A case of Big Wind bullying in Mexico?
Follow-up on a Monitor cover story: A local activist is arrested days before a planned confrontation with a Mexican wind power company.
• This blog post is a follow-up to the Monitor story: The 'wind rush': Green energy blows trouble into MexicoSkip to next paragraph
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On Feb. 22, the Mexican Attorney General’s office arrested a human rights advocate named Bettina Cruz Velázquez in the southern state of Oaxaca. In terms of Mexican arrests, this was hardly front-page news.
Far from the likes of a drug kingpin, Ms. Cruz is a friendly local community organizer in the sleepy Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca.
Although it has a colorful past, Tehuantepec today is a peaceful area, far from the violence of the drug war, peopled by indigenous communities that have lived there for thousands of years.
I first met Cruz last spring when she invited me to an expansive breakfast of dizzying corn dishes and squeezable mangos in her quaint home near the town of Juchitán. In some ways, Cruz is as traditional as her corn-intensive breakfast that day, adhering to cultural norms and wearing customary clothing for the area. But, with a master’s degree, she is also one of the best-educated people in the community. She told me about a string of Spanish wind power companies that had taken an interest in this region and were acquiring land from the local indigenous communities.
What emerged that day was a complex story without obvious heroes or villains, but rather the natural result that comes from an industry that requires wide land tracks, and poor communities that control that very land. The wind companies are in a tough spot because the land they want is owned by dozens or even hundreds of communal farmers (unlike, say, in Texas where one or two ranchers might own all the property) with limited schooling. Meanwhile, many farmers sign contracts they don’t understand and can lose access to their livelihood.
Cruz says that the companies have come in and pushed contracts on poorly-educated farmers, paying as little as a fifth as much as they would in the US, and a seventh as much as to the Mexican government. For the past few years she has been protesting the wind farms and demanding new contracts.
Her recent arrest is believed to be directly linked to her activism, and two days after Cruz's incarceration, she was released. The Federal prosecution had no comment on her charges beyond an official statement, noting “deprivation of liberty” (analogous to a very mild kidnapping charge) and “crimes against consumption.”