governor María Eugenia Campos Galván, through the State Prosecutor’s Office, promoted the request for arrest warrants against at least 20 people from Constitución for entering Rancho La Mojina in April 2018, accusing community members of being responsible for 1 million dollars in damages; we also have information that there is a plan to electrify the illegal wells in the coming days, so it is clear that criminal law is being used as a mechanism to favor the Lebarón family and facilitate undue electrification.

Furthermore, the criminal complaint filed by the Canadian mining company against members of the Benito Juárez ejido for evicting the mine was reactivated, after they did not abide by the resolution of the assembly that decided to expel them from the ejido territory.

In 2020, the entire country witnessed the bravery and tenacity of Chihuahuan farmers in what was known by the media as «the war for water» and which led to clashes with the National Guard and the Mexican Army, the seige of the La Boquilla Dam, protests that resulted in the burning of several public buildings and official vehicles, and that cost the life of Jessica Silva Zamarripa and the imprisonment of 4 farmers.

During these actions in defense of water, María Eugenia Campos Galván, who was running for governor at the time, accompanied farmers in their fight. As governor, she acted as an intermediary for the release of the farmers who were still in prison; today, in a complete turn of events, she is exercising criminal action against those who also defend water.

The movement of associated farmers in defense of the Río del Carmen Water Basin, as well as the Benito Juárez ejido confirm their commitment to the defense of water and natural resources, even against the authorities that maintain social conflicts and cause them to get worse.

We hereby call for:

The government of the State of Chihuahua to not use criminal law to subjugate a community in favor of rich farmers who use water illegally.

The federal and state governments, so that the authorities in charge of environmental stewardship urgently resolve in a fair and comprehensive manner the 10-year-old problem that has been depleting water in Chihuahua.

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