Supporting Mexico’s indigenous communities in their fight against Las Cruces Dam
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Tuesday, April 3, 2018
AIDA filed an amicus brief demonstrating the international environmental and human rights obligations the Mexican government violated by authorizing the controversial hydroelectric project. It was written in support of a lawsuit filed by the Wixárika people of Nayarit, Mexico, whose land and sacred sites would be affected by the dam.
Nayarit, Mexico. The Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) presented an amicus brief before the First District Court of Nayarit, demonstrating the international environmental and human rights obligations the Mexican government violated by authorizing the Las Cruces hydroelectric project. The brief supports the writ of amparo filed against the project by members of the Wixárika indigenous community.
"When analyzing the project, Mexican authorities failed to adequately consult affected communities and obtain their free, prior, and informed consent. Above all, they failed to respect their rights to self-determination, autonomy, territory and cultural identity, and to a healthy environment," explained AIDA attorney Camilo Thompson.
"In addition, authorities overlooked the risks of damage to the San Pedro Mezquital river basin and the ecosystem it feeds: the mangrove forests of Marismas Nacionales, an internationally protected site."
The hydroelectric plant, promoted by the Federal Electricity Commission, threatens ceremonial sites on which the spiritual life of the Wixárika, Náyeris-Cora, Tepehuano and Mexicanero people depend. Members of the Wixárika tribe presented the demand for protection (amparo) in mid-2017 against the authorities that endorsed the project—the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Water Commission.
AIDA’s supporting brief, presented in March, details the international obligations Mexico breached by approving the dam—those contained in the American Convention on Human Rights, the Protocol of San Salvador, Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization on indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
After the request for protection was filed, the court ordered the suspension of project permits until the legal process has concluded and a decision has been made as to whether those permits are valid.
Government authorities have argued that the project must continue because it is in the public interest, and that indigenous peoples can "re-organize their spiritual life in a context modified by the project’s construction." This position ignores the rights of communities, due process, and the environmental threats affecting the public interest.
In order to safeguard the rights of affected communities, the court must now continue the legal process, confirm the project’s suspension, and issue the cancellation of all related permits.
“The government must maintain the balance between the protection of human rights and the environment, thereby canceling the permits granted to the Las Cruces project and protecting the rights of the affected communities," Thompson said.
"In this instance, Mexico has the opportunity to strengthen the global trend towards truly sustainable energy, moving away from large dam projects that emit greenhouse gases and aggravate climate change."