“With the imposition of gas station, they want to change our way of life”

By Jaime Quintana Guerrero
January 5, 2014
Translated by Scott Campbell

Federal District, Mexico. In the middle of Christmas, and after two years of opposition to the construction of a gas station on their land, the people of San Pedro Mártir were evicted from their protest encampment. But they guarantee that not even with the impressive police operation – when more than 2,000 of the capital’s forces encircled the town – will they stop their struggle against its construction that, they say, is illegal and represents the entry point of changing their traditional way of life.

Located in the Tlalpan district, south of Mexico City, the inhabitants maintain that “the gas station represents an imposition by businesses on our way of life,” says one of the opposition activists. “What is to come is a legal and peaceful struggle until the gas station is decommissioned and demolished,” announced a member of the Movement of Neighborhoods and Peoples of the South, which is part of the opposition.

A young woman recounts that, alongside the peaceful and legal protest, the repression they were exposed to is spreading. “Our idea is to remain strong and we are convinced that our stance is legal,” she says.

The inhabitants of San Pedro Mártir say that the construction of the gas station, which began in 2011, “violates land use and environmental regulations. The permits were obtained in collusion with officials from the Tlalpan district, the Ministry of Development and Housing (SEDUVI), the Federal District’s Ministry of the Environment (SEDEMA) and Mexican Petroleum (PEMEX),” a woman said.

The gas station belongs to the Mexican Corporation of Gas Stations (CorpoGas), a company founded in 1982 and is the group that sells the most fuel in the country. In the first half of 2011, it sold 632 million liters of fuel. The commercial director of CorpoGas is Juan Carlos Niembro Núñez, also the owner of Bicentennial Parking Attendant (OEB), which will own 23,320 parking spaces for ten years in Mexico City.

“The construction of the gas station has a deeper meaning. Being an indigenous people, it has to do with our heritage of customs and traditions,” explains a young man from the movement. “Here we decide what can be built and what can’t,” according to the people’s decision, he notes, adding that the government permits a large amount of illegal building. San Pedro Mártir belongs to the indigenous peoples who still retain their own organizational characteristics, language and customs that were present at the beginning of colonization.

The commission of three people from the Movement of Neighborhoods and Peoples of the South – which during this time marked 40 years of existence – told Desinformémonos that they fear that the construction of the gas station will mean the beginning of more construction that is distinct from their way of life. “This means to deny us as a people,” says the young man.

Land use laws in this area do not permit this type of construction, the commission adds. “They use streets, the public roads, and that is prohibited. It is not feasible to build on- and off-ramps, which is dangerous because it is on the Mexico-Cuernavaca highway,” explains the woman. As well, there is the danger of having fuel in the area, as “here we are very religious, with parties and fireworks, and it is feared that a disaster might occur.”

We want to live as we want

“Today it starts with the gas station and then come the shopping malls. It’s a process of annihilation of the peoples,” explains the young woman. “The illegality with which they impose these projects — such as the gas station — is a message that they don’t care about the peoples, their way of life, their sense of community and the earth. We want to live our way, and they want to impose changes on us by force.”

An older woman from the community — who also declined to give her name — recalls San Pedro Mártir’s history of struggle. She says that the most important chapter happened 40 years ago, when they opposed the construction of the Military College: “The people took to the streets. At that time it was the men who began to organize and demanded to be heard.” The schools, the water and the bridges that the people have today are as a result of their struggles, the woman adds. “The government didn’t just come and put those things here, they were demanded by the people.”

Another front in San Pedro Mártir’s battle is the scarcity of water. “We saw how the Peña Pobre paper mill took the water and left the fields without trees, and the struggle began. There have been intense struggles which have impacted the people of San Pedro Mártir, and what is coming will be the same,” the resident says.

The defectiveness of the law and repression

On December 25, when the Ixtliyolotl encampment was dismantled, “they encircled us from La Joya, which is several kilometers from here. The town was surrounded,” says the young woman. The activist says the deployment of police forces was massive. “All we were asking was that they follow the law.”

It’s been two years and three months of legal, civil and peaceful struggle, says the commission. They explain the authorities violated the protective measures granted on May 14, 2013 by the Human Rights Commission of the Federal District, even as the matter is still before the courts – with injunction 777/2013 issued in favor of the town against the last ruling of the Superior Court of the Administrative Tribunal of the Federal District (TCADF).

Residents complain that the very company removed the seals marking it as closed. “There is no law. The company showed us a number of documents that they sent to various agencies, which does not mean that they have permission for the gas station to operate. They never showed us a permit or approval from the authorities. We don’t understand why they sent in the police,” says the young man.

The activists gave the district head of Tlalpan, Maricela Contreras, documents regarding the two rulings in their favor, but she did nothing, says the young woman. “That’s complicity and they’re leaving the people to do the work the authorities should be doing. What we got from the district head of Tlalpan is silence and repression. The encampment had legal protective measures, and a few days prior we won an injunction, and they send in the police.”

A June 27, 2011, administrative decision ruled that land use permit 59177-181-SOKA10, issued for the gas station on October 28, 2010, is contrary to Tlalpan’s Land Use Program. Zoning resolution 037661, issued on November 27, 1991, stopped, therefore, having effect on vested rights, as well as environmental impact authorizations and construction permits. An injunction against the zoning resolution was obtained, and the environmental and urban impact reports were issued based on the land use permit.

The Ministry of the Environment determined that the gas station did not meet the necessary requirements, as the land use permit requested was for 300 square meters, but in reality the station occupies 2,300 meters. Their construction permit expired on December 5, 2011, however, they continued building, reports the Movement’s commission.

The inhabitants of San Pedro Mártir filed three lawsuits, with rulings in favor of the town. They include two rulings for annulment (I-52703/2011 and I-71002/2011) and one for public action (IV-10810/2012). The first chamber of the Administrative Tribunal annulled the land use zoning certificate issued by SEDUVI. Revoked were the November 22, 2010 urban impact report DGAU.10/DEIU/030/2010; the December 6, 2010 type C construction permit RG/TL/3033/2010; and the environmental impact authorization SMA/DGRA/DEIA/000425/2010 issued by the Federal District’s Ministry of the Environment.

The fist of the “left”

“The mayor of Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera, beats the people down using his district officials,” explains the woman. “To not recognize that we have communal ways of doing things in the streets, in the church and with the land is to attack us.”

The young man from the commission explains that the majority of those who maintained the encampment were women and that they were repressed. “The district head Maricela Contreras feigns having a feminist government in favor of the people, but allowed the repression and preferred the voice of the businesspeople. She stayed silent. These kinds of politicians also serve the corporations, and they make use of their public offices to benefit the private sector.”

“A government that violates rights and represses cannot be said to be leftist. Mancera’s government is not leftist nor progressive, it is a represser,” says the young woman.

Mancera “sees us as ignorant and believes that the people don’t know what they are doing. And of course we know,” exclaimed, angry, the adult woman. “What they are doing impacts the poor in Mexico. We are not ignorant and we don’t want bread and circuses.”

“This struggle is for dignity. Although it is a huge corporation and we have more than two years in the fight, we haven’t accepted bribes. To fight with dignity is what defines us,” explains the young man in the resistance. “They come to ask us what we want, and we respond that we want them to remove the gas station,” he concludes.