Mexico stalls on polemic bill that critics say would privatize water
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Mexico stalls on polemic bill that critics say would privatize water

After intense pressure from civil society, Mexico’s Congress has suspended discussion of a controversial bill that academics and NGOs say would effectively privatize the administration and distribution of water in the country.

Last week, Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, agreed to take the proposed General Water Law off the legislative agenda “until further notice” due to disagreement over the implications of the polemic bill.

Manlio Beltrones of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which proposed the new law, explained that the delay will be “for whatever time is necessary so that doubts and misinformation that certain politicians have taken up as their campaign, can be cleared up.”

Lawmakers from the PRI, its allies in the Green Party (PVEM), and the right-wing opposition National Action Party (PAN), had approved the bill at committee stage, but a coalition of leftist legislators then raised concerns that it would hand control of Mexico’s water supply over to the mining, energy and other corporate sectors.

Criticism of the bill

Civil organizations and NGOs have asked lawmakers to reject the bill, with the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water slamming it as “unsustainable, unfair and discriminatory.”

Several environmental organizations have argued that the bill provides only the most minimal protection against the pollution of Mexico’s water supply, as well as enabling privatization of the resource and the use of water in fracking to extract shale gas.

Legal experts have also questioned the bill’s legality, with Maria del Carmen Carmona, a researcher from Mexico City’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), arguing that it is unconstitutional because it “violates the human right to water and threatens the right to health and nutrition.”

Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper noted in an editorial that the bill also “surreptitiously eliminates the guarantee of 50 liters of water per individual” – the minimum amount for basic human needs recommended by the World Health Organization.

Other opposition politicians warned that the proposed legislation would cause hikes in the cost of water, with Mexico City being stripped of its water subsidies, while those who are unable to pay would be left without access to water.

Others expressed concern that the bill does not recognize the preferential right of indigenous communities to water or their right to be consulted, informed and give consent before any changes are made that affect access to water.

Moreover, Mexican media outlet Animal Politico noted that the proposed law would leave vulnerable communities with no legal recourse if their homes were to be flooded in order to make way for hydroelectric plants.

Corporate interests

The chief beneficiaries of the General Water Law would reportedly include Grupo Higa, a controversial government contractor that is currently building a major aqueduct between Veracruz and Monterrey.

Grupo Higa has been the focus of anticorruption demonstrations in recent months after evidence emerged that it won concessions worth hundreds of millions of dollars while building luxury mansions for President Enrique Peña Nieto, his wife, Angélica Rivera, and Mexico’s finance minister, Luis Videgaray.

Multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola and Nestle would also reportedly benefit from the bill, as opposition lawmakers claim it would allow them to win lucrative concessions to exploit Mexico’s water supply for use in their bottled drink products.

In short, the consensus among those outside of Mexico’s ruling elite is that the passage of the General Water Law would represent a triumph of the private sector over public interests and basic human rights.

There are already almost nine million Mexicans with no access to clean water and it seems clear that this bill – which could yet be resurrected at any time – would further erode the public right to water.

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