Binational Opposition to Waste Dump on US-Mexico Border

Mass opposition continues to boil against plans for a large toxic waste dump near the Sonora-Arizona border. Granted a federal permit in 2005 by Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), the planned facility, known as Cimari, would have the capacity to handle upwards of 3,381,948 cubic meters of toxic wastes, with an estimated 45,000 tons of the hazardous substances expected to be processed each year. If the project attains final approval, Cimari will open its gates about 12 miles from the Mexican Tohono O'odham indigenous community of Quitovac, and 18 miles from the Sonora border town of Sonoyta.

Organizing on both sides of the border, activists in Mexico and the United States oppose Cimari on several grounds. Besides its proximity to sacred indigenous land, the planned dump site is near a desert biosphere, located close to earthquake-prone zones, and situated in an area where mammoth fossils have been found.

Anti-dump organizers fear a leak from a future toxic waste confinement facility could even jeopardize the Sea of Cortez and the tourist resort of Puerto Peñasco.

"Underground streams of water that are in the area where Cimari is proposed flow into the Sea of Cortez (near Puerto Peñasco)," said Petra Santos Ortiz, a Sonora state legislator for the PRD party." In the future (Puerto Peñasco) could suffer damage along with the world's greatest biodiversity of marine life, as Jacques Cousteau, the renowned French oceanographer, once rated the area."

Although Cimari has received positive nods from Semarnat officials and Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours, the project still has not received a critical rezoning permit from the local municipal government. The company behind the project, Cegire, has conducted three public meetings in an unsuccessful attempt to convince important sectors of the local population to back the dump.

A reporter for the daily La Jornada newspaper tried recently to investigate the current status of the rezoning issue, but he received no return calls from Sonoyta officials or a response to a list of questions he sent them.

As part of a national strategy for the disposal of Mexico's growing mounds of hazardous wastes, Semarnat authorized three depositories during 2005-2006, including Cimari. If constructed, the Sonora depository would be able to accept waste from US-owned companies operating in Mexico.

"I think that our struggle has been exemplary," said Rosa Maria Oleary of the Sonora-based Citizens Committee for Democratic Change, an organization that waged a battle against the now-closed Cytrar hazardous waste facility in Hermosillo during the 1990s. "The municipal authorities, indigenous groups, the public in general and even the local parish, together with environmentalists, have exercised a huge amount of pressure to prevent the construction of this dump, which was going to be used primarily by US companies."

Source: La Jornada, February 16, 2008. Article by Ulises Gutierrez Ruelas.

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Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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(Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source. FNS can be found at http://frontera.nmsu.edu/)

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey