December 7, 2005

Industrial (but "green") exploitation

The targeting of rural areas of the so-called "developed" world for large wind power projects is bad enough. The drive to control lands until now beyond their grasp and the contempt for the people who must live with the giant machines should be clear to any concerned citizen. It is extraction of a region's wealth to line the vaults of bankers in Boston and New York.

If not here at home, this feudal pattern is more obvious in recent news reports from Mexico and China. From Juchitan, Oaxaca (El Universal, Dec. 6):
In this town where strong winds bend trees and overturn truck trailers on the Panamerican highway, Dolores Girón Carrasco says people are in favor of wind power plants, but are opposed to developers that "pretend to give us a bargain" in exchange for generating electricity.

"Investment is welcome," she said, "but not under the conditions of payment they want to give us for renting our land."

Girón owns 3 hectares inside an area designated for the windpower project La Venta II, administered by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), which will see the installation of 83 electricity-producing generators.

The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has managed a pilot project called "La Venta I" since 1994, which has generated electricity by harnessing the regions powerful winds. ...

However, residents are wary. "We don't trust the CFE because they tricked us," said Girón. "They offered to pave roads and cover the cost of the electricity used to pipe potable water to us, in exchange for letting them use our farmland to install wind generators.

"But they didn't fulfill their end of the deal. They always said they were in the red, and in 2001 when we demanded to see their budget, they jailed our people, including my brother Roberto," she added. ...

La Ventosa mayor Alberto Toledo López said, "Those who pass for representatives of wind developers are little more than 'coyotes;' they are middlemen with no technical skills and they don't have the financing. They want to rent a hectare of land from us for 1,000 pesos (US95) a year with rights to sell the contract to foreign companies."

Toledo said a wind developer called Energía del Istmo leased land from small farmers on 30-year contracts for 100,000 pesos (USD95,400) which they turned around and sold to the Spanish Iberdrola for 500,000 euros (USD586,000). "That's why there is distrust. We are not against wind power projects, only against their methods of payment," he said. ...

However, there is also a legislative proposal pending in congress. Federal Deputy Francisco Javier Carrillo Soberón, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), said foreign windpower companies are lobbying Congress to pass a renewable energy initiative that is favorable to business without considering the impact on the communities.
And from Danzhou, Quangdong (Reuters, Dec. 7):
Chinese police opened fire on villagers protesting against the lack of compensation for land lost to a new wind farm in the southern province of Guangdong, local officials and residents said on Wednesday.

U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia and residents said at least two villagers were killed in the assault after riot police moved into the area on Monday to quell the unrest in the Guangdong village of Dongzhou.

"In the beginning, there were about 100 to 200 villagers protesting and gradually the number got bigger as more and more people came to watch," said an official surnamed Chen in the nearby city of Shanwei. ...

Police detained three representatives from Dongzhou on Tuesday, which prompted thousands more to come and demand their release, the Radio Free Asia report said, putting the number involved in the demonstration at 10,000.

China has seen increasing disputes over land rights and compensation as breakneck development encroaches into rural areas, and although the Communist Party is bent on maintaining stability, popular protests are becoming more frequent. ...

Residents said they did not object to the new plant but to the fact that they had not been properly compensated for their land.

"The central government sent money for compensation but the corrupt officials who were supposed to give it out stole it away," said one resident.

It was unclear how many people were injured or killed in the clashes.

Radio Free Asia, quoting a hospital official, said two villagers had died. One resident said "several" people had been killed while another, whose husband participated in the protest, put the number of dead at 20.

"No one dares go out," said one, adding that parents were keeping their children home from school.

An official at the Dongzhou hospital said he had not heard of any deaths but that several injured were in hospital.

Another resident said when she left work on Tuesday the air was so thick with tear gas she could not open her eyes.
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