Another pipeline through Indian land – this time in Mexico

A new pipeline under construction in northern Mexico has sparked major controversy and clashes over land belonging to the Yaqui community. Português Español

Andrea Arzaba
6 January 2017

Yaqui tribe in a meeting. Flickr/Malova Gobernador. Some rights reserved.

The Yaqui community is less that pleased about the Agua Prieta pipeline’s projected route, which goes straight through their territory. Things went from bad to worse on October 21, when the pipeline's supporters attacked a group of protesters, killing one, wounding eight, and causing substantial property damage.

The Yaqui tribe, which has endured a long history of repression, has also a history of resistance. Like other indigenous communities in Mexico, several members of the Yaqui tribe have lost their lives fighting against invasive private companies and non-indigenous authorities. Just two years ago, before the conflict over the Agua Prieta pipeline, the Yaquis protested against a large-scale aqueduct that would have diverted what was left of their sacred river to the city of Hermosillo.

According to its design, the Agua Prieta pipeline project stretches from Arizona, in the United States, to Sonora, Mexico. One portion of the pipeline is to cross 90 kilometers into Yaqui territory, which is protected by Mexican law. Building the pipeline without fair, transparent, and inclusive consultations with all the Yaqui communities would be a violation of the sovereignty of the Yaqui land, community leaders say.

Recently, members of the Yaqui tribe in Loma de Bácum won a moratorium against the construction of the pipeline. According to the local media, however, Mexican authorities have announced that the pipeline construction will continue because “one community” cannot stop “a project that will benefit future generations.”

According to the Solidaridad Tribu Yaqui‘s Facebook page, construction is going ahead, even though fair and transparent consultations never happened, nor did any negotiations: “On one hand, the Yaquis of Loma de Bácum oppose the pipeline and have legally filed an appeal against the works. Thus far, the project has been carried out under a simulated consultation by SENER (Secretariat of Energy) which, together with the Sempra Energy company, the government of Hermosillo, the local media, and the municipal governments (all of which have supported the project) have sought by any means to weaken opposition in Loma de Bácum. The other visible actors in this conflict, with the backing of the supporters of the project, are the Yaquis from 7 other villages who, rather surprisingly, have spearheaded violence and intimidation, so that the construction of the pipeline can penetrate into Loma de Bácum’s territory.”

Solidaridad Tribu Yaqui also expresses concern about discrimination and underrepresentation:

“These rich men do not care about the life of one, two, or three people - much less if they are indigenous. They are those who do not care if an indigenous government falls. They are those who do not care if the Yaqui culture is exterminated. What is important to them is to conclude the works and pocket the profits, consolidating the appropriation of Yaqui Territory.”

Gema Villela Valenzuela, a Mexican journalist who has been reporting on the conflict with a gender perspective, wrote about the threats Yaqui women from Loma de Bácum have faced since coming out against the Agua Prieta pipeline:

“Women from the Yaqui community (who requested anonymity for security purposes) reported that the construction of the pipeline by Gasoducto Aguaprieta has generated violence ranging from clashes between members of the community, to threats against Yaqui leaders and women from the same ethnic group, defenders of human rights of the indigenous peoples, and environmental activists. They explained that, as a result of the conflict, cars have been burnt down, and there have been fights that have resulted in one man’s death. Some women in the community have had to stay in places considered to be safe, which is what the Yaqui authorities of Bácum recommended. They have received threats because they opposed the signing of the collective permit for the construction of the pipeline.

According to journalist Al-Dabi Olvera, members of the Yaqui community in Loma de Bácum haved filed complaints with the Mexican Commission of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Last month, Gema Villela Valenzuela reported that members of the Yaqui community are still receiving threats for opposing the pipeline.

This article was published previously by Global Voices.

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