Reportage. The caravan for the protection of water and life was launched by the self-styled Pueblos Unidos, the united peoples of the Cholulteca region in the state of Puebla. The initiative started on March 22, on World Water Day, when indigenous and peasant organizations gathered outside the headquarters of the bottling company Bonafont-Danone.

Across Mexico, water defenders unite against pillagers

A caravan of the indigenous, peasant, and popular movements is going around Mexico. At every stop, from the highlands to the coast, from the sierra to the urban suburbs, there are communities active in resistance that are greeting it with a raised fist and the slogan: “Water is not for sale, it is loved and defended.”

In some areas, they stop to talk to a few farmers or workers who are fighting against a polluting landfill, intensive farming or the advance of agro-industry; in other communities, a warm welcome is offered by hundreds of people organized according to the neo-Zapatist principle of “commanding by obeying.”

The caravan for the protection of water and life was launched by the self-styled Pueblos Unidos, the united peoples of the Cholulteca region in the state of Puebla, known for its volcanoes. The initiative had its official start on March 22, on World Water Day, when a number of indigenous and peasant organizations gathered outside the headquarters of the bottling company Bonafont-Danone, in the municipality of Juan C. Bonilla, and organized traditional ceremonies, chanted Zapatista slogans and demonstrated against the plunder of water being perpetrated by the French company.

The caravan was born against the background of the “Altepelmecalli” House of the People, the occupation of the Bonafont plant that lasted more than six months. Local community organizations had stopped the company’s activities as early as March 2021, because the company, in order to bottle and sell water on the market, was consuming 641,000 liters per day drawing from local water sources. In August 2021, the Pueblos Unidos decided to occupy the facility and use it to develop educational, productive, community health and agricultural projects, in addition to allowing the region’s wells to fill up again.

On February 16, the local police and the National Guard, the armed corps created by the current President Lopez Obrador, raided the facility, evicting the occupiers and the social projects they were building. Berta, a member of Pueblos Unidos with a long history of social resistance, recounts: “The most serious thing is that they trampled on the self-determination of the people. We had decided on the occupation of the company in the assembly, and they put themselves above the law of the people. They hoped to scare us off. But no, quite the contrary: they have bolstered our courage and our indignation.”

The occupiers decided to continue the struggle by launching the project of the caravan and bringing together organizations from different parts of the country, and beyond, to turn the spotlight on environmental conflicts in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Morelos, Veracruz, Guerrero, Mexico City, Queretaro, Mexico State and Oaxaca.

One of the main conflicts is undoubtedly the Morelos Integral Project (PIM), a thermoelectric power plant whose pipeline was built by the Italian company Bonatti. This massive project cuts across the territories of the states of Puebla, Tlaxacala and Morelos and has exacerbated a conflict with local communities who are denouncing the exploitation of the waterways, the danger of the proximity of the pipeline to active volcanoes and the repression that has been brought to bear against activists who oppose the mega-project. Among them, the case of Samir Flores is well-known: the farmer and voice of the community radio Amiltzingo, who was shot dead in front of his house in 2019 after he had again spoken out publicly against PIM and the Morena governing party that is promoting it.

Samir Flores and the peoples who organized the caravan are carrying forward the historical legacy of the peasant and popular struggles that have arisen since the time of the Mexican Revolution, when Zapata’s Army of the South redistributed land in those same places where they are now resisting against corporations.

Accompanying them are a great variety of organizations, including the Otomi people who occupied the headquarters of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples in the capital, the peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuentepec who are fighting against wind energy companies, including Enel Green Power, and the construction of the gigantic inter-oceanic corridor that will cross the country from coast to coast, the Mazatecas women who are demanding freedom for their family members who are political prisoners, the activists of Lützerath who are fighting in the German forest against the expansion of the largest opencast coal mine in Europe, and many other collectives.

The caravan is supported by EZKN and the National Indigenous Council and is based on the principles of neo-Zapatism and the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Forest. Many of the communities in which it stops are building processes of self-government and territorial defense according to the inspiration of the Zapatista caracoles that continue to be a reference point in Chiapas.

From the volcano region to the canals of Xochimilco, the caravan is being welcomed by community parties, processions, collective lunches, dances, banners and open workshops on environmental issues. In some cases, however, there are also the forces of law and order waiting for the caravan, various armed individuals or real convoys of off-road vehicles from local criminal groups.

Despite the threats, the resistance of the caravan continues. Israel, a young militant of the Pueblos Unidos with his face covered by a black scarf, is one of the coordinators of the caravan. He comes from a peasant family from the territory damaged by Bonafont, and he wanted to tell us: “We, the Pueblos Unidos of the Cholulteca region of the volcanoes, are fighting for the local territory, for autonomy and against capitalism. The idea of the caravan started in order to get us to know other struggles and to recognize each other as peoples with a common enemy. The goal is to strengthen us so that united we can face the war of capitalism against Mother Earth and the original peoples.” For Israel, it is important to build alliances between different struggles and campaigns of resistance, both nationally and internationally, so that everyone can “denounce what is happening in their country or region and build a global network of relationships together for the defense of the territory.”

The fight is an international one, because the water crisis is a global problem. According to UNICEF, more than two billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water; UNESCO estimates that 80 percent of wastewater flows back into circulation untreated, and a United Nations report estimates that more than four billion people live with water scarcity for at least one month per year.

The pollution of water sources by businesses, the unregulated consumption by agro-industry, the production of gas and carbon dioxide that favors global warming, and therefore droughts, are phenomena that have planetary repercussions. In Mexico, water has already become a source of conflict between peoples and companies such as Danone, Walmart, Coca Cola or the U.S. brewer Constellation Brands, which had to close down its facility in the city of Mexicali after protests by the population.

As denounced by the Pueblos Unidos of the caravan, “no es sequía es saqueo”: “it is not drought, it’s looting,” perpetrated by companies and legitimized by every government in power.

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