Mexico illegally authorizes hydropower dam

September 24, 2014

The permit for the project on the San Pedro Mezquital River violates national and international environmental and human rights laws.

Mexico City, Mexico. In violation of national and international environmental and human rights laws, on September 18, 2014 Mexico’s environmental authority (SEMARNAT) authorized construction of the Las Cruces hydroelectric project in the state of Nayarit.

On behalf of communities and indigenous peoples who will be harmed by the project, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) will enlist the aid of United Nations Special Rapporteurs and of the Ramsar Secretariat, who oversees implementation of a wetlands-protection treaty.

AIDA will ask these authorities to deem the permit process illegal and demand that the Mexican Government revoke its authorization. 

In its permit process, SEMARNAT ignored international laws requiring prior consultation with indigenous peoples, who must give their free, prior, and informed consent to the project. These actions are required by the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 and by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

In the permit, SEMARNAT recognizes that the communities of San Blasito and Saycota, which will be evicted as a result of construction, were unaware of the consultation notices that the Federal Electricity Commission (FEC) allegedly posted.

"International standards require more than just telling the indigenous people about the project, as FEC did in this case [1]," said Maria José Veramendi, senior attorney at AIDA. "Affected communities must participate since the planning phase. And consultation has to followed by traditional decision-making methods. Before and during consultation, affected people must be provided with precise information on the consequences of the project, with the objective of reaching an agreement," she added.

Construction of Las Cruces Dam will force eviction of indigenous peoples, most of them Cora, and harm 14 sacred Cora and Huichol sites. These impacts violate their human rights to adequate housing, water, sustainable livelihoods, culture, and education.

The dam will also reduce flow to Marismas Nacionales, which is listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for wetland protection. Reduced flow will harm fishing and agriculture that sustains river communities.

In 2009, the Ramsar Secretariat exhorted the Mexican Government to consider the environmental goods and services, and the cultural heritage, of the region before authorizing Las Cruces. That recommendation was ignored.

"The Ramsar Convention does not prohibit infrastructure in this kind of ecosystem, but it does establish criteria and standards to guide wetland management [2]," said AIDA attorney Sandra Moguel. "As the authority in charge of ensuring compliance with Mexico’s international environmental commitments, SEMARNAT should have taken the Convention’s guidelines into account. It’s especially regrettable that SEMARNAT ignored the Ramsar Secretariat’s specific recommendations for Marismas Nacionales," said Moguel.

SEMARNAT also ignored the technical opinion of the National Aquaculture and Fisheries Commission (CONAPESCA). The Commission pointed out that if Las Cruces is built, fish populations in Nayarit and Sinaloa will dramatically decrease, because they depend on Marismas Nacionales, which in turn depend on the fresh water and nutrients supplied by the San Pedro River. 

"This permit is a setback," said Moguel. "But AIDA will work closely with international legal authorities until we secure justice for the environment and affected communities."


[1] Autorización de Impacto Ambiental del proyecto hidroeléctrico Las Cruces, p. 57 (in Spanish)

[2] Autorización de Impacto Ambiental del proyecto hidroeléctrico Las Cruces, p. 62 (in Spanish)