The Defenders of Temacapulín
Making enemies with a community over water, the source of life, is unforgivable. This is what a group of companies and politicians did in Temacapulin, a small town located in Jalisco, the state with the highest population in western Mexico. For ten years, the town has lived with uncertainty as to whether their village will disappear, all because of a dam, called “Del Zapotillo,” which threatens to flood it.
One trembles to think that everything within sight in Temaca could disappear completely. Imagining the parish, with its elegant banners, under water; the whole plaza, with the kiosk and its array of iron benches, swallowed by the current; the row of houses, the patios, the windows, inhabited only by streams of murky water. To see the history of a human community lost, including its traditions, its symbols, its dead. Everything, erased from the map. From that perspective, it’s not hard to understand why the villagers refuse to sell their homes and relocate: how many of us would put a price on our home?
The road to Temaca offers a landscape of mesquite trees, cactuses and rows of agaves. If you arrive through Guanajuato, one of the neighboring states, you can see the change from a semi-desert environment toward a more pleasant temperature, the route’s shift reveals a mixture of plants, microclimates and baroque style. The arches, the little villages and the wire fences are linked in a winding necklace of landscapes and tranquil sensations.
Along the cobblestone streets of Temaca the sun falls just right, without overwhelming. Silence envelops around two in the afternoon. That general calmness contrasts with the walls, tattooed with stencil art, and the canvases, hung with white ribbon outside the houses:
“This house is not sold, it is not relocated, it is not expropriated, it is not flooded”.
“You cannot fight for what you do not love.”
“If there is no justice for the people, there is no peace for the government.”
We are not in the vicinity of the Che Guevara Auditorium or in Oaxaca taken by the APPO, but in one of the most politically conservative areas of Mexico; as if that were not enough, Temaca has a predominant population of adults and seniors. In these towns, the rebellion does not have the face of a young man hooded with a Molotov in his backpack, but of the small business owner who has made himself.
Mrs. Agredano, president of the “Salvemos Temaca” Committee has tempered her character over the years, but especially since 2009, when the construction of the dam began illegally, by the Spanish group Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas–a company under investigation in Spain for paying illegal commissions in exchange for public contracts–as well as by the Mexican business conglomerates La Peninsular and Grupo Hermes.
Mrs. Abigail speaks with a frankness that people in the region are accustomed to. According to her, this project is promoted by Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, to benefit himself and his stepchildren, the Bibriesca. “Although people have been told that they will use the dam to supply Los Altos de Jalisco with water, as well as the cities of Guadalajara and Leon, their goal is to privatize the resource and use it for their private industries. That’s why they have no problem flooding us. ” Doña Abigail frowns as she chews on that last sentence, but she does not lose her poise.
Relocating is not an option for Mrs. Abigail. First, because the authorities have systematically lied to them: “We are no longer ignorant, as when Governor Sandoval came to tell us that they were never going to flood us. We all believed it. Then, it came out that we were going to disappear as a community.” The relocation plans have turned out to be a failure: “they say that they are going to compensate us, but we know that it is a lie. The relocation that they offer is that we go up, to the cliff, where they built some houses that are useless: the doors are glass and burst with the winds of February; there is only water two hours a day; light costs a lot and there is no natural light.” To make matters worse, relocating the residents would have a huge human cost. “Many people have never wanted to leave here. Imagine that the police come wanting to run people out! My grandmother, 94 years old, will die if they come to take her from her town. There are many others like her.”
Flooding Temaca would cause the loss of, among many other things, endearing traditions, such as the patron saint feast, dedicated to the Virgin of the Remedies, as well as the local tradition of fish prepared with cactus: “here catfish is used to stuff a delicious cactus, native of the area, which is called chaveño. The thorns are removed from the cactus, then you open it in the middle, you add fish, and spices, for a very special flavor.” That is why Mrs. Abigail is not willing to leave, unless she is dragged away: “We will not allow them to do what they want with us: it is better to die standing than to live on one’s knees.”
