MEXICO CITY (AP) — Hundreds of farmers continued to hold a remote dam in northern Mexico on Friday as time was running out for the country to catch up on payments and avoid breaching a 1944 water treaty with the United States.
Mexico’s National Water Commission warned that farmers who took over a dam in the border state of Chihuahua last week may have damaged the facility’s controls, with just about six weeks to go before an Oct. 24 deadline for handing over a massive amount of water that Mexico owes the United States.
“There is evidence that the generator control room was presumably set on fire,” the commission said.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador tried to explain to Mexicans Friday why the water must be released to the United States, which gives Mexico four times more water from the Colorado River farther west under the treaty.
Concern was building that if the farmers refuse to budge, the National Guard would be sent in again and there could be violence. The farmers say they’re worried about having enough water for their crops. When they took control of the dam Tuesday, they closed the valves that were releasing water from the reservoir.
Overnight, power to the La Boquilla dam site in Chihuahua was cut and there were reports that cellphone service there had also dropped, making activists suspect a move by authorities to evict them could be imminent.
López Obrador said he believes the protest is driven more by politics than water concerns. He said the farmers should be told, “There is no lack of water, they won’t run out of water, which is already 100 percent guaranteed for this cycle.”
He again expressed condolences for a woman killed Tuesday after National Guard troops had withdrawn from the dam following a clash with protesters. The National Guard has said four vehicles began following guardsmen who were transporting three detainees Tuesday night.
The National Guard said shots were fired from the vehicles and troops returned fire. A woman was killed and a man seriously wounded. The woman was buried Friday.