The New York Times - USA (2020-10-16)

(Antfer) #1


threatened by climate change —
and of the kind of conflict that may
become more common with in-
creasingly extreme weather.
Along the arid border region,
water rights are governed by a
decades-old treaty that compels
the United States and Mexico to
share the flows of the Colorado
and Rio Grande rivers, with each
side sending water to the other.
Mexico has fallen far behind on its
obligations to the United States
and is now facing a deadline to de-
liver the water this month.
But this has been one of the dri-
est years in the last three decades
for Chihuahua, the Mexican bor-
der state responsible for sending
the bulk of the water Mexico owes.
Its farmers have rebelled, worried
that losing any more water will
rob them of a chance for a healthy
harvest next year.
“These tensions, these tenden-
cies, are already there, and
they’re just made so much worse
by climate change,” said Christo-
pher Scott, a professor of water re-
sources policy at the University of
Arizona. “They are in a fight for
their lives, because no water, no
agriculture; no agriculture, no ru-
ral communities.”
Since February, when federal
forces first occupied the dam to
ensure water deliveries to the
United States continued, activists
in Chihuahua have burned gov-
ernment buildings, destroyed
cars and briefly held a group of po-
liticians hostage. For weeks,
they’ve blocked a major railroad
used to ferry industrial goods be-
tween Mexico and the United
Their revolt has alarmed farm-
ers and politicians in Texas. Greg
Abbott, the state’s Republican
governor, appealed to Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo last month,

demanding that he persuade
Mexico to deliver the water by the
deadline next week, or risk inflict-
ing pain on American farmers.
Mexico’s president, Andrés
Manuel López Obrador, who has
repeatedly bent to President
Trump’s demands on immigra-
tion, has vowed that his country
will make good on its water obliga-
tions to the United States —
whether the state of Chihuahua
likes it or not.
He sent hundreds of members
of the National Guard to protect
Chihuahua’s dams, and his gov-
ernment temporarily froze bank
accounts belonging to the city
where many of the protesters live.
For farmers, the government’s
stance is a betrayal.
Mr. Velderrain, 42, said he
never saw himself as the type of
person who would lead hundreds
over a hill to overwhelm a group of
soldiers protecting a cache of au-
tomatic weapons. But there he
was in a video posted on Face-
book, escorting a Mexican general
out of the Boquilla Dam on the day
he led the takeover.
Surprised and heavily outnum-
bered, the National Guard quickly
surrendered. Later that day, one
protester was shot and killed by
the National Guard.
“We have always dedicated our-
selves to work; we’ve never been
known as protesters,” Mr. Velder-
rain said back on his farm, shuck-
ing an ear of corn that wasn’t quite
ready for harvest. “What hap-
pened at the Boquilla dam was im-
pressive, because we took off our
farmer clothes and put on the uni-
form of guerrilla fighters.”
The federal government argues
that the protesting farmers are
also hurting other Mexicans by
preventing water from flowing to
their compatriots downstream,
and that the growers would still
have access to at least 60 percent
of the water they need for next

“Agriculture, like any other pro-
fession, has risks,” said Blanca
Jiménez, the head of Mexico’s Na-
tional Water Commission. “One of
the risks is that there are years
when it rains more and years
when it rains less.”
With the intensity of the
drought in Chihuahua this year,
Mexico has fallen far behind on its
water shipments to the United
States. It now has to send more
than 50 percent of its average an-
nual water payment in a matter of
weeks. The Mexican government
insists it will still comply, despite
the takeover of the dam, which
spans the Conchos River, a major
tributary of the Rio Grande. But
some Texans have their doubts.
“It’s just not going to happen,
unless a storm develops and helps

Mexico, which is normally what
they count on,” said Sonny Hino-
josa, the general manager of an ir-
rigation district in Hidalgo
County, Texas. “They gamble and
hope that a storm or mother na-
ture will bail them out.”
Texans also contend that, on
balance, Mexico benefits more
from the water-sharing agree-
ment between the two countries,

signed in 1944, than they do. Mr.
Abbott, the state’s governor, has
pointed out that the United States
sends Mexico about four times as
much water as it receives from its
The treaty doesn’t punish either
side for shirking its duties but, ea-
ger to avoid conflict, Mexico is
scrambling to find a way to meet
its water obligations as the dead-
line nears. One of the likeliest so-
lutions is that Mexico will hand
over a significant amount of the
water it owns in reservoirs, nor-
mally used by more than a dozen
Mexican cities. In exchange, Mex-
ico has asked the United States to
lend it drinking water for those
cities, if Mexico ends up running
Part of the problem, scientists
say, is that Mexico’s need for wa-
ter has grown since the signing of
the North American Free Trade
Agreement in the 1990s, as more
people settled in the country’s dry

border region and agricultural
production ramped up to satisfy
American consumers.
Francisco Marta, a 23-year-old
who manages his father’s corn
and alfalfa fields, suspects that his
fellow farmers don’t have the
Mexican president’s sympathies
in the water dispute because they
are generally not members of his
poor and working class political
base. The farmers live in the
north, traditionally a stronghold
of the conservative opposition
against Mr. López Obrador, who
ran on a leftist platform.
“He believes that we are rich
and that nothing will happen to us
if we don’t work next year, but
that’s not true," Mr. Marta said. “I
myself will migrate if I don’t have
anywhere to work here.”
Mr. López Obrador has accused
politicians and “big agriculture”
of fomenting strife in Chihuahua,
which, he said at a recent news
conference, “has nothing to do
with small farmers.”
But Jéssica Silva, 35, the pro-
tester who was killed the day the
farmers took the Boquilla Dam,
didn’t have a farm of her own, her
parents said. She and her hus-
band, Jaime Torres, rented about
22 acres of pecan trees and helped
her parents cultivate an even
smaller plot.
“She had so many plans,” said
Ms. Silva’s mother, Justina Za-
marripa, tears falling into the
creases of her cheeks.
The National Guard shot Ms.
Silva several times in the back
through the window of her hus-
band’s truck. He was wounded but
“She was defending what be-
longs to us,” said her father, José
Luis Silva.
In a photo her parents have of
the two just after the attack, Ms.
Silva is slumped over in the pas-
senger seat, wearing her seatbelt
and a mask to protect against the
“She was always so cautious,”
her mother said.

Receding water levels near the Boquilla Dam. “These tensions,
these tendencies, are already there, and they’re just made so
much worse by climate change,” one water policy expert said.


The parents of Jéssica Silva, who was killed while protesting, holding up a portrait of her.

From Page A


El PasoEll Paso

Conchos R.n sss

Rio GranR dede






Battle Over Water as Drought

Parches Both U.S. and Mexico

MOSCOW — After more than a
week in hiding following a dis-
puted election, the president of
Kyrgyzstan — Central Asia’s only
democracy — on Thursday an-
nounced his plans to resign, say-
ing he did not want to go down in
history as a leader “who shed
blood and shot at his own citi-
In a statement issued from an
undisclosed location, the presi-
dent, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, said
he had “taken a decision to re-
sign,” though he did not specify
whether he had already quit.
Just a few hours earlier, Mr.
Jeebenkov had assured a delega-
tion of former senior officials and
political veterans that he had no
plans to step down and would
stand firm against a power grab
widely believed to be backed by
criminal elements.
Feliks Kulov, a former prime
minister who met with the presi-
dent on Thursday morning,

voiced concern over Mr. Jeen-
bekov’s abrupt change of heart,
speculating in a post on Facebook
that the leader had been
“presented with a choice: volun-
tary resignation or a real war.”
The day’s dizzying events,
which left a freed prisoner in
charge of the government as
prime minister, seemed to signal
the end of what began as a protest
by mainstream opposition forces
over a rigged election and degen-
erated last week into a reign of
chaos fueled by thugs and crimi-
Mr. Jeenbekov vanished from
view after protesters, enraged by
Oct. 4 parliamentary elections
that were marred by widespread
vote-buying, stormed the presi-
dent’s office and other govern-
ment buildings in the capital,
Bishkek. He was rumored to have
taken refuge in a Russian military
air base in the town of Kant, about
12 miles from Bishkek, but his ex-
act whereabouts remained un-

His departure is the third time
in 15 years that violent protests
have toppled a president of Kyr-
gyzstan, the only country in the
region with a vibrant civil society,
a relatively free press and regular
competitive elections for Parlia-
ment and the presidency.
The Kremlin, which in 2010
helped engineer the toppling of a
Kyrgyz president who had re-
sisted Russian pressure to shut
down a since closed United States
air base in his country, responded
coolly to the announcement on
Thursday. Mr. Jeenbekov has had
good relations with President Vla-
dimir V. Putin of Russia.
Russia is watching the events in
Bishkek “very closely,” Mr. Putin’s
spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told
journalists in Moscow, and wants
“the situation there to calm down
as soon as possible.”
But he added that Russia, which
suspended financial aid to Kyr-
gyzstan after last week’s unrest,
would not resume funding until
the country has a functioning gov-

ernment. He noted that it cur-
rently has no cabinet and that the
president’s resignation cannot
take effect until approved by Par-
With the president apparently
out of the way, his role as head of
state — and commander in chief of
the armed forces — will be taken

by the speaker of Parliament, who
has also come under mounting
pressure to resign.
In what is formally a parliamen-
tary democracy, however, the gov-
erning of Kyrgyzstan falls to
Sadyr Japarov, a convicted kid-
napper who was sprung from jail
last week by antigovernment pro-
testers. He was named prime min-

ister on Saturday by lawmakers
who gathered for an unusual and
his opponents say illegal session
without a quorum at the presi-
dent’s official residence.
In announcing his resignation,
President Jeenbekov, who last
week ordered troops into the capi-
tal to restore order, called on Mr.
Japaraov and rival politicians to
“withdraw their supporters from
the capital and give back a peace-
ful life to the people of Bishkek.”
Hundreds of protesters — some
of them Mr. Japarov’s supporters,
but also a group that included men
whom observers in Bishkek de-
scribed as paid thugs linked to
criminal groups — gathered out-
side the president’s official resi-
dence on Thursday to demand
that Mr. Jeenbekov give up the
A group of Mr. Japarov’s follow-
ers, mostly young men, clashed
violently last week with support-
ers of another would-be prime
minister. Since that confrontation,
there have been growing fears

that Mr. Japarov, reviled by his
critics as a bare-knuckled nation-
alist rabble-rouser, would again
mobilize his followers if the presi-
dent did not step down.
Mr. Jeenbekov, who was elected
in 2017, had said he would leave of-
fice once calm returned to the cap-
ital, which has in recent days been
free of the turmoil that engulfed it
last week.
Mr. Japarov, the new prime min-
ister, has long insisted that his
2017 conviction on charges of or-
ganizing the kidnapping of a re-
gional governor was politically
motivated in a country where
each new government has often
jailed members of the previous
one and rival politicians. Mr. Jeen-
bekov had his presidential prede-
cessor, Almazbek Atambayev, ar-
rested and jailed on corruption
charges soon after taking office.
Mr. Atambayev, who was serv-
ing an 11-year sentence, was
among those sprung from jail last
week, along with Mr. Japarov. He
was rearrested on Saturday.

After Disputed Election, Kyrgyzstan President Says From Hiding He’s Quitting


The third time in 15

years that protests

have toppled a leader.

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