We present the following report: HUMAN RIGHTS AND ENVIRONMENT IN TABASCO in the hope that as more North Americans understand what is going on in Tabasco international support for Tabasco`s nonviolent civil resistance movement will grow.

We invite you to reproduce and forward this report. Printed copies may be obtained from Global Exchange/ 2017 Mission St. #303/ San Francisco, CA 94110 (415)255-7296. One copy $6.95 * Two/$10 * Five/$20 * Ten/$25 Checks payable to Global Exchange.

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ONE NOTE PLEASE CONSIDER PARTICPATING in a Human Rights Delegation toTabasco and Chiapas: August 2-16, 1996 This delelgation will focus on human rights, indigenous culture, and the environment. Meetings with both local human rights advocates and government representatives will give you a chance to analyze important struggles in both of these states. In Tabasco you will visit local peasant resistance groups that have underatken a brave and nonviolent struggle to defend their land, water, and air from reckless oil extraction and processing by PEMEX, Mexico`s national oil corporation. In Chiapas you will visit groups and organizations working to overcome historic oppression through a unique liberation struggle. For more information about this trip please contact Loreto Curti at (415) 255-7296 or leave a message at 1-800 497-1994.


Report Contents

I. Introduction

II. Origins of and Background to Oil Troubles in Tabasco

A. Petroleum Industry in Tabasco
B. Environmental Impact
1. Common Physical Effects
2. Regional Impacts
C. Health Impact
D. Public Safet
yE. Social Impact

III. Civil Resistance

IV. Conclusion and Recommendations

V. Participating Non-Governmental Organizations and Participants


The state of Tabasco on the Gulf Coast of Mexico is experiencing an ecological and political crisis stemming from more than two decades of intense and reckless exploitation of the state`s petroleum reserves by Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), Mexico`s national oil company. Tabasco, whose subsoil contains enormous riches, is the second largest petroleum producing state in Mexico. Nevertheless, many of its people live in extreme poverty. In this traditionally agricultural state, ecological damage has deprived many who depend on farming and fishing for their livelihoods without providing alternative economic opportunities. This situation, combined with state and national governments unaccountable to oversight or ecological watchdog groups, has led to great suffering. Mexico`s enormous external debt and growing dependence on the U.S. government and financial institutions give the problems of Tabasco an international dimension as well, perhaps best illustrated by the Mexican government`s current plan to sell to foreign investors its long nationalized secondary petrochemical facilities, which produce raw chemicals for plastics and other products. Mexico, in the throes of a profound economic crisis, has become increasingly dependent on oil revenues (even as these revenues are being directly deposited to the U.S. Treasury as security on the $21 billion emergency loan made to Mexico in 1995). Due to stagnation in the price of oil, the only way to increase these revenues is to increase production. Such an increase is being implemented in Tabasco and in the nearby states of Veracruz, Chiapas, Campeche and Tamaulipas. Currently, nearly 85 percent of Mexico`s oil exports go to the U.S. The state of Tabasco on the Gulf Coast of Mexico is a crossroads for important local and international trends. The governor of Tabasco, Roberto Madrazo of the ruling PRI party, is under investigation by the Federal Attorney General`s office (PGR) for campaign finance fraud. In the 1994 campaign he used more than 60 times the legal amount of campaign funds Q some seventy million dollars in a state with just five million people. Governor Madrazo is also facing demands from a popular movement made up of peasants and indigenous people who have seen their fields, coastal waters and livelihoods damaged by the largely unaccountable national petroleum industry. In February, 1996, a community-based civil resistance campaign began to block access roads to key petroleum extraction and refining sites at points where they passed through municipalities that have sustained the most serious environmental damages. The demonstrators demanded compensation for environmental damage and a halt to further destruction. State Police responded with force, driving protesters from bridges and other blockade points with baton charges and tear gas. More than one hundred demonstrators were arrested and jailed. This situation prompted Global Exchange and four Mexican non- governmental organizationsQCitizens Movement for Democracy (MCD), Human Rights Committee of Tabasco (CODEHUTAB), Asociacion Ecologica Santo Tomas and Servicio, Paz y JusticiaQ to organize and send representatives on a fact-finding delegation to Tabasco. The delegation also included representatives from Servicio Internacional para la Paz (SIPAZ), Peaceworkers, the French organization `Working Together for Human Rights`, and the New York Committee for Democracy in Mexico. We spoke with local biologists, physicians and human rights experts. We also visited communities impacted by oil extraction and refining, met with leaders of the growing protest movement, spoke with government officials and interviewed officials of PEMEX. The following report is based on interviews, testimony and documentation obtained during this visit.


