Boycott of Constellation Brands

Ethical Consumer spoke to Jesus Galaz about Mexicali Resiste, the movement behind the boycott call.

Mexicali’s residents have called for a boycott of Constellation Brands, after the company gained access to the region’s drinking-water supply in a series of “shady, undocumented” deals. Constellation’s new beer factory will drain up to 20 million cubic meters of water every year – or 20% of the city’s annual supply.

Water has a significant history in Mexicali. Can you say something about this?

Mexicali was born a little more than 100 years ago in one of the hottest places on Earth, so water is a symbol not only for prosperity or abundance, but life.

The city itself was made possible thanks to the hard work and dedication of very few people to control the Colorado River and use its water and fertile delta into agricultural use.

In this sense, in Mexicali’s symbolist microcosm, water is inseparable from the sole idea of existing. It is almost impossible to survive the hot summers (reaching 125 degrees Fahrenheit) without an adequate water supply. 

In addition, the Colorado River is in an undefined period of drought that can last for years. 

In January 2017, between 60,000 and 80,000 people marched on government buildings in Mexicali. They were protesting new taxes as well as laws that would allow companies to raise water prices and cut supplies when consumers failed to pay bills within 90 days. Similar protests have taken place all over Mexico, but why do you think that yours has received so much attention?

Although protests erupted all over Mexico, media attention focused on Mexicali’s civil society, I think, because of the size of our marches (more than 150,000 people in total), the non-violent actions that contrasted with other struggles in Mexico, and because Baja California was the first case in Mexico where, only through public and social pressure, a state law privatizing a natural resource and/or common good —in this case, water— was repealed. 

Mexicali Resiste was formed spontaneously on January 12th, 2017, by an abrupt rise in taxes and in the cost of living for the average working family. But after this first year together, the movement has transformed into a critical community-based, non-partisan assembly. 

Is it difficult to oppose the factory when some believe that it could offer jobs and regeneration for the area? 

Almost all the people I have talked with (and I think this is true also for other Mexicali Resiste members) are opposed to the factory. Ironically (or maybe not), the only people who still support the factory are business-oriented folk. 

However, the majority of the city and the state is still very badly informed. Except for one Tijuana weekly (ZETA), traditional media does not show the government’s constant contradictions or empty statements. Instead, they reproduce their press releases with no comment or analysis. 

Image: Constellation Brands boycott Mexicali Resiste

Activists have been involved in clashes with local police, and several have been arrested. In January 2018, a group of international and national academics and organisations wrote to Mexicali’s authorities criticising “their attempt to criminalise the defence of water” through the imprisonment of six campaign members.

If you are happy to talk about it, what kind of problems or opposition has the campaign faced?

I think that are two kinds of opposition, one that comes from the outside of an organization and another that comes from the inside of an organization. 

From the outside we have problems with almost every local public institution and businesses favoring the establishment: police, Congress, judges, the court system, some bureaucracy, newspapers, radio shows, TV stations, op-ed’s, business clubs, etc. 

Now, inside of the group, I think we have been our most common and obvious problem. I mean that we were so disconnected from each other as citizens and as political beings that coming together without conflict, having dialogues and discussions, reaching agreements or consensus, has been terribly difficult.

We have been doing assemblies for over a year now and it’s still difficult to have a smooth one. But every week we’re working on it and getting better at it. I do think it’s a matter of time and patience. 

You have talked about the shady nature of the deals that have taken place between Constellation and Mexicali’s authorities. The company originally planned to lease water from wells owned by the director of the Department of Economics. After protests forced a change of plan, the company was offered a drinking water line from federal property.

Do you think that the boycott could play a role in redressing the political situation in the region?

Definitely. Perhaps the main reason Mexican authorities are so corrupt is the fact that there is an extremely high rate of impunity. So each Governor or Senator or Mayor can basically do, sign, and sell anything he wants (because almost all are men) from the community to the national or international market. 

If the boycott is successful —that is, if through the boycott, direct action and international solidarity we manage to stop the construction of this brewery—, first of all, it will send a positive message to the majority of people who think it’s impossible to produce any kind of social change, inviting them to be more interested and immerse in political life.

And secondly, it will force the current politicians into a very dangerous situation, perhaps even the possibility of facing a prison sentence. So the next generation of politicians will have to think at least twice before accepting a project like this one without popular support. 

How does it fit into the political situation in Mexico more widely?

Mexico, like many if not most countries in the world, is being sold into pieces by its political establishment, its business class, and its colonial-post-colonial elite.

The buyer, of course, is the Global Market, represented by the giant multinational corporations and mining companies, private banks, stock exchange, and international business centres like the IMF or the World Bank.

In this sense, the fact that almost all of Mexicali’s regional political class is promoting these kind of investments, supports the above thesis: the Market in California demands more beer therefore it has to be satisfied, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if they change the lifestyle of thousands of families or if they kill any number of people, if they disappear local human populations that have lived there for thousands of years, and of course it doesn’t matter at all if, in doing business, the whole eco-system is changed.

Where do you see the campaign going now? What are your hopes for the campaign?

Right now we’re reaching to different groups and organizations across the U.S. who sympathize with the project and/or who have ties to Mexicali or the Baja region (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, New York, Boston, and D.C.) and to a small occupied community in rural Italy.

They are being evicted (or will soon face eviction) by the City of Florence, who is in turn being pressured by Constellation Brands. From what we know, between 4 and 5 years ago a mix of organized and non-organized community groups occupied abandoned city land that had no use.

What they did was re-grow old olive trees, vineyards and many other regional crops to satisfy an internal very local market, as well as provide housing and work for more than a hundred people. And now they’re being kicked out because Constellation Brands wants that land to produce wine. 

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