Mexico: Indigenous activists launch global campaign against water bottling transnationals

February 22, 2022
Bonafont pplant, Mexico.
Following the military seizure of the space, a private security guard is on duty inside the old Bonafont plant, which was occupied by Indigenous activists and turned into a community centre. Photo: Tamara Pearson

Twenty Indigenous Nahua communities in Mexico, together with hundreds of other organisations, are calling for a boycott of water bottling companies, such as France’s Danone.

They delivered the call on February 15, hours after they were violently removed by the military from the community centre they had built upon what was previously a water-bottling plant, owned by Danone’s Bonafont brand.

In a clear move to support the transnational company, the military destroyed the Indigenous community centre, called Altepelmecalli (house of the people). Hundreds of national guard and state and local security forces entered the space at 1.20am, threatened activists on guard and removed them, then dismantled their kitchen and eating area, and painted over all identifying signs and murals.

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The eating area and entrance to the space before it was seized by the military. Photo: Tamara Pearson

The activists had used the space for national and local events, free health care, women’s organising, trade workshops, and agro-ecology. They don’t know what has happened to their pigs, chickens, sheep and rabbits, nor to the computers and cameras in their community television space, or their library of books.

They closed the Bonafont plant 11 months ago, after the 20 communities in the volcanic region of Puebla state found themselves facing water scarcity thanks to Bonafont’s excessive extraction.

While Danone exploits cheap labour and resources in poor countries (68% of its employees are in such countries), a majority of its sales are in Europe, the United States and Canada.

Danone has 33 plants in Mexico, but its profits don’t stay in the country. The multinational’s annual revenue is about €24 billion euros. The Bonafont brand has just five plants in Mexico, but it sells bottled water to 54 million Mexicans and residents who lack access to drinkable tap water — largely thanks to contamination by other foreign and local industries. It has annual sales of US$222 million, from bottling water that already belongs to Mexicans.

Coca-Cola also bottles Mexico’s water and sells it. As it does, it drains wells and water tables, leaving locals without water and forced to buy packaged drinks.

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Bonafont water, Mexico
A chicken roams freely inside the community space, days before the military seized it. Photo: Tamara Pearson

Solidarity and a national and global campaign

Hundreds of Mexican organisations, including environment groups, Indigenous organisations, media collectives, community radio stations, feminist movements, migrant shelters, human rights NGOs and organisations, student networks, national farmers’ organisations, culture collectives and workers’ unions signed on to a statement declaring their opposition to the military seizure of the Indigenous community space.

They demand an end to the “commercialisation of water” and the cessation of repression “against those who defend water and life”. They encourage Mexicans to boycott all food by Danone, including its various brands such as Bonafont, Vitalinea and Oikos (yogurt), Danette (custard and flan) “and all the company’s other junk food”.

Market workers in Puebla expressed solidarity with People United, saying the Mexican National Guard were working for the French (referring to Danone). And the Zapatistas declared the Mexican government is responsible for “protecting the Bonafont company, which hoards, privatises, dispossess, and profits in an immoral way from the water of our people.” They called on people in Europe to mobilise and take a stand against Danone and its headquarters and outlets there.

[Tamara Pearson is a journalist in Puebla, Mexico, and author of The Butterfly Prison. Her writings can be found at her blog. Twitter: @pajaritaroja]

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