The delegation visited the principal oil production sites of Paraiso, Sanchez Magallanes, La Isla, La Venta, Nacajuca, Lazaro Cardenas and others between the 16th and the 22nd of March, 1996. In and around these sites, we interviewed inhabitants, authorities, leaders of social organizations and protest movements, government representatives, biologists and other researchers, as well as officials of PEMEX. The archives of Santo Tomas and the Tabasco Human Rights Committee were also indispensable sources of information.

A. Petroleum Industry in Tabasco

The worldwide oil `crisis` of 1973 marked the start of a new era in Tabasco, leading to the intense exploitation of oil fields in Tabasco, Chiapas, and Campeche. Mexico regained its place among the world`s great oil producers and then-president Lopez Portillo opined that Mexico`s greatest problem would henceforth be `how to administer such enormous wealth.` Since the 1970`s, the coastal plains of Tabasco have been blanketed with oil wells. PEMEX has drilled 3,588 wells in Tabasco, of which 1,013 are currently operational. PEMEX also operates 53 separation batteries, 31 compression stations, eight water-injection plants, five drying plants, three storage and pumping centers, and 13 natural gas collection centers. There are three petrochemical complexes and a network of transportation tubes that travel through 1,249 miles of legal rights-of-ways that pass through heavily populated areas. The pipelines end at the port of Dos Bocas, where an estimated 450,000 barrels of petroleum are exported daily. In 1994, the average production from the south of Mexico (Tabasco and Chiapas) was 654,000 barrels daily, with Tabasco providing over 80 percent of that total. Fifty-four percent of Tabasco crude is high quality `Olmeca` grade, which obtains a premium price in international markets. The volume of natural gas produced by the region in 1994 was 1.946 billion cubic feet per day, with 1.325 billion cubic feet coming from Tabasco. Tabasco natural gas accounts for 37 percent of the national total. The economic importance of Tabasco`s petroleum production for the federal government is clear. Between 1973 and 1992, approximately 4.864 billion barrels of oil have come from Tabasco wells, or an average of 666,503 barrels per day. In the last 20 years this production has generated $130 billion in profits for the Mexican Federal Government. Currently, petroleum production in Tabasco generates more than $4.6 billion of revenue annually. For comparison,cattle ranching, a traditional economic mainstay of the state that still utilizes seventy percent of state land, generates just $266 million annually. Despite the wealth extracted from Tabasco`s subsoil, the state ranks as the ninth poorest in Mexico, with 61 percent of its population living in areas designated as marginal. Eighty-nine percent of public investment in the state has supported petroleum infrastructure and operations, while only 5 percent of the population finds employment of any kind in the petroleum industry. Growth of the petroleum industry has not generated a multiplier effect in the state economy. Between 1970 and 1980, the contribution of agriculture, fishing, forestry, and cattle raising has dipped from 19.6 to 3.8 percent of state GNP, despite the dependence of 35 percent of the population on these activities. Twenty years of petroleum extraction that has lacked planning, environmental codes, and attention to social well-being have caused abnormal population growth, badly-skewed income distribution, tremendous escalation of the cost of living, forced relocations, andQmost alarming of allQenvironmental destruction and extremely hazardous living conditions for people who reside in petroleum-producing areas.

B. Environmental Impact

In petroleum-producing regions, ecosystems and the humans that depend on them have shown clear symptoms of exhaustion of their capacity to adapt to the hard and inflexible technology linked to hydrocarbon extraction. In the case of Tabasco, the coastal lowlands are part of an inland hydrological system of swamps, lagoons, and estuaries that annually carries one third of Mexico`s total fresh water. It is a humid, tropical ecosystem, vulnerable to deforestation and overgrazing, and the multiple `eco-traumas` caused by twenty years of oil extraction.

1. Common Physical Effects

The most common types of petroleum industry damage in Tabasco are:
-> Hydrocarbon spillage (oil and oil by-products);
-> Degradation of croplands due to hydrocarbon buildup;
-> Spillage of salts and chemical wastes;
-> Progressive salination of croplands;
-> Opening of lagoon and river mouths and digging canals;
-> Dredging and filling of coastal land and lagoons for the construction of ducts and highways;
-> Destruction and alteration of wetlands from the re-channeling and blockage of natural water channels;
-> Contamination from corrosive metals;
-> Bio-accumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in fish, shrimp and oyster tissues;
-> High levels of dissolved hydrocarbons in coastal waters;
-> Destruction of estuaries, mangrove swamps and coastal vegetation;
-> Destruction and modification of dunes and beaches;
-> Filtration and escape of contaminants from retention pools into aquifers utilized by humans and wildlife;
-> High levels of toxicity in plants eaten by humans and wild animals;
-> Ongoing oil exploration work that includes fissures and explosions that damage buildings and homes;
-> Damage to homes caused by vibration from heavy transport;
-> Acid rain crop damage resulting from emissions of sulfuric acid from petrochemical plants;
-> Use of water for injection into petroleum wells for recovering remnant oil;
-> Constant emissions of fluids from abandoned oil wells into coastal and lagoon waters;
-> Over 200 deaths and cripplings from catastrophic explosions. Toxic releases, hydrological disruption, and acid rain generated by petroleum extraction and processing has damaged cacao and other crops and has practically wiped out fish populations in many streams, rivers, and lagoons effectively destroying the ancestral livelihoods of many Tabascans.

