On Tuesday, March 21, CUPE´s delegation attended an informative and emotional meeting with Mexico city water workers and rural campesinos (farmers with small land holdings). The site of the gathering was the protest camp established by the National Assembly for the Defence of Water at the Monument to the Revolution in the centre of Mexico City.
City water workers Eduardo Hernandez and Rodrigo Garcia are part of an organization of “Workers in Defence of the Public Character of Water.” They told the CUPE delegates how international water companies such as Suez, Veolia and Bechtel have been trying to “do business” within the municipal water system that was previously strictly public. As in Canada, it is often through contracting out particular services such as billing or maintenance that privatization begins to creep into publicly-owned water services.
Brothers Hernandez and Garcia also shared information about water testing, lab systems, certification and training in Mexico City. Just as in Canada, infrastructure of Mexican water systems is aging and in need of upgrading, so when governments fail to invest, private companies are soon on the scene offering to “help”. Both the Canadian and Mexican workers shared stories of water managers who promote privatization to politicians because the managers have close personal links to private water companies.
Also at the protest camp were Mexicans from indigenous and rural communities who have travelled to the capital to draw attention to their communities’ struggles for water.
CUPE delegates heard passionate presentations from the defenders of the Temascaltepec River who live in the rural town of Luvianos, in the state of Mexico. Some 2,000 campesinos from this area have been fighting a dam project for several years. Although the project was postponed after an initial campaign, the Mexican government has revived the proposal.
In addition to this threat, the communities face water pollution from nearby mines. They are dependent on the river for their lives and livelihoods, so are demanding clean water and no dam on the river. The Latin American Water Tribunal, which convened during the week of water activities in Mexico City, issued a statement of support for the local defenders of this river. CUPE delegates pledged their support, too.
CUPE’s delegation also heard from Herminia Cruz Castillo, of the United Citizens in Defense of Laguna Acuitlapilco. The lagoon, in Tlaxcala state, is a traditional source of fish and water for the community, but is shrinking in size and under threat from nearby tourist developments, and from a proposed Coca-Cola bottling plant. CUPE delegates shared information about other worldwide campaigns against Coca-Cola and discussed ways to communicate to Mexicans that using bottled water is to be avoided.
Earlier in the day, the CUPE group took part in a demonstration sponsored by the Mexican mine workers’ union. Members are demanding improved health and safety in Mexican mines. The demonstration was part of Benito Juarez Day celebrations and took place at the Benito Juarez monument.
At the demo, the CUPE group was pleased to meet an international delegation from the United Steel Workers union, including steel workers from Sudbury and Burnaby. These brothers are health and safety activists visiting Mexico to help implement better health and safety in the country’s deadly mining industry.
On Monday, Mexican media carried many stories about the release of a devastating critique of the failures of water privatization produced by the World Development Movement from the U.K. Prepared in cooperation with Public Services International, the report is called “Pipe Dreams: The failure of the private sector to invest in water services.”