When “national interest” and “national security” militarize an environmental struggle

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo from El Tema episode with Sofía Castillo commenting on the water conflict related to the Boquilla dam in Chihuahua.

Some pipelines that have encountered Indigenous resistance have been declared to be in “the national interest” by the Government of Canada.

This framing can serve to criminalize Indigenous land defenders seeking to uphold their right to free, prior and informed consent and their sovereignty over unceded territories against megaprojects that can result in environmental harm to their lands.

For instance, a document from the Government Operations Centre, an office of the Department of Public Safety that identifies potential threats to “Canada’s national interest” references Unist’ot’en land defenders opposed to the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline.

Similarly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also framed the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline being built on Secwepemc territory in this way.

Trudeau has stated: “This is a pipeline in the national interest and will get built.”

The language of “critical infrastructure” has also been used in the province of Alberta to criminalize opposition to megaprojects.

The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act sees pipelines, rail lines, hydroelectric dams and more as essential infrastructure. Those who block this infrastructure can be arrested without warrant and fined up to $10,000 and serve up to six months in jail for a first offence.

A similar use of language appears to be emerging in Mexico.

Now, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has published a Presidential Agreement decree for the automatic approval of projects that employs the language of national security.

Educa Oaxaca has commented: “This agreement orders agencies to grant the necessary permits to start the projects or works that are considered a priority for the government declaring them of national security and public interest.”

It adds: “Among the projects benefiting from this Agreement would be the Felipe Angeles International Airport [that the Army is building at the military installation known as Santa Lucia Air Force Base near Mexico City], the Dos Bocas Refinery [where the military has intervened against a labour dispute that has stalled the construction of the refinery] and the Mayan Train [being built without Indigenous consent], which could be considered as of public interest and national security.”

It would also advance Isthmus of Tehuantepec corridor projects (that involve 200 kilometres of rail line, the modernization of ports, and 10 new industrial parks along the freight line).

Diego Álvarez Ampudia, a lawyer and specialist in infrastructure and energy project financing, says: “It’s very worrying that these projects are being classified as matters of national security.”

He adds: “There, what they want to do is restrict access to information on these projects, because there’s an exception under the federal law on transparency and freedom of information, which says information may be withheld on matters of national security.”

He also cautions: “The intention is clearly to make it impossible to legally reverse project authorizations.”

Numerous organizations, including the “Tlachinollan” Human Rights Centre, have also signed a letter that warns: “The Agreement aims to eliminate obligations to which the Mexican State has committed and must comply before granting any type of authorization for megaprojects, such as the realization of consultation procedures and prior, free and informed consent, or the realization of previous studies of social, environmental and rights impact. , which are indispensable for indigenous and comparable peoples to make an informed decision regarding such projects.”

And La Coperacha reports that Mixtec researcher Francisco López Bárcenas has “highlighted some risks that the agreement entails, such as the invasion of indigenous territories without consulting or passing over their own governments.”

Beyond this concern, there is already the militarization of land and water defence.

In this El Tema video, Sofía Castillo, a member of Wikipolítica Chihuahua, speaks about the conflict related to the Boquilla dam.

She says: “A decree was issued by the Mexican government, stipulating that the profits from our hydraulic resources our country’s water, was now a matter of national security. From there on, officially … the regional conflict was now militarized.”

We continue to follow these issues with concern.

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