C. Regional Impacts Chontalpa Region

The pollution resulting from petroleum activities has negatively affected agriculture in this area and has practically brought an end to fishing in streams, rivers and lakes. This zone has been impacted by oil spills, gas emissions and the release of other substances into the atmosphere, causing acid rain. This has endangered the cultivating of cocoa, which is the oldest system of production and commercial activity in the state. A case in point is the area in and around Samaria Field, located 9 miles from the state capital, Villahermosa. One hundred important oil wells in production are located here. Results of research by independent biologist Gonzalo Ortiz, who has been studying environmental problems in Tabasco for several years, indicates that more than 9,800 acres of pasture land, rain forest and agricultural land have been left useless by pollution and industrialization. In particular, the construction of highways and pipelines which obstruct the natural flow of lakes and streams have created flood plains where none existed before. Oil-related pollution in surrounding topsoil reaches a level of 120 to 180 parts per million (acceptable levels are from 0.5 to 1.0 parts per million). There is evidence of heavy metal pollution, especially of nickel and vanadium. Plants indicate a high level of assimilation of polluting agents; for example, a grain of corn for human consumption registered 10 parts per million of vanadium. The same has been found for pasture grass. The limited resources available for independent research has not permitted establishing the range of assimilation of heavy metals in the case of water and animals.

Lake and Coastal Zone

The effects on the state`s coastal zone intensified with the widening of `Boca de Panteones` (an opening between the ocean and an interconnected system of lakes) in 1975. At that time, the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, together with PEMEX, expanded the natural opening, dredged rivers and streams, and constructed inter-linked canals, all of which made it possible for PEMEX to bring in drilling barges for oil exploration and exploitation. The resultant changes to the Carmen-Pajonal-Machona system of lakes increased salinity levels and damaged approximately 197,600 acres of land. To date, PEMEX and the state government assign responsibility for the widening of Boca de Panteones to the Ministry of Water Resources (SARH). Nevertheless, an executive report dated March 18, 1985, signed by a Working Group composed of representatives from PEMEX and a number of government agencies (including the Ministries of Fisheries, Water Resources, Urban Development and Ecology, Transportation and Communication,Settlements and Public Works, and the Planning Committee for Development in the State of Tabasco) establishes that on June 4, 1975, the Ministry of Water Resources designated independent construction companies `to implement the Machona-Gulf of Mexico Interconnecting Canal, including the PEMEX `trap` pipeline...` This shows that the widening of the natural opening was intended to benefit PEMEX. In the years since the widening of Boca de Panteones, significant ecological damage caused by oil spills has continued to take place. Technical studies conducted by both official and independent researchers (e.g., studies done by the Postgraduate College at the Tabasco Autonomous University) indicate that there is oil present in the state`s entire lake and coastal area. This has had negative repercussions for the fishing industry, on which thousands of families in the municipalities of Cardenas, Paraiso and Centla depend for their livelihoods. In the lake area, there are 101 oil wells that have been drilled literally in the rivers and lakes themselves. In wells that are no longer producing, constant, uncontrolled emissions have been recorded. As a result, oil has been collecting on the floors of these water systems. The large quantities of oil found on beaches and in coastal lakes have decreased oyster production, while fishing is limited to areas miles away from shore with the use of high capacity equipment requiring major investments and on-going high operating costs. This situation has led to a clear deterioration of the population`s economic activity, which has generated diverse protests expressed through social movements such as the`Pacto Ribereno.` Other organizations have continued to fight for the acknowledgment of environmental damage caused by PEMEX in the midst of government indifference. In 1992, as a result of years of struggle, the National Human Rights Commission issued Recommendation R-100/92 Based on scientific studies conducted by researchers from the Chapingo Regional Center, this report recognized the damage caused by PEMEX to public health and the environment.It specified that the state-owned oil company was violating the human rights of small farmers and fishermen in the area. R-100/92 forced PEMEX and the state and federal governments to pay damages and to take corrective and preventative measures. To comply with R-100/92, the Inter-institutional Commission for Attending to Recommendation 100 (CIAR 100) was created. Its main task was to coordinate the actions of various institutions and ministries of the state and federal government for the purpose of resolving all aspects of the problems addressed by the report. The international delegation was able to establish lack of compliance with the CIAR 100 recommendation, by way of visits to areas affected and interviews with fishermen, small farmers, leaders of organizations, researchers, as well as from other sources. To date, the Coordinating Office of the Institute of the Environment and Development (CIMADES), which was created by the state government to respond to complaints, together with the state government and PEMEX, all declare that they have complied with the requirements of R-100/92. Although it failed to give specific examples, PEMEX declared that it had already complied with R-100/92. Furthermore, it expressed its disagreement with what it calls the `politicization of a technical problem on the part of the government.` Hector Leyva, Assistant Director of PEMEX Exploration and Production in the southeast, indicated that `CIAR 100 was a political response to a social problem, not a technical problem.` He affirmed that the federal and state governments are guilty of not having provided agricultural production support to those who happen to live in petroleum-producing areas. Meanwhile, both the state and federal government accuse PEMEX of not supporting regional economic development. With regard to continued complaints, Assistant Secretary of Government Manuel Tellaeche said that the problem of the Boca de Panteones `is considered by the federation to be a closed case.` According to Tellaeche, a micro-regional development program is being implemented at the state level through CIMADES. Unfortunately, he was not able to provide many concrete examples of work being done by this program.

