Karen Taxilaga

Mexico

Environmental defence. Rights of the indigenous towns.
Unión de la Fuerza Indígena Campesina (UFIC).
Agua para Todos y para Todas.


www.ufic.blogspot.com
www.aguaparatodos.org.mx

She has been a human rights and lands rights defender since 2000, when she began an agrarian struggle for the recovery of 2,000 hectares of communal land that belonged to the indigenous Hñähnu peasants (the Otomi community) in Tezontepec de Aldama, in the state of Hidalgo, to the north of the country’s capital.

This region, which is known as the Mezquital Valley, has the largest water table in the central part of the country. The area has serious water and land pollution problems (and as a consequence it also has crop-growing issues) as it is used as a landfill region for wastewater from neighbouring Mexico City and due to the presence of other industrial pollution sources (a thermoelectric power plant, a refinery and cement companies). Sewage contains the waste discharges from over 5,000 companies and factories, and is contaminated with lead, chromium, mercury and a myriad of heavy metals from the entire city drainage network and the state of Mexico City.

Taxilaga belongs to the Agua para Todos y Todas (Water for All) organization, which works to promote the decontamination of rivers and water banks. She is currently also the Secretary of Women’s Affairs of the State Executive Committee of the Peasant Indigenous Force Union (UFIC), which is an organization that fights to defend land and natural resources, as well as defending the lives of people who live in these threatened areas.

She has been behind several mass protests promoting the defence of land and water, to demand the decontamination and sanitation of the rivers and streams of Hidalgo and to stop surface irrigation of crops with sewage. 

In 2017 and 2018 Taxilaga was the victim of several attacks after heading a water use defence organisation and leading protests against the activities of eight highly polluting sand mines run by the former mayors of Tezontepec, and which were supported by government officials of the previous president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). On 28 August 2017, two hooded individuals kidnapped Karen Izolda, as a retaliation to her work in land defence. Although an investigation procedure was initiated, the culprits were never caught.

The organization Front Line Defenders recorded the murder of 48 human rights defenders in Mexico in 2018 (the second country in the world after Colombia in terms of homicides of this nature). The Ministry of the Interior acknowledges that the number of missing people in the country is in excess of 85,000.

Between October 2018 and April 2019, Taxilaga was given refuge in Catalonia through the Catalan Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders as a result of an initiative made by the organization Taula per México (Board for Mexico). Her stay in Catalonia allowed the Mexican activist to leave (albeit temporarily) a situation in which she was at risk, and she was able to take part in an agenda of psychosocial care, training, social and political advocacy throughout Catalonia.

» Interview

> Your struggle is mostly on the side of peasant women

I help them with the most basic things. During the pandemic, especially those living in the Huasteca could not go out to sell their goods, nor did they have food for themselves or their children. We made collections to provide them with food. It is a huge but fabulous job. I help them with health issues, legal issues and everything related to the environment of indigenous and peasant women.
I accompany them when there are issues of abuse, violence or basic needs: when they need to go to hospitals, for example, or I press for them to be given cancer treatment. The cancer cases we are seeing throughout the area of El Mesquital are frightening.

> And is this due to environmental and land pollution?

Totally. We are in the most polluted area of ​​the Republic. From here to 30 kilometres away there are corridors pollution-producing companies. Not only are they breathing it but they are eating it, because all this land is being irrigated with water that is totally polluted. There are many children who have hydrocephalus and kidney problems from the age of 8 upwards. This is the hardest struggle I have to deal with.

> What are the consequences of being a lawyer who is involved in these struggles?

I suffered an infinite amount of emotional and physical pain. I have suffered threats, torture and a kidnapping, in August 2017. On several occasions I have been beaten, they have tried to make me leave the area, and stop me supporting women, and more than anything else it has been the struggle for the land that has caused me the greatest physical harm. In 2008 we were at a demonstration with fellow peasants and they tried to stop us. We were attacked. And unfortunately they hit me in a way that led to me losing my eye.

It was the first time they tried to kill me. The women rescued me and I am still here. This was the first real attack I suffered and others have happened after this. I couldn’t catch the bus without being accompanied. But I don’t plan to give up this fight.

> Who is responsible?

All the former governors of Hidalgo who have had custody over the region since the time of Manuel Ángel Núñez Soto. They are responsible for me losing an eye, and for every time I have been illegally detained just for accompanying indigenous peoples and peasants in their organization and in the defence of life. But no one takes responsibility for the attacks I have suffered. The government does not accept any responsibility and in Mexico we still have a silent and very dangerous war.

 > Where do you get the strength to continue the fight?

The injuries they have caused me is what gives me the strength to move on. All I want is for women to be able to live with dignity on their own lands. I know that if we do not stop the discharge of sewage onto the land, the time will come when the only source of clean water we still have will be of no use to us.

> What protection mechanisms do you have?

I am now in the protection mechanism for defence lawyers and journalists in Mexico. They give us shelter and food. However, it’s not just me, it’s my family now that needs to be protected too. My children and my husband have been moved with me because they have already started being attacked. But despite the repression, I go where they need me. I can’t lose anymore.

> What are the demands of the peoples?

Respect for their decisions and their autonomy, respect for their lands and above all, saying no to the militarization of our peoples. The UFIC also protests the government’s lack of interest in helping farmers, to create or provide either the resources or education necessary to move forward. Our aim is to expel and not admit more foreign companies that loot and damage our wells. We will not allow more attacks to be made on the land and the water. And on a personal level, I demand that they let me continue to do my job, which is to help these communities

> Are sanctions not applied to companies?

No. This is why we are demanding a change in the National Water Act. Harsher sanctions need to be imposed on companies that pollute rivers, tributaries and aquifers. We also want the oligarchy that owns companies that pollute water to stop receiving privileges and government protection.

> How can you achieve this?

We have already won the legal battles. The delivery of the territory has already been ordered, but it has not been allowed politically. The only way out is political will and I hope that the current president will help us. The other route that some people in the area are considering is the armed route. Many are desperate because they have no other resources than the land itself. It would be a terrible decision.