Developers face escalating militant opposition in Oaxaca

MEXICO: A change in ownership has done little to quell growing anger over one of Latin America's largest projects.

Militant local opposition to Spanish wind developers, who have carved the lion's share of wind prospecting permits in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, has spiralled.

According to local sources, members of the local indigenous Huave community forced the mayor to destroy a building permit he had signed with developer Marena Renovables for one of Latin America's largest projects, the 396MW Marenas wind project. They then took control of the town hall of San Dionisio.

At the same time, a Huave Indian group in the neighbouring town of San Mateo del Mar issued a statement saying it will "take up arms" if the project goes ahead as planned.

Both events follow ongoing indigenous anti-wind protests that began late last year against the 225MW Piedra Larga development, developed by Spain's Renovalia in Union Hidalgo, further north in Oaxaca. A man was shot dead, reportedly by a stray bullet from a warning shot.

Marena Renovables was initially an affiliate of Spanish developer Preneal, which started work on the project in 2004. In February, Preneal sold its affiliate and the project to a consortium comprising Japan's Mitsubishi, Dutch pension fund PGGM and Australian investment group Macquarie. Vestas has signed a deal to provide 3MW turbines for the project (see page 8).

Due to its sale of the project, Preneal declined to comment on the dispute and added it was no longer involved in Oaxaca. New owner Mitsubishi, which controls 34% of the project, claimed that the opponents are in the minority and the majority of the town supports the project as it will bring economic growth. The project will be built on schedule next year and has complied with all the requirements, it added.

Legal dispute

According to a 1975 federal law, any industrial use of indigenous common land in Oaxaca must receive approval from indigenous groups known as commune assemblies.

The San Dionisio assembly, mainly comprising poor Huave crop growers, claims the district mayor, Miguel Lopez Castellanos, signed a building permit for the project without assembly approval.

As well as the symbolic destruction of the Marena permit, the assembly has filed a claim with local courts to annul it legally. A community spokesman, who spoke to Windpower Monthly on condition of anonymity, said the assembly is also filing to rescind the land lease agreement it made with Preneal in 2004, claiming the company had misinformed the community on project impact, location and costs.

Preneal denied the accusations in press declarations in January, adding that it promised the municipal coffers 1.4% of the wind farm's annual income plus $500,000 annually for the land occupied.

"It is largely a clash of cultures," said the spokesman. "Spanish companies have a traditional presence in Mexican industries and are among the most experienced wind developers in the world," he added.

But their "capitalist model" does not understand "the spiritual and social" ties of the indigenous rural communities with the land, he said. "If they simply arrive, and write off those sensibilities with legal contracts that many illiterate indigenous people do not understand, clashes are guaranteed."

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