Lowland and Marsh Areas

This area is located in the extreme northeast of the Mesozoic Chiapas/Tabasco region, where one finds the most important marsh reserve in Mesoamerica. The Chontal peoples have lived in this area since the pre- Hispanic period. The Chontals are the poorest, most ancient, and most marginalized people in Tabasco. The most important petroleum fields in the state are found in this area. Oil drilling began here in the late 1970s in the municipality of Centla, where there are 10 petroleum fields with 46 wells that produce 50,803 barrels of crude oil and 242 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. In 1984, the Sen Field was discovered in the municipality of Nacajuca. While still only in its developing stage, it is producing 33,679 barrels of crude oil and 81 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Oil extraction has brought damage to the environment and to fishing activities which, together with traditional agriculture, have always been the primary sources of survival for the Chontal communities. Many original communities, such as the mangrove swamps, as well as 200 other plant species and a great wealth of fauna including 39 fish species, 50 amphibian and reptile species, 60 mammal species, and 125 bird species, have either been damaged or completely destroyed. The ecosystem in the lowland areas has already been altered substantially. A specific problem area worth mentioning is the Tonala River zone which, because of the oil industry, is registered as one of the most contaminated areas in the world. This area covers more than 490,000 acres and has approximately 1,300 oil wells in various stages of deterioration. Dr. Joel Zavala, a specialist at the Postgraduate College who has carried out important studies on soils, spoke about the damage to the Tonala River zone. He reported that from 1960 on there has been inadequate treatment of toxic wastes resulting from oil extraction. These wastes have been dumped directly into the environmentQmarshes, lakes, pasture lands and crop lands. In this area, there is a concentration of 2,000 parts per million of oil in the soil, compared to normal concentrations of 0.5 to 1.0 parts per million. Measured another way, concentrations of greases and oils are at a level of 150 to 600 grams per kilo of soil. In areas where the soil appears to be normal, there are levels of up to 15 grams per kilo of soil. Needless to say, some of the substances derived from oil have been related to cancer and genetic mutations. In 1989, 67 significant oil spills were registered, which, taken together, would cover an area of approximately 1,480 acres with crude oil, leaving it devoid of plant life. In addition, while PEMEX has installed reservoirs for toxic waste storage in some oil drilling areas, these reservoirs were vulnerable to flooding. As a result, some reservoirs overflowed during the rainy season and toxic waste spilled into the entire Tonala River area.

D. Health Impact 'Everyday at 4:00 am, the oil wells "drilled just 50 meters from people`s homes" released gas that had such a strong smell that the people woke up coughing and vomiting. In the wells where we get drinking water, there is a foam so thick on the surface that you have to remove it with your hand.` Testimony from a local university researcher

