A pact between a state government and the third largest brewer in the United States might place beer ahead of water for Americans.
Carmelo Gallegos used to sow wheat in the Mexicali valley’s cold winters and cotton in the scorching summers. Water is so scarce these days that he can only plant one crop per year.
But, in addition to drought and a declining water table, the 61-year-old farmer now has a new concern. Gallegos, like many others, is concerned that a massive brewery being built in the nearby city of Mexicali would suck up what little water is left to create beer for export to the United States.
Gallegos and other farmers saw themselves as victims of a shady pact between Baja California’s state government and Constellation Brands, the country’s third-largest brewer.
He explained, “They’re controlling the water as if it were loot to be divided among them.” “The government’s goal is to deprive us of everything, including land and water.”
The new plant is expected to begin production in 2019, producing almost 4 million bottles per day of Corona, Modelo, and Pacfico beers.
However, the project has sparked a violent opposition among local farmers and citizens, who have formed the Mexicali Resists campaign. Thousands of people protested outside the state government offices last summer, blocking deliveries to the construction site.
After riot police and private security guards clashed with demonstrators who had obstructed the construction of a new water line to the industry, unrest has flared up again since the new year. A protest camp outside the building site has been set up by dozens of protestors, with large posters reading “Constellation go home.”
“We already have water problems,” claimed Ana López, a demonstrator. “Imagine how much better things will be once the plant is up and running.”
Foreign firms have flooded to Baja California since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented 25 years ago. Cities around the border, such as Tijuana and Mexicali, have grown significantly.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) turned Mexico’s closed economy into an export-oriented one. Farmers in the Mexicali valley, meanwhile, are dissatisfied, claiming that the country has lost sight of the concepts of sovereignty and self-sufficiency.
Older farmers recall a time when the government supplied credit and fuel and fertiliser subsidies (even though such schemes were often plagued by corruption).
By breaking up a large foreign-owned cotton-growing corporation in the Mexicali valley in the 1940s, more than 100 communal holdings known as ejidos were created. Water rights came with the land, which the farmers today guard with zeal.
“Wouldn’t this brewery be [across the border] in Calexico or Las Vegas if it was such a fantastic deal?” farmer Eduardo Cisneros, 75, wondered. “All they care about is cheap water and cheap labour.”
Many people are outraged at the prospect of valuable water rights being given over to gringos.
“We consider our heritage what they consider a good,” said Ernesto Daz, a farmer and senior ejido official. “If they think this [brewery] won’t exacerbate water difficulties in the Mexicali valley, they’re being foolish.”
Breweries have sprouted across Mexico’s arid borderlands since 2010, when it overtook the Netherlands to become the world’s largest beer exporter, and this isn’t the first time that concerns about the region’s water supply have been raised.
Last year, the mayor of Zaragoza, in the state of Coahuila, accused another Constellation Brands brewery of sucking up so much water that his municipality ran out of it.
Constellation Brands denies that its brewers pose a harm to the environment. Zaragoza, according to a company spokeswoman, has an issue with “ancient pipes.” According to him, the factory in Mexicali would be sustainable and will be developed with the necessary permissions and assistance from the city, state, and federal governments.
Constellation Brands claims it is paying reasonable pricing for water rights and that the plant will use only 0.1 percent of the region’s available water in its initial phase of operation.
Farmers, on the other hand, are concerned that the brewery may cause long-term concerns. The area’s aquifer has been labelled overexploited by Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua), which has forbidden the digging of new wells.
The brewery Constellation Brands is building in the borderlands isn’t the only one. Heineken, the owner of Mexican brands like Sol, Tecate, and Bohemia, has revealed intentions to expand its Tecate brewery, which will require water from the Mexicali area.
“There hasn’t been a single project to address these water challenges until now.” The National Campesino Confederation’s local chairman, Rigoberto Campos, stated, “It’s been the opposite: to bring investments.” “We’re concerned because our aquifer is overexploited.”
Opponents of the brewery have expressed concerns about a number of state infrastructure projects, including a huge desalination facility in Rosarito that is being developed in a public-private partnership. In 2016, the state administration attempted to implement a water privatisation law, which sparked widespread protests in Mexicali.
Alejandra León, a lawyer who represents some of the farmers, claims she has been met with secrecy at every turn.
To get the brewery’s environmental impact analysis, Léon had to sue the state of Baja California. The analysis uncovered some unpleasant surprises, such as the location of the brewery’s water supply wells.
“Without the actual owners of the wells knowing about it, the firm conducted research to select the wells they wanted,” said León, a member of the state’s environmental protection committee. “It’s as if they’ve already seized control.”