In March 2023, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Oaxaca, Mexico, to discuss U.S.-Mexico collaboration over renewable energy. It was announced that the United States would commit to invest in at least 10 new wind and solar parks in the region — already one of Latin America’s top wind power hot spots.
But there’s a problem. These wind farms there have been largely constructed and run by foreign transnational corporations. Residents say that while on the surface these wind turbines are generating clean energy, they have been disrespecting communal land rights, stiffing local residents money owed for renting their land, and refusing to benefit the local community with discounted or subsidized utility rates. There are also major concerns for the local environment.
Pre-Production/Studio/Post-Production: Michael Fox
Photos by: Michael Fox & Rosa Fox
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Celestino Bartolomé walks his fields in the shadows of wind turbines.
His land is surrounded by them. For Celestino, that’s a problem.
He steps past a row of corn, bends over and picks up a broken piece of plastic debris.
Celestino Bartolomé, Indigenous Farmer
“See this? Look at all of this. No way. No way. They fell from the turbine. Someone could have been hurt. They’ve been here for two years.”
He speaks half in Spanish, half in his native Zapotec language.
His fields are littered with the debris. He says he asked the company to clean it up, but they never came.
Mexico’s Tehuantepec Isthmus is one of the largest centers of wind farms in all of Latin America. Thousands of wind turbines dot the horizon. And in March, the U.S. government promised to invest in creating and installing even more. See this? Look at all of this
But while the energy produced from the wind here may be clean, the farms themselves have been plagued by labor, human rights and environmental abuses.
The wind farms here are mostly constructed and run by foreign transnational corporations: Spanish, French. Japanese. American.
The first companies began to arrive a few decades ago, with big promises.
Carlos Sánchez, Community Radio & Anti-Wind Farm Activist
“When the wind companies came to the Tehuantepec Isthmus they came saying they would bring work. That they would create a lot of jobs. That the Indigenous peoples here would make a lot of money.”
For some, the promises these companies made came true. For most, they did not.
Residents say the transnational wind companies have disrespected communal land rights, stiffed residents money owed for renting their land, and refused to benefit the local community with discounted or subsidized utility rates.
The Zapotec Indigenous town of Juchitán is in the heart of the wind industry here.
Jose de Jesus, electrician
“You don’t see any benefit from the companies, here. They’re just making money for themselves.”
There are also serious environmental concerns. Residents say the wind turbines are often leaking oil and could be contaminating groundwater.
“Just yesterday, I went to an area of Juchitán and I saw a wind turbine that was black from oil being spilt. I asked the local residents, and they said the company wasn’t doing any maintenance on the turbines. The rainy season is coming. And this could carry the oil into Oaxaca’s Lake Superior, contaminating it. And it’s the place where we get much of our food and our fish.”
Farmer Celestino says he’s also losing his hearing, because of the constant hum from the turbines surrounding his farm.
He was one of the only neighbors at the time who didn’t want the wind farms. He says the company tried to force him to accept turbines on his land. When he refused, he was attacked.
“One morning, I came to check on my land. They shot at me.”
He’s not the only one who has received an attack on his life.
Opponents of the wind farms here have faced serious intimidation. Human rights lawyers say death threats are common. Criminal impunity is rampant.
Last year, engineer Edgar Martín Regalado was traveling back from speaking out against a new wind farm that a French power company has been trying to install near his home in the town of Union Hidalgo.
Edgar Martín Regalado, Engineer
“I was coming back from a meeting against the wind farm. I was in a moto-taxi. A car pulled alongside us and fired three shots.”
He wasn’t hurt, but the attempt on his life shook the community group he’d been working with to fight the wind project.
Edgar Martín Regalado, Engineer
“It was an act of intimidation that affected everyone. A lot of people left the group. They don’t go to meetings, because they’re afraid of what they might do to us.”
The developers and companies behind these wind farm projects in the region say they have a firm commitment to respecting human rights and that wind energy is their greatest hope for the future. But others say they have reaped all the benefits for themselves, while dividing communities.
“The population has handed over more than 74,000 acres of land to these transnational companies. And they have dismantled the local economy, unleashing a whole chain of conflicts, because of the lack of work.”
Amid all of this, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry met with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Oaxaca, in March, to discuss U.S.-Mexico collaboration over renewable energy.
It was announced that the United States would commit to invest in at least 10 new wind and solar parks in the region.
Residents fear that unless there are drastic changes in the implementation, development and relationship with the local community, these new wind farms are destined to repeat the same abuses, in the name of clean and renewable energy.
For The Real News, this is Mike Fox. Before you go, be sure to head over to therealnews.com/support and support the work we do so we can keep bringing you important on-the-ground coverage of people and struggles around the world…. just like this. Thanks for listening.