The state of public health in the petroleum producing areas has deteriorated. Health studies have not been as extensive as would be ideal; nevertheless, specialists have conducted independent studies which indicate that industry -induced health problems range from deadly diseases correlated with environmental toxins to psychological conditions aggravated by the uncertainty and fear associated with being exposed to so many risks. Dramatically escalated rates of infantile leukemia are also of great concern. Doctor Jose Luis Cortes Penaloza, a widely respected researcher, has reported that cancer and leukemia are on the rise in all age groups, with leukemia death rates spiking among infants and children. According to Penaloza, leukemia first appeared as a main cause of child mortality in 1985. In 1991, leukemia was rated sixth as a cause of child mortality, but by 1995 it had risen to third place. Leukemia attacks all age groups but is most common in children between the ages of six and fourteen, and in adults between the ages of 25 and 44. The highest incidence of leukemia cases are grouped around petroleum producing areas. In 1991, 87 cases were registered in counties with petroleum installations, and only six cases were registered in countries with no petroleum installations. In 1996, it is estimated that countries with petroleum installations average 10 cases of leukemia for every 100,000 inhabitants. A comparison with the incidence of leukemia in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, as an effect of the atomic explosion reveals the gravity of the problem. In 1980, there was a rate of six to seven cases per 100,000 in populated areas located at least 0.9 miles from ground zero of the atomic explosion, and seven to nine cases in areas at a distance of only 0.3 miles from ground zero. The incidence of leukemia in the petroleum producing areas of Tabasco is equivalent to the some of the effects of an atomic explosion at less than 500 meters. To make matters worse, the pollution in Tabasco continues daily. The statistics used here are taken from clinic and hospital records, but many illnesses are not reported. The true health picture is almost certainly worse. The results of studies done by non-governmental specialists were first announced in 1993. To date, health authorities of the state government are silent on the leukemia issue and researchers investigating the epidemic report have been threatened with losing their jobs if they continue their work. Additional health problems result from the discharge of hydrocarbons, the salinization of fresh water systems and the presence of acid rain. These effects of the petroleum industry, in combination with contaminants originating from other industries and waste from urban areas, have accelerated soil depletion, causing some farmers to rely on unsustainable agrochemical production methods. Local food products now carry traces of hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and pesticides at dangerous levels.

E. Public Safety

Safe industrial procedures are of great concern to the population in the petroleum producing areas of Tabasco. Petroleum production carries inherent dangers which are aggravated by faulty equipment maintenance. Over the past 20 years, a series of explosions have left more than 200 Tabascans either dead or crippled. In addition, there has been substantial property damage to homes near explosion sites. Thousands of kilometers of oil ducts connect Tabasco production and processing sites to the port of Dos Bocas. Including pipelines that cross Tabasco from other states, there are 6,840 miles of pipeline passing over 1,200 miles of legal right-of-way. A large part of this pipeline system, which is at least 15 years old, is exposed to the elements and does not receive adequate maintenance. According to PEMEX`s own Exploration and Production Report delivered to the Federal Agency of Environmental Protection-Tabasco Delegation, there have been an increasing number of gas leaks in the last three years (1993-1995). Sixty-three leaks occurred in 1993, ninety-nine in 1994, and one-hundred thirty-nine in 1995. In just January and February of 1996, twenty-five leaks or spills have been registered in the area of Platano y Cacao. A leak in 1995 in Platano y Cacao resulted in the death of nine people.

`The petroleum industry, like all industries, is not exempt from accidents. Why do airplanes crash? Why do cars crash? Why does one fall out of bed? Accidents happen according to fate.` Hector Leyva, PEMEX sub-director, Southeast Region

Interviewed in the PEMEX Office of Exploration and Production, Hector Leyva, sub-director of the Southeast Region, acknowledged that the petroleum industry has a strong impact on the environment. He referred, however, to voluntary environmental protection measures adopted by the industry in the 1980`s, prior to the existence of any environmental legislation in Mexico. He also spoke about the effort that PEMEX was making to completely restore the damage to areas he called `disaster areas`. He assured us that problems were minimal and in a limited number of zones. He also assured us that in two more years, all contaminated areas will have been completely restored. According to the information he gave us, PEMEX occupies only 3 percent of the state`s surface area, and the other 97 percent is free of PEMEX installations. New installations are uniformly equipped with advanced safety features that meet international standards and have been inspected by international inspectors and corporations. When questioned about the existing contrast between the advanced safety systems described and the documented gas leaks and explosions, Leyva replied, `People and pipelines can live together. What has to happen is that the people learn to respect and live together with their tubes. In the Mexican countryside we have not developed a culture that teaches people what they have to do.` Regarding the dictate from the Attorney General that held PEMEX responsible for an accident in 1995 that caused the deaths of nine people in Platano y Cacao, Leyva replied that PEMEX had also contracted experts to investigate the incident. Their findings coincided with the Attorney General`s findings: `There was no human error involved, nor lack of maintenance of the ducts. It was an accident.` With regard to the injured, Leyva noted that PEMEX `was in a position to file a counter claim and not pay anything, which was within the legal rights of the industry. However, PEMEX paid for the deaths, injuries, and damaged materials.` Levya rejected many claims against PEMEX, such as the 6,000 claims for acid rain-induced corrosion of barbed wire fences and corrugated tin roofing, saying, `PEMEX determines these claims to be invalid.`

F. Social Impact

`Twenty years ago, PEMEX arrived and invaded our lands. My father owned about 20 acres of land. Today, this land is invaded by PEMEX pipelines, and two highways run through it. We are left with nothing. Money cannot cover the loss of communal lands, of a house, of a life. We arrived before PEMEX. Our documents prove it.` Residents from the community of Platano y Cacao

