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The Rivers of Mexico

IRN’s Rivers of Mexico Campaign focuses on large–scale hydropower infrastructure projects affecting the rivers, ecosystems and indigenous peoples of Mexico

Reservoir of Malpaso Dam in Chiapas

Reservoir of Malpaso Dam in Chiapas.
Credit: Gustavo Castro
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The rivers of Mexico have provided fish, transportation, and recreation for the Mexican people throughout the ages. The ancient culture of the Olmeca developed along the Grijalva and Papaloapa Rivers; and the "The Great Way," a large Pre–Columbian Maya city, was located by the Usumacinta River on the border with Guatemala. Three main river systems traverse the rugged Mexican territory: the Atlantic river system, the Pacific river system, and the central system. But the rivers of Mexico and communities living alongside them are under threat.

Twenty large dams have already been built on Mexico’s rivers. Mexico boasts the highest dam in the Americas and the sixth largest dam in the world: the Chicoasén Dam in Chiapas State. Mexico’s dams have forcibly displaced more than 167,000 people. The Temascal Dam in Oaxaca displaced close to 25,000 Mazatec indigenous peoples, a nation that spoke 56 languages. Most were not compensated for their land and losses, and when they protested their homes were set on fire. Promises of electricity and irrigation were not met, and close to 200 displaced people died.

Today, communities living along the Papagayo, Usumacinta, Grijalva and many other rivers are threatened by plans to build hydropower dams to power vast regional development programs. The Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), a massive infrastructure plan for Mesoamerica, includes plans to interconnect the electricity system of the region, to be fueled mostly by hydropower. Financing for the grid and the PPP comes from a range of sources, including the Inter–American Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE).

Opposition to dams by affected communities has grown, and in 2004 Mexican activists, dam–affected peoples and NGOs joined together to form the Mexican Movement of Peoples Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers (MAPDER). MAPDER aims to defend rivers, water, land and communities from dams; to achieve reparations for the damages caused by existing dams; and to demand the decommissioning of dams that present a danger to communities. MAPDER has met twice so far: once at the site of the La Parota Dam in Guerrero State, and in early 2005 at the site of the proposed Arcediano Dam in the State of Jalisco. A third meeting took place in Mexico City in March, 2006.

Today, IRN is supporting the struggle of the communities affected by La Parota Dam in their efforts to stop the project. The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) of Mexico is trying to push through project approval without following the required procedures for consultation with affected communities, and a huge campaign by affected communities is underway.

latest additions

Caravan of Mexican Dam Affected Peoples

Caravan of Mexican dam affected peoples (May 22–30, 2006) ends after traveling through five states and Mexico City. They demand that President Fox stops plans for construction of dams in Mexico. This document is in Spanish.

June 1, 2006


Third Mapder Forum

This declaration and its resolutions result from the Third Mapder Forum in Mexico City.

March 18, 2006


Second Mapder Forum

This declaration and its resolutions result from the Second Mapder Forum at Arcediano.

March 14, 2005

Additional Information

Monti Aguirre, Latin America Campaigner

International Rivers Network


Phone: +1 510-848-1155