TEMACAPULIN, Mexico – Residents of this village and two neighboring communities in the western Mexican state of Jalisco tell EFE that authorities have resorted to threats and harassment to force them to make way for the construction of the El Zapotillo dam.
The project is aimed at supplying potable water to 2.4 million people in Jalisco and neighboring Guanajuato state, but the new reservoir will submerge Temacapulin, Acasico and Palmarejo.
Most of the prospective beneficiaries are residents of Leon, Guanajuato’s capital, and Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco and Mexico’s second-largest city.
The National Water Commission (Conagua) has deceived some inhabitants into selling their homes and accepting what often turns out to be the empty promise of relocation, Acasico resident Luis Villegas told EFE on Thursday.
Those who refuse to sell are threatened with having their homes seized, he said.
“They came and said that if we don’t negotiate, they will provide a reason to expropriate us and once expropriated, they will pay what they please for our lands,” Villegas said, explaining that he is seeking a court injunction against the seizure of his property.
El Zapotillo, a joint initiative of Conagua and the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato, has been controversial since its start 12 years ago.
In 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court ordered the project suspended.
Acasico lies just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from the dam and only around 15 families remain in the village.
Conagua pledged to build 98 homes for the Acasico residents who agreed to leave, but only 32 houses are under construction and work on those buildings stopped months ago, ostensibly due to lack of funds.
Residents also complain that Conagua has yet to pay them for the homes they gave up.
Nine families who voluntarily abandoned their homes in Palmarejo and Temacapulin were relocated nearly a year ago to a spot in Talicoyunque that is under the control of the Jalisco State Water Commission (CEA).
The people in Talicoyunque still don’t have access to safe drinking water and suffer harassment from CEA employees and private security guards, according to Maria Gonzalez of the Mexican Institute for Community Development.
The security guards have keys to the individual homes, monitor comings and goings and have barred journalists from visiting the site, Gonzalez told EFE.
Jalisco Gov. Aristoteles Sandoval announced in late June that he had decided to authorize the flooding of Temacapulin, Acasico and Palmarejo.
But resident Maria Alcaraz says that she won’t leave Temacapulin without knowing she has a safe place to go.
“Where will they take us? What are they going to do with us? Keep us like those in Talicoyunque? Those people are in something like a prison,” she said.