Until the 1970s, the law required PEMEX to request permission for the use of land and to pay for damage done to surface properties situated above nationalized subsoil petroleum reserves. In 1977, during the petroleum `fever`, the law was modified and PEMEX obtained the right to occupy lands without permission from the affected parties. Henceforth, legal control and financial responsibility for damages did not need to be resolved prior to drilling and extraction of oil. The law called for after-the-fact contracts between PEMEX and local property owners and communal land holders. The contracts have caused discontent because the official appraisals do not reflect the real value of the land, nor the worth of the crops or property on the land. In addition, evidence exists that in some cases PEMEX has used threats of judicial police action to drive peasants off their lands, claiming that to refuse to allow the installation of oil drilling infrastructure is a crime against the well-being of the nation. Even though agencies have been created by both the local and federal governments to process pending compensation claims for property damage and land use fees, many claims have simply been ignored. For this reason, the Inter-institutional Coordination for the Environment and Social Development (CIMADES) was created. Its director, Juan Molina Becerra, spoke about the new relationship between PEMEX, the state government, and local residents. `A few years ago, PEMEX not only represented economic power, but also political power. The administrators and their union had a standard of living quite different from the living standard of the Tabascan people in general.` At present, CIMADES is charged with coordinating the actions of the federal and state agencies to carry out studies, investigate and determine damage claim settlements, and to verify that PEMEX properly pays the affected parties. In addition, CIMADES is empowered to oversee PEMEX`s development plans to assure that they are in line with state government plans. Nevertheless, Molina recognized that `at present, there is no norm established which allows us to show PEMEX the extent of the enormous damage they are causing. A new legal framework must be developed in order to apply the law to a government-owned corporation.` Molina attributed the environmental, social, and political problems to an historical disaster, although he indicated that PEMEX was responsible for the pollution and corresponding damage: `There is no complete inventory of the damages; PEMEX`s activity is continuous, as are its effects.` He informed us that in 1995, more than 14,000 complaints were processed. Of those, 2,000 claims were validated and a total of nearly 1 million dollars in damages were paid--the equivalent of less than 470 dollars per case. He announced a plan for a complete environmental investigation, with its initial stages to be undertaken within three years. Hugo Cubas, elected representative of the community of La Venta in the municipality of Huimanguillo, complained that CIMADES had not lived up to its mandate to represent impacted communities. He pointed out that even though the relationship is difficult, some local authorities have continued to prefer direct negotiations with PEMEX in order to get them to provide compensation for damages. `Without the intervention of CIMADES, we have gotten some results. However, we need direct verification that PEMEX has built or repaired promised roads and infrastructure. Otherwise, the government absorbs the resources PEMEX sends and we never benefit.` Another matter raised in interviews with social leaders, campesinos, fishermen, and researchers was that of persistent official corruption. In documents such as a report from the Democratic Movement of Tabasco to Arturo Nunez Jimenez, Assistant Secretary to the Governor, sent February 26,1996, we found the following assertion: `Under the cover of petroleum production, PEMEX officials, contractors, and suppliers have made enormous fortunes. On many occasions, PEMEX`s programs have not achieved their purposes and in some cases never even appeared in the targeted communities.` Resources designated for the petroleum producing areas were used to repave residential districts of the state capital where government officials and PEMEX executives reside. The resources mainly go to municipalities where the government political party (PRI) is in power, even though some of these communities are not in petroleum producing areas. In addition, in-kind contributions of asphalt and construction materials are illicitly sold, to the benefit of officials and contractors. There are strong economic and political interests at play in Tabasco. To date, the government has shown no willingness to open itself to democratic forces. In fact, it has used all of its powers to prevent democratic change. An especially egregious example was the illegal financing of the gubernatorial campaign of Roberto Madrazo. Expenditures amounted to more than 70 million dollars, more than 60 times the legal limit. This campaign law violation was documented and presented to the Attorney General by opposition parties. The Attorney General has accepted the proof; nevertheless, the investigation has been delayed and the matter remains unresolved. Madrazo, the accused, is still governor.


