Protecting Land Rights

Historic Mexican Town Threatened by a Dam

A battle fought on unfair terms

It was through the news that the residents of Temacapulín first learned in 2008 that their homes would be flooded by the expansion of the El Zapotillo dam. Lawyers working for the non-profit Colectivo COA were soon engaged and filed a right-to-information request, only to be told that the information on the project was “classified.” The lawyers next filed an amparo, seeking an injunction to halt the construction until the rights of the community had been respected. The injunction was denied by the Mexican court on the grounds that the dam threatened no imminent harm. Meanwhile, the residents were told by the government that they would have to “leave their homes or drown.” Facing what was now appearing to be a long and unfair legal battle, the lawyers sought help on a legal strategy.

EDLC provides legal analysis and financial support

EDLC prepared an analysis of the Mexican government’s violations of international law and displacement standards in the course of the project. The analysis was submitted in a legal brief and in an expert study that were widely used in support of various lawsuits to stop the dam. EDLC also provided critical funding for the local lawyers.

A court decision to halt the dam construction was obtained in 2011. The ruling declared that the rights of the residents of Temacapulín had not been respected because they had not been informed or consulted before the decision was made to increase the size of the dam and flood their town. While the decision was an enormous victory, the Mexican government refused to enforce it, and filed an appeal which it cynically observed “would certainly not be heard before it was too late.”

Zapatillo main photo editedCon el Padre Gabriel edited5

A local vote on the dam project

The residents of Temacapulín also organized a local vote in which they would express their opinion on the project. Due to its extensive knowledge and experience in supporting local vote initiatives, EDLC was able to provide information and advice from the planning stage up to the day of the vote, which took place in January 2011. The vote, validated by the electoral institute of the state of Jalisco, resulted in an overwhelming rejection of the project: over 98% of the voters opposed the project. Ironically, the same governor of Jalisco who had stated a few years earlier that if “fifty percent plus one of the inhabitants of Temacapulín didn’t want the dam, it was not going to be built,” was one of the first to dismiss the vote as “non-binding.”

The litigation continues

In 2013, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that the agreement signed by the state of Jalisco to increase the size of the dam was void, and ordered that the dam not be built higher than eighty meters, as originally planned. The lawyers have returned to the trial court on several occasions since, and have succeeded in keeping this order in place. A highly experienced Dutch dam engineer enlisted by EDLC prepared and submitted several reports to the court. In late 2014, he traveled to Temacapulin to help the community and its lawyers, and to meet with judicial authorities to discuss the technical issues. For now, the town has been spared.

Dried vegetables

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