Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt via Getty Images

Organized resistance hopes to halt construction at a factory that could dehydrate the region

Tim Nelson
August 24, 2018

As a relatively cheap Mexican beer, Modelo kind of already tastes more like water than most brews. But that isn’t why the city of Mexicali, Mexico, has been engaged in a long and protracted battle with the brewery and its parent company. The real reason rests on something as fundamental as access to the water needed to sustain a region.

At the heart of the issue is a proposed Modelo plant in Baja California that would be managed by Constellation Brands, the third-largest beer distributor in the US thanks to a portfolio that also includes Corona, Pacifico, and Ballast Point. According to documents referenced by Telesur, the factory would have direct, private access to a drinking water line connected to federally maintained wells. The factory would use an estimated 20 million liters of drinking water each year, enough to hydrate 750,000 area residents and countless crops in the Mexicali Valley.

Though Newsweek suggests the project would create an estimated 750 jobs in this city just miles from the US border, farmers and local activists say it would come at a cost too great for the region to bear. That’s what helped inspire the formation of the Mexicali Resiste group, a network of activists mobilizing farmers and other locals in an effort to prevent the plant’s construction. The movement’s turning point was February 13, 2017, when the arrest of 14 protestors significantly galvanized public support. A further clash took place on January 16, 2018, which saw protestors attempt to block construction equipment meant to work on the $1 billion project. That inspired more serious allegations: Leon Fierro, one of the movement’s leaders, was charged with attempted murder for his role in the action.

In the face of serious legal challenges and an increased police presence at the site, Mexicali Resiste has shifted towards more peaceful methods of resistance on multiple fronts. They’ve recorded an online debate show, collaborated with academics on papers underscoring the regional importance of the Colorado River, called for cross-border boycotts of Constellation products, and presented signatures to public officials.

“The government thinks we're disorganized,” Mexicali Resiste spokesman Jesus Galaz told Telesur, “and we want to answer back by proposing debate and democracy."

As of now, the factory is scheduled to open in 2020, at which point its need for water would make life more difficult in a region that’s already suffered through droughts in recent times. What exactly will happen now and then remains to be seen.

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