`I came to understand the petroleum problem not through my own volition: It was 11:30 at night and I was driving home on the highway. I thought the whole valley seemed more lit up than usual. As I got near to the parish I said to myself `I think that`s my house` and it was. Great columns of flame shot 300 meters into the air and nine people died in the explosion. We tried to reach a reasonable settlement with PEMEX and the government, but they ignored us.` Father Francisco Goitia President, Tabasco Human Rights Committee

The ephemeral petroleum boom of the seventies was used to justify the resulting environmental and human devastation. The social costs of the boom have never been addressed. Expropriations and damage to `ejidos` caused agricultural and fishing communities to abandon their traditional activities to seek work generated by the boom. The rapid growth of petroleum cities overwhelmed the capacity of local governments to meet social needs and provide basic services. The cost of living skyrocketed. After the boom came hard times as petroleum prices stabilized at lower than expected levels in the 1980`s. The number of jobs in petroleum industries fell sharply. Peasants and fishermen found it difficult to recover their former levels of productivity. In the 1990`s downsizing hit Tabasco as nationwide economic restructuring marked Mexico`s entrance into the `global economy.` New technologies have allowed for the removal of thousands of employees from the public and private sectors, while promised economic alternatives failed to emerge. The feverish petroleum activities of the last two decades have gone on without the environmental and social policies that could have made the industry an agent of social development. PEMEX has ignored and tried to silence growing discontent emerging throughout Mexico`s southeast. There existed no genuine environmental policies promoting the prudent use of petroleum resources or industrial management that guaranteed the health and ecosystems of the local populace. Petroleum developers have ignored the culture and organization of communities. New forms of relations imposed by the new economic model have undermined the ability of communities to live harmoniously, ignoring their values, knowledge, and management of local eco-systems.

`After the explosion in 1995, PEMEX and the government came to our community with hand-outs to try to keep people from talking about what had happened. But you can`t fool peasants anymore.` Resident of Platano y Cacao

For over twenty years, residents of the petroleum region of Tabasco tried all available channels to resolve the problems described in this report. The unresponsiveness of the federal, state and PEMEX authorities has led the people of the zone to join together and carry out actions through independent civil organizations, as well as opposition political parties. Thousands of people from Tabasco have joined a `Peaceful Civil Resistance` struggle for survival, democracy, and environmental justice. A network of community organizations has developed around environmental and local quality of life issues. Francisco Goitia, President of Tabasco Human Rights Committee, broadly defines the unifying issues for participants in the nonviolent struggle as `human rights which touch on the fundamentals of life and the conditions which make it possible: those things that we breathe, drink, and eat.` In recent years, communities have organized a variety of civil resistance actions to back their demands for a solution. Some civil resistance actions have aimed at exposing electoral fraud and de-legitimizing fraudulently elected officials. Last year hundreds marched 1,000 kilometers from Tabasco to Mexico City in a peaceful protest against fraud in the 1994 election for governor in which Roberto Madrazo, representing the long ruling PRI, was declared winner over Lopez Obrador candidate of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), a center-left party that is the main opposition in Tabasco. The growing civic movement has created pressure on the Mexican federal government to initiate an official investigation of the fraud. In relation to the oil industry, an important recent action of the civic movement was the February 1996 coordinated citizens blockade of PEMEX facilities in several indigenous (Chontal) communities including Nacajuca. Nacajuca is at the entrance to one of Tabasco`s most productive oil fields, Campo Sen. In February, a bridge leading to the Campo Sen was blocked by citizens who demanded that `no more oil wells be drilled in Tabasco until our claims and demands are resolved.` Their demands include compensation for the campesinos and fishermen whose land and livelihood have been severely affected or destroyed by the oil installations. Twelve hour shifts were organized in order to keep the installations blocked around the clock. The government responded with force. Video images show the Federal Army troops cooperating with local public securityQin open violation of articles 29 and 129 of the Mexican constitution which prohibit the participation of the armed forces in situations in which the resolution falls within the jurisdiction of civil authorities. More than 30 state and federal police vehicles were at the scene along with three helicopters from the Attorney General`s office (PRG). Three army trucks also participated in carrying away detainees. Lopez Obrador, a leader in the Tabasco resistance movement, was struck in the head by a police baton and injured. Lopez Obrador, as well as Auldarico Hernandez, an indigenous resistance leader who was arrested in Nacajuca, were subjects of a smear campaign in the national media where they were presented as leaders of a violent movement that put the nation`s economy at risk for partisan gain. The media reports did not mention the conditions that lay behind the protests, nor their explicitly nonviolent character. Over 100 people were arrested and held in jail with charges that could have resulted in over 40 years in prison. Women, men, youth and the elderly were injured and arrested by dozens of state police. Many people near the blockade sites were also arrested and jailed, whether or not they had been participating in the demonstrations. The civil resistance movement demanded that those imprisoned be released without charges and that the government respond to their other demands. Movement organizers vowed to resume their campaign of oil well occupations, if authorities failed to act. In mid-March, after much pressure from civic and human rights groups, all the prisoners were released. Environmental claims are still pending. On March 17, 1996, there was a march of 30,000 people including campesinos, fishermen, and people from civic organizations throughout Tabasco to the central square in Villahermosa to show the support and commitment to the struggle for environmental justice. Demonstrators were also making a call to keep Mexico`s national petrochemical industry from being privatized. Organizers expressed the strong conviction that their actions are important to the lives of local people, communities, and even the eco-system. Consequently, the peaceful protesters say they are prepared to research, educate, go on hunger strikes and fill the jails if necessary in order to expose what they call the lies of the government, gross violations of human rights, and environmental destruction with the ultimate goal of attaining justice.

