A world addicted to the consumption of chemical beverages with negative nutritional value — responsible for filling hospital beds across earth — is quickly realizing this habit comes with a price outside of currency and health problems. Water. The residents of San Felipe Ecatepec, an Indigenous town three miles outside of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, in southern Mexico have watched their water wells literally dry up in only a few years — thanks to Coca-Cola.
Juan Urbano, former president of the Communal Territory of San Felipe Ecatepec, says the water is drying up thanks to the people’s thirst for this chemical concoction known as Coca-Cola.
“Many people don’t drink pozol anymore,” Urbano told Truth Out. “They’ve replaced it with Coca-Cola.” Pozol is a drink made from fermented corn dough that was popular among corn farmers and their communities. However, that is all changing.
In between San Felipe and the next town over, there lies a Coca-Cola bottling plant — which, in order to keep up with demand — consumed over 1.08 million gallons of water PER DAY just last year.
As Truth Out reports:
San Felipe Ecatepec is one of thousands of towns across Mexico where corporate water consumption has taken precedence over local need. Advocates are scrambling to rein in a chain of public health consequences.
Chiapas has the highest renewable water resources per capita in all of Mexico. Yet, the tap water here is rarely safe to drink. And in rural Chiapas, more than one in three people do not have running water. Urbano describes how families in San Felipe frequently get sick from drinking contaminated well water.
“We have been asking the government to install a deep well in the community for 12 years,” says Urbano. “We’ve gone to the municipal, state and federal governments, but they’ve done nothing.”
In spite of the Mexican Constitution requiring all municipalities to provide clean water to their citizens, most Mexicans do not have safe drinking water. And now, as the case in San Felipe illustrates, they don’t have any water.
The government’s water quality problem coupled with their special privilege granted to corporations to deplete natural wells has caused a surge in Mexicans being forced to buy on average 1,500 liters of bottled water a year, according to Forbes.
As Truth Out notes:
San Felipe isn’t the only community where wells are running dry. Urbano says other communities near the Coca-Cola plant, such as Los Alcanfores, are also suffering water shortages. Community leaders in the town of Teopisca, 20 miles east of San Cristobal, reached out to García when their wells dried up this year.
On the night of September 7, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Chiapas. Over 90 people were killed in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco. While San Cristobal was not one of the hardest-hit cities, three people died in informal neighborhoods in the north of the city. The impacts of the earthquake on water infrastructure are still being assessed.
García says numerous pipes broke, interrupting water access. “Surely the earthquake damaged underground caves in the aquifer, which could impact aquifer recharge in the future,” says García. “But a study to assess that type of damage would be very costly, and we just don’t have the information right now.”
While local communities struggle to secure water, for Coca-Cola, there is no shortage of water. The bottling plant opened in 1994, the same year the Zapatista uprising put Chiapas in the global spotlight. While the Zapatistas organized in the mountains surrounding San Cristobal, FEMSA began pumping water from Huitepec mountain. The National Water Commission (Conagua) renewed the permit in 2005, and FEMSA now operates two wells.
In Mexico, lax government regulation, fueled by the revolving door between government and industry, helped FEMSA become Coca-Cola’s most important bottler worldwide. Vicente Fox was president of Coca-Cola FEMSA Mexico before being elected Mexican president in 2000.
The corporatist government of Mexico is depriving its citizens of water to allow FEMSA, which operates Coca-Cola plants across the country, to turn 56.9 billion gallons of water a year into something that strips brake dust from your rims.
So, what’s the solution? Is it to ban Coca-Cola?
No. Obviously, we’ve seen what happens when the government gets involved with “regulating” corporations. This creates a revolving door of “experts and officials” who move back and forth between government and private sectors. All this does is allow the corporations to write themselves legislation that facilitates the “legal” fleecing of the citizens. If you doubt this claim, look at the fact that FEMSA paid for legal permits for access to the 40 aquifers it can use. They did everything by the book — because the book is broken — on purpose.
As Truth Out notes, Civil society organizations published the Report on Violations of Human Right to Drinking Water and Sanitation in Mexico, this year, which called out Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Danone for profiting off Mexico’s water resources without paying fairly. The report states that the water fees the companies pay “are completely ridiculous compared to the profits that these companies make off the water.” They report that FEMSA pays 2,600 pesos ($146 USD) for each of its water permits in Mexico.
If you truly want to stop Coca-Cola, stop drinking it. If you want to stop a company from raping a town’s natural resources, stop funding that company through the purchase of their products. Stop voting at the ballot box for people you know will sell you out — and start voting with your dollar.
Only through exposing their corruption and defunding them will these corporations and their enablers in government ever be put in check. The time for action is now.