Environmentalists protest dam project for
An old, recurring
threat is back to taunt the mighty Usumacinta river that winds along the
Mexico-Guatamalan border: a hydroelectric dam project resurrected by the
Critics of the project gathered at a press conference yesterday to decry
the potential disasters posed by large-scale tampering with Usumacinta's
"What is going to happen to the people who inhabit this land?" questioned
Moises Morales, a native and expert on the region. "For us (this is) ...
like fearing the end of the world."
Descendants of the ancient Maya Indians still live in this culturally and
biologically rich region. However, far from the splendor of their past civilization,
today's Mayans suffer poverty and political marginalization deepened by
low agricultural prices, depressed currency rates and privatization of communal
President Vicente Fox says the dam will help bring development to the area
as part of a larger project to create a mega infrastructure and biological
corridor running from Puebla in Mexico to Panama. The plan aims to open
southern Mexico and Central America to foreign investment, industry and
natural resource extraction, spurring local employment.
But numerous conservationists, scientists, archaeologists and citizens from
Guatemala, Mexico and the United States say the dam will flood acres of
tropical forest and tillable land, displacing indigenous communities and
wreaking environmental havoc.
In a letter to Vicente Fox, members of the environmentally-concerned Rios
Mayas and Grupo de los Cien coalition urged the president to reconsider
his plans for the region, home for endangered species such as jaguars, manatees,
spider and howler monkeys.
"We reject the premise that this goal requires the destruction of the region's
premiere natural and scenic wonder, one of the world's richest ecological
and historical resources, and the largest wild river in Central America,"
states the letter.
The dam, while producing just two percent of Mexico's electricity needs,
would also flood archeological sites thousands of years old, some which
have yet to be explored.
Instead of provoking such far-reaching damage, those opposed to the dam
have suggested the creation of a bi-national riparian corridor between Mexico
and Guatemala, together with investment in alternative development and power
generation initiatives and low-impact tourism.
Usumacinta is "too attractive for the hydro-engineers of the world to avoid,"
says Christopher Shaw, author of Sacred Monkey River. "We need to put the
river and much of the watershed under international protection."