“You are a governor
who did not respect the word
you gave in the campaign;
you betrayed your honor
and today you do not want
to even show your face …
I know you are listening, you good-for-nothing!”
Marichuy lets out a laugh and flexes her arm as if telling off all the powerful people of this world. “I sang that to Governor Aristoteles Sandoval, here in town, when we were going to tell him not to get cold feet, to not change the land use policy. Since he wouldn’t meet with us, we went to the community center, to a restaurant that faces the street where he was eating after an event. We stood right in front of it, in the town square, and I asked for the microphone. I was so angry that I sang those verses to him. And to finish, I recited the following right in his face:
Was he who lit the wick,
and at the first signs of change
he was the first to turn back”
In response to her lyrical passion, a group of policemen stepped between the rally and the politician, which outraged Marichuy even more. “I remember that on that day I got so angry that I felt my back really tight, tense. I was so angry, enraged. Then I said to them: “It’s a pity that Rambo is already old, if he weren’t, we’d hire him to beat you up!”
Marichuy gesticulates when she speaks, she waves her hands and watches me from the depths of her tobacco-colored eyes. If I ask her about the risk of Temaca disappearing, she slips a joke; when I let my guard down, enchanted by her good humor, she becomes serious and throws me a bazooka of indisputable truths:
“I think it would be wrong to lie in the hammock while they destroy what is ours. It is time that we defend ourselves, right? And if things don’t work out in the end, for example, if everything you see here ceases to exist, then we have the pride of having done our duty, of being those who fought while the others just watched. Because as they say around there, God wants us to be tame, but not stupid.”
Marichuy asks for a beer, because her mouth is starting to get dry from so much talking. Poncho, the owner of the place – “El Mesón de Mamá Tachita” – is also part of the committee in defense of the town, and brings it quickly. “Here’s a nice cold one,” he says, as he puts the bottle on the table.
During his youth, Poncho worked in Mexico City for the National Railroads. With money that he saved, he started his business, located in front of the main plaza of Temaca, where he is a native and where he wants to stay until the end of his days. His philosophy of resistance is very practical: “If we win, great. If we lose, we made the fight. “
Poncho interrupts our conversation to meet some motorcyclists who want breakfast. He prepares eggs for them, serves them tequila and beer, tells them about the region. Meanwhile, Marichuy tells me about the highs and lows of her experience as a defender of the territory, from her meetings with the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to when they closed the dam and were almost gassed by the police.
“To take the dam, I even decided to bring my grandchildren along. Later I regreted that, because you have to be born, grow, have kids, and die, and I’ve done everything. Like someone who says, I can die, but they can’t. They are still inexperienced, new, and had to face the consequences. In the end it was nothing major, thank God. My husband scolded me a lot for that. The truth is that he has never supported me. He was very upset because he said that I was involving our children and grandchildren in the struggle. I told him that they were going on their own, because I taught them to love the earth.” And if you do not understand that, then we’ll leave too,” Marichuy said. In the face of her determination, her husband had to give in.
“Guanajuato Puerto Interior” is the first dry port in Mexico. It is the largest logistics platform in Mexico and Latin America – with an investment of three billion five hundred million dollars – in which one hundred and eight national and international companies have been installed, such as Emyco, Flexy, Palme Swedish Steel, Intermex, Prudential , L & W, Lub & Rec, Softer, Semmaterials, Hino, Teco WestinHouse, among others.
Within the polygon of the Interior Port there is a complex of industrial parks that, due to their magnitude and the nature of their activities, require a garaunteed water supply. The culmination of the Del Zapotillo dam will be a way to accomplish that goal. For big business, things are going in the right direction: only a small town in Jalisco needs to be evicted.
Story: César Alan Ruiz Galicia
Translation: Kate Irick
Photography: Karina Montoya
Web design: Francisco Trejo