A delegation of environmental, human rights and nonviolent peacemaking groups from the United States, Germany, France and Mexico recently completed a visit to Tabasco. These groups, such as Serpaj Tabasco (Servicio, Paz y Justicia), are offering non-violent civil training workshops in peaceful civil resistance, supporting local environmental and human rights groups in their campaign to resist PEMEX, and are supporting the development of an alternative economy. They hope to activate an international network of support for this crucial nonviolent struggle in Tabasco.


On the one hand, our delegation saw evidence of advanced environmental deterioration and its direct causes: indiscriminate petroleum extraction without the care and concern needed to preserve human and environmental well-being. On the other hand, executives of PEMEX and the state government spoke of their programs for prevention, safety, and restoration of damages. The delegation was able to verify the damages, lack of maintenance and the inadequate attention to the claims of the inhabitants of the petroleum extraction zone. The environmental damage, the secretive and unaccountable policies of PEMEX and the state and federal governments, as well as the corruption and anti-democratic traditions that permeate the political life of Tabasco, have put to the test the physical, mental, and social resistance of the inhabitants of the petroleum zones. Instead of offering solutions aimed at addressing the difficult roots of their problems the authorities have repressed them. Given conditions that deny their political and human rights and put their social and economic futures at great risk, people in the petroleum zones of Tabasco have opted for the path of peaceful civil resistance, even though the costs of the struggle make their lives even more difficult.

The Following are the Delegation`s Recommendations:
1. Record levels of oil production in Tabasco are speeding up contamination in the state. A solution requires rapid, timely and effective action by the state and federal governments and most importantly by PEMEX.
2. PEMEX and the state and federal governments should take responsibility for providing resources for the regeneration of the zone and for the prevention of further damage. These tasks should be undertaken with the active participation of state and national civic organizations, which in turn count on the experience and support of international civic organizations.
3. Genuine democratic accountability and respect for human rights are essential to any solution and will be impossible to achieve without the political will of the state and federal governments. The development of democratic life and culture are indispensable prerequisites to the kind of social creativity needed to find genuine and viable solutions to the problems Tabasco confronts today and in the future.

`The environmental problem and its repercussions in the state of Tabasco go beyond political, party, or ideological questions. The questions are human ones; the task of rescuing the planetary balance belongs to everyone. The situation in Tabasco exemplifies and permits a broader understanding of what will be needed to resolve issues in countries throughout the world where petroleum extraction and processing are important industries.` Ricardo Carvajal, Delegation member


Asociacion Ecologica `Santo Tomas`, A.C.,Tabasco, Mexico Contacts: Raymundo Sauri and Edith Vazquez Castillo 905-3 Centro, C.P. 86000 Villahermosa, Tabasco 91 93 14 39 27

Comite de Derechos Humanos de Tabasco (CODEHUTAB), Mexico Main contact: Francisco Goitia Prieto Other participants: Ernesto Martinez Oliva, Francisco Goitia Prieto and Malio Cobos Orozco Andres Sanchez Magallanes 844 Altos. Col. Centro C.P. 86000, Villahermosa, Tabasco. 91 93 12 83 62

Global Exchange, United States Contact: Ted Lewis Other paritcipants: Sunita Chethik, Nicole Karsin and Jutta Meier- Wiedenbach 2017 Mission St. Suite 303 San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 255-7296

Movimiento Ciudadano por la Democracia (MCD) D.F., Mexico Main contacts: Luz Rosales Esteva and Cecilia Sanchez Tellez Prosperidad 31 Col. Escadon 11800 Mexico, D.F. (525) 516 74 56 Fax: (525) 277 48 51

Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de L`Homme Main contact: Veronique Rouault 31 Cours Emille Zola 69100 Ville Urbanne, France 72 44 24 99

New York Committee for Democracy in Mexico,USA.

Dianna Reiss-Koncar, independent journalist.

Peaceworkers, USA Cotanct: David Hartsough 721 Shrader St. San Francisco, CA 94711 (415) 751-0302

Servicio Internacional para la Paz (SIPAZ), Mexico-USA. Contact: Ricardo Carvajal Dr. Jose Felipe Flores #38 Santa Lucia San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas C.P. 29250 96 78 03 81

Servicio, Paz y Justicia, SERPAJ, Mexico Contact: Rafael Landerreche Gomez 93 13 18 32

*for all Mexico calls dialed from the United States add 011-52

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