Mexico’s water war: The politicians linked to the Chihuahua dispute over water-sharing with the U.S.

Mexico has fallen behind in the amount of water it must send north from its dams under a 1944 treaty, but farmers in the northern state of Chihuahua want the water for their own crops

Mexico’s water war: The politicians linked to the Chihuahua dispute over water-sharing with the U.S.
Protests over water in Chihuahua have turned political - Photo: Christian Torres/EL UNIVERSAL
English 26/09/2020 09:40 Newsroom & Agencies Mexico City Newsroom/EL UNIVERSAL & Newsroom/AP Actualizada 16:31

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As protesters took over the La Boquilla dam in Chihuahua, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has mentioned in several morning news briefings that the dispute over water is related to political movements that involve former governors from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and local and federal congresspeople.

Likewise, the President has said Gustavo Madero, senator for the National Action Party (PAN), is behind the La Boquilla conflict because “he wants to become governor.”

In his Friday news briefing, López Obrador presented images of PRI, PAN, and MORENA politicians he dubbed “water owners.”

From the PRI
According to López Obrador, Jaime Ramírez Carrasco, mayor of San Francisco de Conchos, “is opposed to the opening of the dams, especially at La Boquilla.”

Fernando Baeza Meléndez, “a former Chihuahua governor. Accused of corruption when he was an ambassador in Costa Rica. In 2017, he purchased a 7.690 hectares property in Saucillo.”

José Reyes Baeza Terrazas, “a former Chihuahua governor investigated by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (FGR) for links with the Juárez cartel.”

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Héctor Baeza Terrazas, “former president of the Municipal Board of Waters and Sanitation with César Duarte.”

César Duarte, “arrested over graft in the United States. He built a dam in one of his six ranches with several wells in his properties.”


José Francisco Ramírez Licon, mayor of Rosales.

The image shows Andrés Valles Valles and mentions that "they have been seen together in violent protests and at the blockage in the capital of Chihuahua.”

From the PAN
Regarding, Álvaro Madero Muñoz, related to Gustavo Madero, López Obrador said “He has lands in the modules 3 and of DR 005 (walnut trees and alfalfa). His family has direct contact with the directives of the module.”

Jesús Valenciano García, local congressman for the PAN, “gave an ultimatum to Mexico’s Defense Ministry (SDN) and the National Guard (GN) to retreat from the dams.”

López Obrador also mentioned Ismael Pérez Pavia, Meoqui’s mayor; Arturo Zubia Fernpandez, Cmaargo’s mayor; Eliseo Compeán Fernández, Delicia’s mayor; Jorge Aldana Aguilar, walnuts producer; Mario Mata Carrasco, feder congressman for the PAN; Velia Aguilar Armendáriz, daugther of a former federal congresswoman for the PAN; Agustín Jaime Ramírez Licón, active PAN member; and Salvador Alcantar Ortega, leader of the Chihuahua Farmers Movement.

In the news briefing, President López Obrador presented a video in which he mentioned Valenciano García, who in a threatening tone and without legal foundations, he said, went to a dam in Chihuahua to demand the withdrawal of the National Guard.

“We’ve come to inform you about today’s agreement and in case you don’t withdraw, you must face the consequences, Chihuahua’s people will not give in and it has already been shown in the case of La Boquilla,” said the PAN member.


López Obrador reminded that dams are strategic facilities that, according to the Constitution, are in charge of the federal government, not of the states or municipalities.

Regarding current Chihuahua’s governor Javier Corral’s remarks, who asserted Thursday that in the case of the protests at the state’s dams “they are giving wrong information” to the President, López Obrador said that he respects his point of view and will not get into a fight with him, but said that he has “very good information-2 about some political groups being behind the protests.

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Protests at La Boquilla
Mexico has fallen behind in the amount of water it must send north from its dams under a 1944 treaty, but farmers in the northern state of Chihuahua want the water for their own crops.

The protests appeared to be centered in the town of Delicias, Chihuahua, near one of the dams where water is being released to flow northward. Federal forces guarding the dam gates have clashed with protesters in recent weeks.

Under the 1944 treaty, Mexico owes the United States about 500 million cubic meters this year that must be paid by October 24. Payment is made by releasing water from dams in Mexico. Mexico has fallen badly behind in payments from previous years and now has to quickly catch up on water transfers.

The expansion of water-hungry crops has meant that Mexico has used 71% of the northward-flowing Conchos River, while under the treaty it should use only 62% of the water, letting the rest of it flow into the Rio Bravo, also known as the Rio Grande, on the border.

In the past, Mexico has delayed payments, hoping that periodic tropical storms from the Gulf would create occasional windfalls of water. But while Hanna made landfall in Texas earlier this month, the storm’s rains did not reach far enough inland to fill dams in Chihuahua.

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The water commission noted ruefully that, “Even though Tropical Storm Hanna recently reached the northeast of the country, the international dams (those involved in the treaty) did not recover the desired volume, as the increased flow occurred downstream.”

The issue has resulted in clashes before.

In March, protesters burned pickup trucks, blocked roads, and demonstrated at the La Boquilla dam, also in Chihuahua.

Earlier this year, López Obrador said there was enough water both for local farmers and payments to the United States.

“We do not want an international conflict,” the president said. “Treaties have to be lived up to. If we have signed a treaty, we have to comply with it.”

O early September, there was a clash between hundreds of farmers and National Guard troops at a dam in the northern state of Chihuahua and a subsequent incident that left two people dead.

It was the latest flashpoint in a months-long conflict over the Mexican government’s attempts to pay off its water debt with the United States over objections of local farmers.

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The circumstances of the two deaths were unclear. The National Guard, which is largely made up of military police and soldiers, said it had arrested three people with tear gas projectiles and a gun magazine Tuesday night.

It said that when guardsmen tried to transport the three to the town of Delicias they were intercepted and fired on from several vehicles. The troops returned fire and later found one person dead and one wounded in a vehicle. The second person died later at a hospital.

Mexico’s president called on politicians and angry farmers in northern Mexico Friday to allow the country to pay its water debt to the United States, noting he does not want Mexico to become an issue in the U.S. elections.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that unlike 2016, candidates in the November presidential race have been “respectful” of Mexico and he wants to keep it that way.

“We are not ruling out that we can comply,” said López Obrador. “We do not want this to become a campaign issue.”

“The (U.S.) candidates have been respectful of Mexico,” he said. “Mexico is not an issue in the political or electoral debate.”

As a candidate in 2016, Donald Trump accused Mexico of sending rapists across the border. But the rhetoric this year has been softer.

Time is running out; farmers have seized a northern Mexico dam needed to pay the debt, with less than a month left to meet the October 24 deadline for releasing water to communities along the Rio Grande.

López Obrador, who has established apparently friendly relations with the U.S. president, has said he would appeal for “understanding” from Trump if necessary. But it is unclear how much Trump can help in an election, with Texas farmers angry that Mexico has fallen so far behind in cross-border water sharing agreed to under a 1944 treaty.

With less than a month to go, Mexico still has to transfer 301 million cubic meters of water by October 24. The U.S. says it is still feasible for Mexico to meet the deadline.

The United States gives Mexico four times more water from the Colorado River farther west under the treaty, and Mexico is worried about the possibility of losing that.

“There is a risk,” said Roberto Velasco, the head of North American affairs for Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, adding “there is also (the risk) of a renegotiation of the treaty.”

The conflict has become a cause for the conservative opposition party National Action. López Obrador accused protesters of ignoring the interests of the nation, saying the treaty is very advantageous for Mexico.