MIT Western Hemisphere Project Home Feedback Search Search Archives Meetings Courses Events About

Global Response
Action Letter, February 1993

_GRAction_ #1/93                                   February 9, 1993
               Usumacinta Hydroelectric Project--Mexico 

  *"The Usumacinta is essential for the natural circulation of water in
  the rain forests of the region....Its well-being and fate are
  inextricably linked to that of the Lacando'n Forest."* -Homero Aridjis,
  President of the Mexican environmental organization "Grupo de Los
  Cien", at a press conference calling for the cancellation of any
  destructive development projects along the Usumacinta River.
-end box-

     *Global Response* members are asked to write letters to help protect
the *Usumacinta River* from the negative effects of a proposed
hydroelectric dam project.

     In 1989 the Mecican government, bowing to domestic and
international pressure, shelved plans to build a series of dams on the
Usumacinta River.  Mexico has _reintroduced_ the project and has
scheduled construction on the first dam to begin in 1994 at *Boca del
Cerro*, at the mouth of the *San Jose Canyon*, 20 miles from the
Guatamalan border.  Environmentalists and archaeologist are concerned
that this "dangerous and costly scheme of multiple hydroelectric dams"
will severely damage the ecology of North America's largest surviving
rainforest and destroy ancient Mayan civilization centers.

     The project was originally estimated to cost between $2.1 and $3.7
billion and would have flooded an area of 500 square miles.  The
*Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)* is currently funding a $2
million feasibility study for the development of a regional power
network.  Electricity from the proposed Usumacinta dams is included in
these power grid schemes.

     The Usumacinta is the largest river in Mexico south of the Rio
Grande.  Draining an area of more than 40,000 square miles, it is the
backbone for the *Lacandon Rainforest*.

     The Lacandon Rainforest is home to endangered species such as
ocelots, jaguars, crocodiles, howler and spider monkeys, toucans, and
tropical songbirds.  Its incalculable archaeological and cultural
resources include the largely unexplored *Classic Maya* ruins of
*Piedras Negras* and *Yaxchilan*, and the *Lacandon Indians*, a small
band of several hundred nomadic gatherers and rudimentary
agriculturalists.  The Lacandon are the purest descendants of the Maya.

*Recommended Action-Letters/Fax to:
{}Enrique V. Iglesias/President - IADB*
-Mention that you are aware of the IADB's funding of a feasibility
study for a regional power grid using Usumacinta hydroelectric power;
-Stress that further IADB funds for this project should be withheld
pending a full analysis of the impact the dams will have on the
Usumacinta's ecosystem;
-Remind Mr. Iglesias that alternatives such as conservation, increased
energy efficiency, and *alternative energy sources* are available to
meet the region's power needs; and,
-Ask Mr. Iglesias and the IADB to join Mexican environmentalists in
opposing *any* damming of the Usumacinta River.

  *Background: Tropical hydroelectric dams* not only inundate forest
  resources and kill wildlife, but they can also lead to the spread of
  undesirable aquatic vegetation, increased incidence of disease such as
  schistomaisis and malaria, forced resettlement of human communities,
  and the loss of productive agricultural land.  Potential problems to
  the dams include the destruction of hydroelectric equipment by hydrogen
  sulfide produced by decomposing forest vegetation and the premature
  siltation of reservoirs caused by the destruction of the surrounding
       *Piedras Negras*, on the Guatamalan side of the Usumacinta, and
  *Yaxchilan*, on Mexico's side of the river, are considered to be two of
  the New World's most important *Classic Maya* sites.  Archaeologists
  are just beginning to explore their magnificent ruins of temples,
  palaces, sports arenas and baths.  A dam at Boca del Cerro would flood
  much of Piedras Negras.  Companion "check dams" needed to make the Boca
  del Cerro dam economically feasible would flood Yaxchilan, inundate
  dozens of indigenous villages along the river, and perhaps forever
  cover many still undiscovered sites.
       At the mouth of the Usumacinta is Mexico's most important wetlands
  resource--the *Great Delta Wetlands*.  It is feared that this 4.9
  million acre system of fresh water marshes, coastal lagoons, mangrove
  forests, and transitional lowlands will be adversely affected by the
  changes caused to the seasonal pattern of water flows by the Usumacinta
  dams.  These wetlands are a major waterbird habitat and support
  Mexico's largest shrimp fishery and significant fresh and salt water
-end box-

*Addresses:*  The *President* of the *Inter-American Development Bank*
is in a position to help protect the *Usumacinta* (Mayan for "River of
the Sacred Monkey") *River*.  Given that the IADB has already funded
the feasibility study for the power grid, it is considered likely that
they will be asked to help finance the construction of the *Boca del
Cerro Dam*.  Please send copies of your letters to President Salinas of
Mexico in care of the Embassy of Mexico in your country.

*Note:*  As reported in the December 1992 *Action Status*, the *World
Bank*, in spite of intense worldwide pressure and against the
recommendations of its own *Independent Review*, decided to continue
funding India's controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam.  (GRAction #8/92)
The reluctance of major lending institutions to sever the funding
pipeline for ongoing projects, no matter how socially and
environmentally destructive, emphasizes the need for us to apply
pressure on the IADB while financing for the Usumacinta Dam project
remains uncertain and *before* construction begins.

Mr. Enrique V Iglesias
Inter-American Development Bank
1300 New York Avenue NW
Washington DC 20577  USA
(tel: 202-623-1101) (Fax: 202-623-3614)

President Carlos Salinas de Gotari
c/o Ambasador Gustavo Petridoll
Embassy of Mexico
1911 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20006  USA

  The information for this *Global Response Action* was provided by the
following organizations:  _International Rivers Network_, 1847 Berkeley
Way, Berkeley CA 94703 (510-848-1155); _Grupo De Los Cien_, Sierra
Jiutepec No. 155-B, Lomas Barrilaco 11010 Mexico DF
-end box-

GLOBAL Response Environmental Action Network
POB 7490
Boulder CO 80306-7490

     "As environmental awareness and activism help reveres destructive
trends at home, one result has been the export of severe ecological
degradation to the developing world.  GLOBAL RESPONSE is a dedicated
letter-writing network of environmental activists focusing attention
on specific planetary environmental threats, and mobilizing broad-based
campaigns to hold those responsible accountable.  GLOBAL RESPONSE issues
_GRActions_ [bulletins] on rainforest destruction, ocean dumping and
pollution, atmospheric contamination, nuclear disarmament, extinction,
and threats to marine mammals and fisheries.  GR also issues a monthly
_Young Environmentalist's Action_, a simplified, larger print version
of our _GRActions_ for use by elementary and junior-high school