The End of Illusion

Water belongs to the people, reads a mural at Altepelmecalli. Photo: Tamara Pearson

by Gustavo Esteva

The episode and its consequences were revealed immediately. 

On February 15th the federal and state public forces evicted those that were guarding the Altepelmecalli, House of the Peoples, set up by the Nahua community

On February 15, federal and state public forces evicted those guarding the Casa de los Pueblos Altepelmecalli, (Altepelmecalli House of the People) established by Nahua communities of the Cholulteca region in the bottling plant of the Bonafont company in Puebla, which they occupied on March 22, 2021. According to the governor, they were complying with an order of the Federal Judiciary. On the same day, the 20 Nahua communities who were involved, denounced that the uniformed officers forcibly entered the facilities, dismantled the canteen and even erased the murals painted by artists in support of the Casa de los Pueblos.

National Guard at the gates of the Bonafont plant: Photo:Tamara Pearson

The events elicited reactions and mobilizations in a large part of the country. On February 16, a communiqué was circulated by the National Indigenous Congress and the EZLN to denounce the repressive offensive of the bad neoliberal Mexican government against our compañeras and compañeros who, from their geographies, raise the banner of organizing from below to call on us to fight for life. They warned that the offensive corresponded to the government’s decision to use the armed forces against those peoples who oppose the unprecedented dispossession and destruction of Mexican territory. On February 17, the National Indigenous Congress and many organizations called for widespread actions in solidarity with the Casa de los Pueblos Altepelmecalli, which took place yesterday.

It is not just one more incident in the long series of aggressions that has been intensifying against indigenous peoples. Nor is it an accident that it occurred during the week that commemorates the signing of the San Andres Accords 25 years ago, when the Zapatista insurrection and immense national and international public pressure forced the Mexican government to recognize the existence and self-determination of indigenous peoples. It [The Accords] seemed to break a tradition that was born alongside the Mexican State, which aligned it with the ways that came from the north and sought the extinction of these peoples. It has been like this for 200 years. In addition to betraying the agreements, recent governments are trying to move its intentions of de-Indianizing the country further each day. The director of Plan Maya said it with an equivocal use of the word genocide, when he indicated that this is what was being sought. They do not seek to kill them physically, although that has also been done, but rather take away from the Indians what is Indian, in the name of progress and a modernization conceived in the image and likeness of the models from the north.

The conflict with Bonafont/Danone illustrates well the meaning of the current struggle. The control of water defines an increasingly tense global confrontation. Battles over water are waged daily around the world. In Mexico, a small group of companies, largely transnationals, control a growing proportion of water sources, while half of all people don’t have a secure supply of potable water and suffer from its increasing scarcity. Those companies make up part of the criminal mafia that sickens and kills millions of people through toxic products that they sell as food, which generally lack any nutritional value, despite the propaganda that has made many fall into their daily consumption.

Bonafont, of the French company Danone, illustrates this issue well. The plant occupied by the Nahua communities illegally extracted water that belonged to them for decades. Having exhausted all of the management mechanisms, and in the face of the  government’s passivity, they decided to put a stop to the looting by physically occupying the plant. For its part, Danone is demonstrative of the action of the food mafia. It is proud of having substantially increased the consumption of yogurt in Mexico. Every time someone consumes a yogurt of Danone’s, they ingest nearly the daily recommended maximum. In this way, the company contributes heartily to the abuse of the consumption of sugar, which has long been a pandemic in the country causing all types of illness, like diabetes, which constitutes a serious public health problem in Mexico.

One of the weapons of struggle that they are beginning to deploy is the boycott, that will surely be felt in Mexico and in the European countries where the Zapatistas visited, and that extend their solidarity.  Beyond the immediate impact on the sales of Danone, it also shows the power that the peoples possess. They can control the operation of these great transnational forces if, instead of putting themselves in their hands, they depend on themselves to drink and eat.

The People of the Casa de los Pueblos Altepemecalli

That is most certainly what the Nauhua peoples who founded the Altepelmecalli House of the Peoples seek. Nothing can stop them on that path. 

Capitalist society is predicated on the protection of private property, but it does not protect what belongs to the people —like the water belonging to the communities— but rather what belongs to the owners of the means of production. The private property of the plant never gave Bonafont the rights over the peoples’ water. Instead of protecting them [the communities], the current government, which continuously proclaims to be on the side of the poor, without hesitation took the side of capital, when the communities decided to defend what belongs to them. The episode helps to dissolve the illusion for those who thought that this government was on their side, or that it brought justice to the poor.

This article was published in La Jornada on February 21st, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/02/21/opinion/019a2pol
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.