Past Issues


Yaqui tribal defender denounces water theft
at global forum

“Those who speak out the loudest make it to the UN”

By Mario Luna Romero*

At the UN

Mario Luna (right), along with representatives of other indigenous nations, went to the United Nations to denounce the theft of water by the Mexican State. (Photo: courtesy of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues).


Speech given to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues during a separate Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Virginia Tauli-Corpuz, and the President of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon Madame Rapporteur and the members of this Permanent Forum.

“My name is Mario Luna Romero. I am here on behalf of my people, the Yaqui Nation of Sonora, Mexico, an ancient People that refuses to disappear. A nation that continues to resist the onslaught of racist government policies designed to steal our ancestral territories from us, we who are the survivors—survivors of mass government deportation campaigns and the ongoing state of war that has been waged against us for more than 200 years.

“Despite having survived the mass deportations of children and women from early 1900 until 1910, and having endured government airstrikes against the defenders of our tribe's territorial integrity in the 1920s, today we still experience the same anxiety that comes from being dispossessed by state programs that are drawn up by bureaucrats from behind government desks. Beginning in 2010, the government's use of these programs has shown its contempt for the life of our people as it has sought to redistribute great volumes of water from our Yaqui River, without concern that it is stealing this life-giving liquid from one region in order to benefit another which possesses greater technological and economic capacity.

“Contrary to what one might imagine, my people have exhausted all domestic institutional remedies granted by the Mexican State to defend our human right to water and life, to the extent that our legal appeals have reached the Mexican Supreme Court where our case was validated. A corresponding order was given that the Yaqui People be respected and granted the right to be heard through a prior, free, and informed referendum based on international standards and held in good faith.

“This high court ruling has yet to be fully carried out, seeing as the agencies charged with holding the referendum have been negligent in taking action, and have demonstrated throughout most of the process a tendency to merely treat the referendum as a prerequisite to justify relieving us of our ancestral, constitutional, and human rights to the water from the Rio Yaqui, a river which gives name to, and historically is central to our community's existence.

“It must be added that in an explanatory judgment issued by the Supreme Court at the request of the Mexican institutions, it was specified that if it were to be observed, reported, or demonstrated that the large-scale project (which siphons off water through the Independence Aqueduct) was irreparably affecting the availability of water to which the Yaqui Nation has a right, then the project would immediately be cancelled and operation suspended regardless of the stage of the referendum.

“In order to resolve this point, and as part of the referendum process, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, the National Water Commission, and the Yaqui Nation solicited a professional opinion from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) to determine the level to which construction and operation of the aqueduct would affect the Yaqui Nation. Having done so, INAH determined that the operation of the Independencia Aqueduct gravely affects both the present and future availability of water. The report even went so far as to recommend the project's immediate cancellation.

“Faced with the negative results of INAH’s expert analysis, the Mexican government has remained quiet. It has only persisted in its demand that the referendum be completed and that continued minimal operation of the aqueduct be allowed. The government does not care that by doing so it is violating the rule of law in permitting the operation of a project that lacks an Environmental Impact Statement. By doing so, it leaves itself vulnerable to legal actions taken by the Yaqui Nation. The Yaqui Nation is only demanding complete compliance with the laws that government representatives have sworn to both follow and enforce.

“It is obvious that the Mexican government has not satisfied our nation's demands when we call for respect and justice. Therefore, we believe it is necessary for your intervention, Madam Rapporteur, so that in the short term you will be cognizant of the facts which are being presented here before this honorable assembly. It is important to recognize that without full knowledge of the current situation's facts, further acts of arrogance and impunity are likely to occur, including our protests being criminalized and the laws enforced selectively against our defenders.

“I only wish to add that there is already a previous finding from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the level of risk that exists for our spokespeople and those who defend our nation's human rights. It was reason enough for the IACHR to issue more than six precautionary measures on behalf of the principal activists. Additionally, IACHR has issued recommendations to the Mexican nation on how it can avoid repeating the actions that violated the rights of Fernando Jiménez and Mario Luna, both of whom were imprisoned for more than a year without ever having been found guilty of any crimes.”

*Yaqui tribal spokesman.