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Potable Politics

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Issue: 25 Section: Accounts Geography: Latin America Mexico, Chiapas Topics: water, privatization, Zapatistas

March 25, 2006

Potable Politics

Will water put the Zapatismo into Mexico's big city politics?

by Van Ferrier

aguaweb.jpg
Mexicans protest against the privatization of water and the 4th World Water Forum photo: IndyMedia Mexico
The 4th World Water Forum has drawn to a close in Mexico City, but the debate over who will provide clean drinking water in regions throughout the country has only just begun. In Guadalajara, Mexico's second most populous city, drinking water is a private business. The local water company was sold to multi-national corporations in 1998, since then the price of water has doubled, causing public uproar.

The Jalisco state government and the federal government devised a plan--called Arcediano--to build an elaborate water diversion scheme costing nearly $US 1 billion.
 
Mexican President Vincente Fox is expected to visit Guadalajara in April to finalize the deal that will divert water from Rio Santiago. However, Jalisco's state water authority and non-governmental organizations have warned that Arcediano is doomed to fail; their studies show the river is highly contaminated with heavy metals. The project is also expected to flood a large section of forestland that is already threatened by poorly planned urban sprawl.
 
¨We're in a difficult position here,¨ says a Guadalajara taxi driver. ¨Nobody wants to privatize water but nobody trusts the government to manage the water.¨ Scientists say there are other, cleaner, and more affordable ways to bring potable water to the city, leading citizens to demand an alternative plan.
 
Guadalajana is not alone in its struggle for clean water. With a population of over 100 million, Mexico has fewer than five million citizens who live in cities with a high availability of water. According to Mexico's Secretary of Social Development (SEDESOL), 26 million Mexicans live in cities where water availability is "extremely low."
 
A column in Guadalajara's Público newspaper argues that Mexico needs a broader approach to its commitment to clean water, tying in the scientific and technological components, with the legislative and the educational components. Despite the hype of the forum and the vocal concern of citizens in Mexico's cities, however, political candidates at the local, state and federal level have been largely silent on the issue.
 
La otra campaña could offer a response to the politicians' silence and give citizens a voice. Over the past four months, la otra campaña ("the other campaign") led by Subcomandante Marcos (also known as Delegado Zero) has been travelling across Mexico. The aim of the campaign, leading up to the July 2nd presidential election, is to gain a better understanding of citizens' concerns in different parts of the country.

Denouncing all political candidates in favour of direct action to protect local self-dermination, Marcos has tapped into widespread political cynicism and is building support for reducing the plight of Mexico's indigenous people.

According to University of Guadalajara sociology professor Dr. Jorge Regalado, citizens across the country are looking for the kind of resistance the Zapatistas have developed in their home state of Chiapas.

¨The people from the government ignore us. We are interested in water, not money, because we can't drink money,¨ says a campesino woman in Querétaro in central Mexico.
 
When la otra campaña visited Querétaro in central Mexico, Marcos proposed that followers form brigades to stop the drilling of 14 industrial wells in El Batán, which threaten to disrupt the area's most important aquifier.
 
Such calls to action are not uncommon in rural areas where the Zapatistas have advanced local self-determination in autonomous communities they call Caracoles. However, residents of Guadalajara have difficulty seeing the relevance of a peasant-based movement in a cosmopolitan city of eight million people.

Perhaps the biggest question facing la otra campaña is how to inspire Mexican solidarity along the principles of an open social movement. According to Regalado, one of the major drawbacks to the Zapatista movement is the fact that the Sixth Declaration of the Lacondon, the Zapatistas' constitution from below and to the left, excludes a significant portion of Mexican society.

¨People are tired of political corruption and feel the economy is not fair to the average person, but the Zapatistas´ are limiting their message to an indigenous struggle and excluding the rest of us,¨ says a student in Guanajuato.
 
Dr. Jorge Regalado says one of Marcos' central objectives should be creating the "urban Zapatista."

The potential is here, says Regalado. He notes that despite its traditionally conservative voting record, the citizens of Guadalajara have demonstrated the power and potential of citizen-based movements before. After organizing a massive movement of "the indebted" following the peso crisis in the mid 1990s, Regalado says Guadalajara and the state of Jalisco have the ability to pull together a diverse crowd around common goals.

There are strong indications that adherents to la otra campaña may achieve some of the results they seek by showing the applicability of the Zapatistas' "other way" to Mexico's big city problems. With water accessibility becoming a major concern throughout the country, it has the potential to become the focal point of a broader social movement, linking rural and urban
communities around the progressive changes Mexicans demand.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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