The 'wind rush': Green energy blows trouble into Mexico
Green energy's big success is a rude awakening in the isthmus of Mexico.
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Wind is sacred – and lucrativeSkip to next paragraph
South from La Venta the shores of Laguna Superior are dotted with fishing villages of the Huave people. Here since ancient times, they've dwindled to a population of less than 20,000. The lifestyle in this area is markedly different from that of the north: Pavement gives way to dirt roads; thatched buildings are common, with high walls to counter the wind; women wear traditional clothing; and illiteracy is high.
And here, where the wind is embraced personally as a spiritual force, there is a distinct unfriendliness toward outsiders. Local belief says the "male" wind shaped the land while the "female" wind brings shrimp – the main livelihood.
In 2004, Preneal proposed a 300-megawatt wind farm on 4,000 acres in the town of San Dionisio. The company had previously approached the Mexican government to set up offshore turbines in the lagoon, but the government demanded 7 percent of the energy profits. So Preneal approached the town – which is composed of two villages, Pueblo Nuevo (New Town) on the mainland and the smaller Pueblo Viejo (Old Town) on an "island" attached to land by a thin sandspit. Pueblo Viejo is perfect for turbines, offering offshore conditions in constant wind without having to build in water.
Preneal offered the town 1.4 percent of profits, plus $500,000 per year for the right to use Pueblo Viejo land, says Mr. Megías.
The company played informational videos and assured the Huave governing assembly that turbines are harmless, recall local leaders. But when the town appeared ready to vote it down, says one Pueblo Nuevo community member close to the negotiation who asked not to be named, Preneal warned that the crucial shrimping industry might be hurt if the company was forced back to plans to build in the lagoon. Preneal's Megías denies that was intended as a threat.
The town assembly then unanimously voted to allow a wind farm on town land. Money began flowing to the assembly, but none reached the people who will host the turbines, says Teodulo Gallegos Pablo, a fisherman and Pueblo Viejo village authority who votes in the town assembly. "There have been no payments [to the isolated community]."
Megías says Preneal paid the assembly but is not responsible for distribution of the money.
Mexican law requires "free and informed" consent for the land. But Mr. Gallegos contends that the people of Pueblo Viejo still don't know what they agreed to. Preneal promised that the turbines would only go on an isolated sandspit alongside fishing grounds – yet the contract clearly covers the whole island, and locals report that the company has taken soil samples in their fishing grounds.
"At first the people did agree," Gallegos says of his constituents. But not long after the contract was signed "some lawyers explained it to us and that's when the [Viejo] people stood up and said 'no.' "
The project is moving forward.
"The playing field is often very unequal," observes James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
He likens land acquisitions in indigenous areas to colonial-era models of land grabs.
Looking at the Preneal deal in Pueblo Nuevo and Pueblo Viejo, he observes: "No Spanish or any other company would go to the bargaining table on a technical issue without their [own] technicians. And [yet] they expect indigenous people to."
Village vs. village
In other cases, the wind farms have exacerbated old rivalries.