LA BOQUILLA DAM, Chihuahua, Mexico (Reuters) – Two people died in a gunfight with Mexico’s military police near a protest at a dam that diverts the water to the United States, the National Guard said on Wednesday, September 9th, as tensions rose between protesters and officials in the drought-hit region.
Mexicans in the northern border state of Chihuahua, angry at the water being funneled across the border, on Tuesday evening had hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at security troops, eventually occupying the La Boquilla dam and closing the sluice gates.
The violence comes amid plans to divert additional water to the United States due to the so-called ‘water debt’ Mexico has accumulated as part of a bilateral treaty that regulates water sharing between the neighbors.
The National Guard said on Twitter that some of its agents from La Boquilla on Tuesday night detained three people found with tear gas and a firearm ammunition magazine, and took them for processing to the city of Delicias.
There, the National Guard unit was shot at by armed civilians and “repelled the aggression,” according to the statement.
The clash led to one death on site, while another person who was injured died later in hospital.
A Reuters witness said groups of residents in towns surrounding the La Boquilla dam clashed with National Guard troops earlier on Tuesday after they refused to turn off the dam floodgates.
The residents lobbed Molotov cocktails, rocks and sticks at the security forces, who were clad in riot gear and retaliated with tear gas, the witness said and images show. Eventually, the protesters stormed the dam premises and shut the floodgates themselves.
“For us, it is a great satisfaction, something to be proud of, (and) a triumph for the people in rescuing the water,” said Abel Alvarado Martinez, an owner of a bakery in a nearby town, who was at the protests.
The interior ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has sought to assuage the concerns of Mexican farmers and voters in the north about water rights, while protecting delicate relations with the United States.
Several other demonstrations have turned violent over water sharing with the United States this year, with Mexican farmers warning the drought means Mexico should not divert any water right now.
Lopez Obrador last week suggested the United Nations could be asked to analyze water allocation plans, and asked the Chihuahua people to trust he would not leave them without water.
He also warned Mexico faced “sanctions” if it did not divert water after building up a deficit in recent years by receiving more water than it has given back. “Do not forget that there are elections in the United States,” Lopez Obrador said.
by José Luis González
(Additional reporting and writing by Drazen Jorgic and Daina Beth Solomon, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
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