A battle the people of the United States should watch like hawks continues to unfold in Mexicali, the capital of Mexico’s Baja California, over water claims, privatization, and an existential question particularly poignant and raw to Indigenous Peoples and Native American tribes across the continent — who has a right to clean, potable water?
Is water even a right?
Add the possibility a region sorely in need would see 750 permanent jobs, and this battle — whether or not Constellation Brands should be permitted to construct a government-endorsed, $1 billion state-of-the-art brewing facility for its various Modelo and Corona beer brands — has exploded into a hostile and bloody showdown between law enforcement and irate residents concerned for area farmers over the possibility of dwindling water supplies.
Proponents contend the brewery represents the grandest project for the region, possibly in decades — fueling massive and needed economic growth, employment, and likely even tourism.
“Mexicali is growing like it never has in its history, and part of the reason is that Constellation Brands is coming to the city,” Carlo Bonfante, the state’s secretary of economic development, insists. “All projects are important, but this is an emblematic project.”
Constellation Brands is the United States’ third largest beermaker — its hotly contentious decision to construct the sleek facility considered a boon by many politicians, particularly in regard to expanding employment opportunities, with 4,000 to 5,000 positions enduring for the period of construction, and hundreds more permanently, after that.
Throngs of demonstrators, led since 2016 by a local group comprised of farmers and locals called Mexicali Resiste — (whose website as of publication had been suspended by its host, but which maintains active accounts with both Twitter and Facebook) — violently clashing with law enforcement sent to ensure construction comes to completion say the cost, and tandem trampling of their rights, hardly constitute sound justification for the plunder of precious, clean water.
A glance at U.S. Constellation Brands’ statistics, as explained by the San Diego Tribune, elucidates just why farmers and locals have reacted with relentless, tireless force against the invasion:
“In the initial phase, it expects to produce 132 million gallons annually — the equivalent of 58 million cases of beer,” journalist Sandra Dibble writes, “at a maximum it would produce four times that amount.”
Permits have been issued and the project appears poised to otherwise take off — but confrontations have accordingly intensified — and protester-residents, understandably worried over the diversion of water from agricultural and personal needs, aren’t budging.
Five people were arrested by state and municipal law enforcement January 17, according to State Public Security Secretary Gerardo Sosa Olachea, after demonstrators effectively thwarted workers’ efforts, halting construction of the final leg of an aqueduct set to supply the brewery. Stone-throwing demonstrators met police in the early morning hours — and the clash did not abate until at least five attempts eventually wore the protest down to a simmer.
This incident on a Wednesday immediately followed a similar skirmish that Monday, detailed by Mexico News Daily:
“Following an act of vandalism that resulted in damage to a pipe that passes near the brewery site and supplies water to the state capital, personnel from the State Public Services Commission attended to shut off valves and repair a leak.
“However, they were also met by a group of people who attempted to obstruct their work by throwing things at them.
“After sealing off the leak, the workers were forced to abandon the site without fully completing their work. Approximately 60,000 liters of water are estimated to have been lost before the pipe was repaired.”
According to the Tribune noting reports from journalists on scene, one demonstrator landed a broken jaw in the prolonged encounter, during which police — unarmed, but heavily protected with riot gear — also took to throwing stones at the crowd in defense.
Neither of these skirmishes were the first, nor will they be the last, in the bitterly visceral fight to protect civilians’ access to potable water — particularly as the local population claims to see past politicians’ glowing jobs assessment. Skeptical, those who condemn Constellation Brands and its coziness with politicians cite rampant corruption and self-interested business dealings as the true impetus for the brewery and such vehemence in support of it.
“The perception is one of corruption,” Daniel Solorio Ramírez, a constitutional law professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California, tells the San Diego Tribune. “Our problem is that we have a government that is not made up of politicians, but of businessmen, who are experts at conducting business.”
Leon Fierro, an engineer and member of Mexicali Resiste, concurs, explaining, “The issue here is water and government corruption. Sure, they want to invest a few million, but practically none of it will benefit Mexicali’s citizens.”
As if to bolster Baja California’s politicians, the federal government declared “absolute support” for the brewery’s construction last week. And, for its part, Constellation Brands contends wherever water for the plant is sourced, it will be so conscientiously and with an eye for conservation, with vice president for corporate communications Michael McGrew stating in an email to the Tribune, in part,
“We are committed to doing our part to safeguard natural resources such as water in Mexico and other markets around the world where we have operations.”
No matter how vitriolic the ongoing dispute grows, it is the people of Mexicali and Baja California declaring an impassable line in the sand who continue without faltering to resist the designs of corporate-government corruption. Refusing to simply stand down or not to act in forceful defense of their most basic need was never a question for many taking a stand.
After all, the premise of the opposition highlights the specifically modern context of a coming war for what’s left in the world, pitting profiteers shady and otherwise in partnership with governments ostensibly representational, against ordinary people who — devoid of the aggregate financial power corporations wield at whim — view the struggle very much as one of survival.
It is additionally a fight for the future — as much as it is also defense of the people’s past.
“There’s this mythology intertwined with the lives of (Mexicali residents,) where water is a fundamental aspect of our history,” Jesus Galaz Duarte of Mexicali Resiste told the Desert Sun. “Defending this water is in many ways defending our history.”
Salvador Vera, a farmer who has participated and attended camps set up to oppose Constellation’s project since July, expressed disbelief (translation Google’s) over what — to him and countless others — truly shouldn’t be a question at all:
“I do not understand how the Government, being Mexicali a desert area where there are thousands of hectares that need water for the cultivation of cereals and vegetables, takes it away from us produce alcoholic beverages.”
Mexicali Resiste and opponents of the controversial product have enjoined the public to boycott Constellation Brands — and consider more carefully the choices casually made with money.