Monday, January 30, 2023

Mesual and Totonac indigenous peoples fight for energy sovereignty in Mexico

Morning mist settles over the hills around Quetzaln, a mountainous municipality in the state of Puebla in southeastern Mexico. The crowing of chickens coincides with the first rays of the sun, filtering through a solar-paneled terrace surrounded by a garden of palm trees and yellow heliconias. “This solar roof is a dream come true because it allows us to produce our own energy and respect the environment,” says Rufina Villa.

This 66-year-old woman, with her hair tied in a long white ponytail and wearing a traditional embroidered shirt, is an indigenous leader of the Maseul people and also presides over a local cooperative made up of a hundred workers, who, among others, Activities, manage small hotel. This slow path toward energy sovereignty sweetens years of fighting between the Mesual and Totonac peoples threatened by hydroelectric projects, open-pit mining and hydrocarbon extraction. fracking hey hydraulic fracturing.

Rufina Villa, president of a workers’ cooperative, poses under a solar roof installed at her eco-hotel in Quetzaln, Mexico.monica fur

Along this obstacle-filled path, community leaders have focused on producing energy locally and sustainably, a process they now have the support of the alternative energy cooperative Onenergia, formed in 2017 by a small group of professionals in Puebla . With the aim of “cooperation with society towards transition and energy sovereignty”.

I was tired of working just for profit. We wanted this technology to be available to people with low incomes

Sofia Pacheco, Co-Founder of Onergia

“Energy has become a common commodity from a market product. We have started asking ourselves what is it, why, for whom and how do we want it”, says 29-year-old Industrial Engineer and co-founder of Onergia Sofia Pacheco explains. “This is where our work with communities begins: we ask them about their needs, we provide them with techniques, and we offer workshops so they can continue independently.” Juliana Gomez, 33, a Pacheco colleague, continues, “Our values ​​are assemblymanism, respect for the dignity of work, and the masculinization of the power sector.” “It is not easy, but we continue: we are the first Mexican alternative energy cooperative,” he stressed.

Sofia Pacheco, Co-Founder Of Onergia, At The Cooperative'S Headquarters In Puebla, Mexico.
Sofia Pacheco, co-founder of Onergia, at the cooperative’s headquarters in Puebla, Mexico.monica fur

power to native people

Pacheco and another engineer, Orlando Huertas, came to Quetzaln in 2017 as employees of a solar panel company. “I was tired of working only for profit. We wanted this technology to be available to people with low incomes (…) Everything changed when our boss sent us to Quetzalcan, where we participated in a gathering of 10,000 people who were at the climax of their struggles . It had an incredible effect on me,” he recalls.

At that time, the social movement had managed to prevent the construction of a high voltage line by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). “We marched and camped for nine months to make sure the company would not return. During this time, the idea of ​​producing our own energy was born”, explains Villa.

An expert report published a year ago concluded that 36.7% of households in Mexico suffer from energy poverty.

Months later, Pacheco and Huertas resigned from their jobs in order to create Onergia and start their project in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, which has materialized in the implementation of solar panels like a small hotel managed by the Villa Cooperative. “Creating an installation that would remain stable despite the winds and rain was a challenge,” admits Pacheco. The energy generated when the sun is up serves the needs of the eco-hotel and on cloudy days they have to rely on power lines. Bimonthly receipts have fallen from 7,000 Mexican pesos (350 euros) to 500 (25 euros).

In Cuetzalan, cobblestone streets dotted with vermilion and white houses and food stalls lead to the cafes of Tosepan Titataniske, which means “United We Will Win” in the Nahuatl language, a cooperative that has been active for 45 years with 35,000 There are more than … “Thanks to the 22 panels installed on the roof, we now have electricity even in stormy weather, when blackouts usually occur,” explains Rumberto Ramirez, the store’s maintenance manager.

In a city with frequent blackouts, there are a total of 160 solar panels that reach even some private homes, which represents a real technical and training challenge for residents to get them working properly, Pacheco admits. And Onergia’s commitment to local communities also takes the form of setting up power workshops and panels for young people. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 27 people participated, including Saturnino Moreno, Benito Hernández and Ocotlán Macari, who had already formed their own electricians cooperative, called Tonalsi, meaning “little sun”. “I’ve always had a passion for electrical work. Sometimes our customers look at me weird because I’m a woman, but my coworkers are always supportive of me,” explains Macari, 24, as she hugs her nine-month-old daughter, Sophia.

Benito Hernandez, Cecilia Castillo, Ocotlán Macari And Saturnino Moreno Mazual Are Among Several Young People In The City Who Have Been Trained By The Onergia Cooperative To Install Solar Panels.
Benito Hernandez, Cecilia Castillo, Ocotlán Macari and Saturnino Moreno Mazual are among several young people in the city who have been trained by the Onergia Cooperative to install solar panels.monica fur

Following these concrete projects beats a more ambitious one, that of reducing inequalities. An expert report published a year ago concluded that 36.7% of households in Mexico suffer from energy poverty. In other words, more than 46.6 million Mexicans do not have full access to quality supplies, whether fuel products or electricity. “We have to forget that governments are going to solve the crisis. We must focus on community projects that are providing immediate alternatives and questioning the system in the face of resistance to megaprojects. It is a paradigm shift that comes from indigenous peoples who have always taken care of simple things”, explains Carla Vazquez from the Rosa Luxemburg Mexico Foundation, who has worked on a project to locate 700 alternative community renewable energy projects in rural areas. and urban areas of nine Latin American countries.

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