MEXICO CITY – Thousands of peasants and Indians marched in Mexico City on Wednesday to protest the legislation implementing the energy industry overhaul approved in December 2013.
About 15 peasant and Indian organizations staged the protest to highlight the “danger of people being stripped of their land,” Alfonso Ramirez Cuellar, president of the El Barzon debtors’ organization, told Efe.
The march started at the Angel of Independence monument, paused in front of the Senate and then continued on to the Government Secretariat, where leaders were scheduled to meet with officials.
Peasant and Indian leaders plan to discuss their concerns about the energy industry reforms and call for respect for Indian lands, communal farmland and small-scale property owners, Ramirez Cuellar said.
Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio, Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquin Coldwell and Agriculture, Rural Development, Territorial and Urban Affairs Secretary Jorge Carlos Ramirez Marin are expected to attend the meeting.
The implementing legislation for the energy industry overhaul opens the way for private capital and could lead to the “perpetual occupation” of land, the El Barzon leader said.
El Barzon, which was founded in 1994, protects Mexican farmers whose properties face the threat of foreclosure for failing to pay bank loans.
Oil and gas companies will be allowed to remain on land until the resources are exhausted, leaving the properties “useless and with great environmental damage,” Ramirez Cuellar said.
Groups from northern Mexico concerned about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” participated in the march, Ramirez Cuellar said.
Fracking has become controversial in the United States and other countries because it involves pumping a pressurized fluid – usually composed of water, sand and chemicals – into a shale formation to create a fracture in the rock layer and release trapped petroleum or natural gas.
The process consumes “large quantities of water” to produce gas, Ramirez Cuellar said.
Northern Mexico’s “aquifers are overexploited” and “there is very little water for human consumption and agricultural activities,” Ramirez Cuellar said, adding that existing water resources would be used to produce gas.
The legislation approved in the Senate and now being debated in the lower house of Congress would end electricity subsidies that currently benefit 28 million households across Mexico, Ramirez Cuellar said.
The measure “will affect 500,000 farmers who receive the subsidy,” Ramirez Cuellar said, adding that only those qualifying for the Oportunidades social welfare program for the poorest segment of the population would be entitled to the subsidies.
The new utility rates will push farmers using electric irrigation systems into “bankruptcy” because “they will not be able to cover their production costs,” the El Barzon leader said.
The lower house of Congress still has time to fix the mistakes and change the legislation, Ramirez Cuellar said.
Failure to change the legislation will force people to “take the fight” into the streets, Ramirez Cuellar said.
The energy industry overhaul is the most ambitious project in the package of constitutional amendments backed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, ending the seven-decade state monopoly over oil and gas production.