It was a water leak that started a social movement in the Nuevo Pantoja neighborhood on May 15 that ended with 11 injured state police officers and dozens of bloodied residents. The payment that inhabitants had to make for water—up to 700 per family—was unsustainable, and they demanded a solution.
Residents blocked the Manuel Zavala bypass, in the midst of the contingency and during the construction of El Pípila underpass. The blockade achieved something: their water rate will be 150 pesos per family as of Jan 1, 2021 (currently it is 200 pesos). Further, a budget was approved by the local authority so that an area of Nuevo Pantoja that did not have electricity will now be connected. Some inhabitants were given heaters and solar panels, firm flooring was installed, walls were plastered, and other programs were carried out worth about 15 million pesos. And yet, not everyone is happy.
The neighborhood is divided into two parts by the Manuel Zavala Bypass: the north side has full services, while the south side even lacks sewer drainage, although there will soon be electricity.
On Sun., Nov. 30, a dozen residents of southern Nuevo Pantoja staged another protest by blocking the unpaved road that runs through their community, which was used as an alternative route to reduce traffic congestion during the construction of the underpass. After the blockade Atención spoke with two neighbors, Patricia and Victoria. The women said that residents had decided to block traffic because the administration had committed from the beginning of the construction of the El Pípila underpass to hose down the dirt at least three times a day and thus avoid constant dust, as well as to place speed bumps, and assign traffic officers to the area. “Things that they did not [entirely] comply with.”
That day, some drivers, annoyed at the blocked area, decided to drive over the rocks that residents had placed on the road, and some minors spontaneously threw stones at the vehicles. Some residents slept there to keep watch. The next day, the administration sent water trucks to hose down the road, built the speed bumps, and sent in traffic officers, but now the request of the small group was different: “We want the [city government] secretary to come here.” They continued the blockade arguing that the government supported some, but not all.
They brought up the water issue again. They had one hydrant and in 2019 “Miguel,” a SAPASMA worker, charged each inhabitant up to 13,000 pesos to connect their water and sewer drainage. It turned out that SAPASMA did not know about this until a pipe broke —and then there was trouble. They also accused the ejido commissioner (common lands authority) of usurping the post.
Across the dividing line
More than 100 years after the 1910 Mexican Revolution and the subsequent agrarian movement, nicknamed “Land and Freedom,” the lands given to community groups remain legally irregular. Those inconsistencies are what prevent local authorities from investing in infrastructure. In Mexico there are almost 30,000 ejidos, 56 of which are in San Miguel, and one of which is Nuevo Pantoja. It has its own internal conflicts, although one group avoided the confrontation after the closure that generated vehicular chaos days after inaugurating the underpass, which was not entirely habilitated
Nuevo Pantoja is made up of 356 hectares. Part of the area was expropriated from the Araiza family by the federal government and handed over to the citizens of Pantoja, who in 1969 were impacted by flooding and the inauguration of the Ignacio Allende Dam.
There were 33 men who, since 1950, requested that the federation provide them with an endowment of land. They benefited from the territory between the Allende neighborhood, La Lejona, and Estancia. In 1970 the new settlers arrived to occupy the area that they disputed in courts with the now deceased Raúl Araiza. “We fought him in court, and we won each time. The land is ours, and if someone expropriated it, it was the government; later he looked for the federation to compensate him,” José Luís Servín, Nuevo Pantoja’s ejidal commissioner told Atención.
We spoke to the commissioner sitting on stones and cans of paint along with a group of women on an unpaved street. First, he explained that he was elected by the 32 ejidatarios (common land owners) as ejidal commissioner; however, the Guanajuato delegation of the National Agrarian Registry (RAN) cannot find the assembly minutes, and the reason is simple: “when we went to take the minutes, RAN was already closed, but according to our regulations, the act is valid and accepted by the authorities.” RAN closed its offices in March, then opened in October, and closed again on Nov. 9 with the change of epidemiological traffic light from yellow to orange.
José Luís Servín, Nuevo Pantoja’s ejidal commissioner, told Atención, “Here the streets are already open, we have drinking water, the hydrant was placed on the other side . The authorities only want to support us. In fact, those women shouldn’t be blocking the road. They have turned the issue into a political one—Patricia is a member of Antorcha Campesina,” said Servín. Antorcha Campesina (Peasant Torch) is a PRI collective.
“Many inhabitants have already come to see me [requesting] that we open the street, but there needs to be sanity. We are peaceful, and they have their reasons for being there, but I tell you, the issue is political. I don’t know what they want.”
Another woman with whom Atención spoke said that she is proud to be part of the proactive group. She also said that, together with workers of the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), she helped placing light poles in order to get electricity sooner.
They will continue to receive support despite being an irregular area
Gonzalo González, Secretary of Government and City Council, spoke with Atención. He explained that since the beginning of the current municipal administration the area’s problems have been addressed. The administration supports whatever is feasible. “We have supported them from the beginning with hydrants. [It was] one way we saw [we could help] without breaking the law and give them water. They made a distribution network without authorization by SAPASMA.” Regarding “Miguel,” whom the inhabitants mentioned as a coyote (smuggler) in the process of building the network, González said, “If that is the case, they can sue him and demand that he return the money. He did it in his personal capacity.”
On the issue of water, which remains contentious on the southern side of Nuevo Pantoja, González confirmed that the administration has offered to improve the area’s infrastructure, but people have resisted, and that the water charges were high because there was major leakage; “More water was wasted than consumed. Half a year ago they were told that most of what they paid was for leakage. Now the network is closed at night; they paid 700 pesos, now they pay 200, and as of Jan 1, 2021 they’ll pay 150 pesos. We have supported the residents with cisterns and solar panels; damaged houses were repaired. They have been fixed and were even given flooring; they have not been left alone,” he concluded.