Resettled Families Find Promises Empty

WHAT has happened in the past when a village is moved by Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission? Ask Lidurina L'opez. She now lives on a wide, paved street in a modern suburban development here. By local standards, it appears to be a prosperous, progressive neighborhood.

But Mrs. L'opez and her husband Salomon, a butcher by trade, say they can not afford to stay in Mexcala much longer. ``There's no water. It's costing us 36,000 pesos [$12.50] a week for water that's trucked in. It almost takes the wages of one worker to pay for water,'' she says, angrily twisting the hem of her faded-green calico dress.

The water system pumps have broken again, L'opez says. Even if residents could afford to repair it - for the fifth time - the pipes are so full of sand it may not be worthwhile.

When the Caracol Dam was built in 1986, the L'opez family, along with their neighbors, were forced to move to higher ground, to this 80-home complex about half a mile from where her old dirt-floor adobe home once stood.

The villagers used to wash clothes and water their animals down at the river. But now the changing water level, because of the dam, makes the banks so muddy animals get stuck and die. Roman Torres, a neighbor of the L'opez family, just sold her CFE-built house for $3,500 to ``a boy in the North [the United States] who thinks he can rent it out,'' she says with a chuckle.

Mrs. Torres now lives with her son and grandchildren in a stick hut with a thatched roof they recently built on a nearby hill. ``We couldn't stand being so close to [the neighbors]. It's easier to live here,'' she says cheerfully. ``I have room now to raise my chickens and three pigs.''

The L'opez and Torres families are among 5,500 people in 11 communities displaced by the Caracol Dam. For those living in small huts, those with family connections in the CFE, and those with education, the dam project did result in a better standard of living. But for most, it did not.

Four years ago, L'opez recalls, the whole village was excited about the move. ``They promised us tourism development, boats, fish ... and all we've got now is a lot of muddy water. This town has no life left in it.''

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