Mexican standoff after fatal protest

MEXICO: A dark question mark looms over the future of Mexico's booming wind market in the wake of an anti-wind protest in the country's major wind state of Oaxaca that left a man dead after events spiralled into violence.

The incident, which happened in the town of La Venta in October, was just the tip of the iceberg, warned Sergio Oceransky, CEO of the Yansa group, an organisation promoting community-scale wind development in Oaxaca.

The event stemmed from protests by members of the indigenous Zapateca community against the 225MW Piedra Larga wind farm in nearby Unión Hidalgo, developed by Spanish firm Renovalia Energy. Amnesty International had already warned of strong-arm tactics by security staff linked to the large corporate developers to force indigenous dwellers to lease their land.Such tactics are rife across Oaxaca, said Oceransky. The developers deny any wrongdoing.

Indigenous land rights are being literally bulldozed, he said. And the fact that the five vast areas earmarked for development (see map, below) have gone to big corporations from Mexico's former coloniser, Spain, has not helped matters. "The tension is now so great in wind areas across Oaxaca, with indigenous protests clashing with powerful local interests, that violence could become widespread," warned Oceransky.

The shooting is still pending a judicial hearing. The dead man has been identified as local construction worker Reynaldo Ordaz Velásquez — not a protester as some sources had reported. A group of around 30 indigenous citizens of Unión Hidalgo took their demonstration against the plant to La Venta, 10 kilometres away and blocked the Pan American highway, the area's main artery, near a local road bridge.

Bettina Cruz, one of the protesters and a founding member of the Indigenous People's Assemby, claimed police turned up with armed construction and transport workers from La Venta, many of whom worked on the Piedra Larga development.Protesters were badly beaten, she said. "Then one of the mob fired a warning shot from under the bridge," she added, and the protesters fled. On returning to Unión Hidalgo, she heard the shot had killed a man, allegedly part of the mob on top of the bridge. Days earlier, Cruz alleged she had received death threats if she continued her protest.

A spokesman for Renovalia's Oaxaca affiliate Demex, who requested anonymity, said: "The incident had absolutely nothing to do with our company."He said the clash was between locals from Unión Hidalgo and La Venta only.

Turbine manufacturer Gamesa, which is installing the turbines, declined to comment officially. Sources there said, however, the company had noticed no disturbance or threat to staff "whose safety is above all else", and that work was going ahead as usual. Spanish wind association Asociación Empresarial Eólica said it had nothing to say regarding the possible effect on security for its members or on the impact on insurance premiums.

Demex insisted it has all permits and land agreements for Piedra Larga in place. But Cruz claimed that the developer had taken advantage of illiteracy rife among the Zapateca community to clinch land leases, as in other areas of Oaxaca.
Spanish developer Preneal is doing the same in San Dionesio, she claimed.Preneal declined to comment.

Demex denied the charge and claimed to have employed eight bilingual officers to carry out an extensive information campaign among the population. It also claimed to have improved contractual conditions after signing.