Two people died in a gunfight with Mexico’s military police near a protest site at a dam that diverts water to the United States, the National Guard has said, 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 funnelled across the border, on Tuesday evening had hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at security forces, eventually occupying the La Boquilla dam and closing the sluice gates.
The violence comes amid plans to divert additional water to the US due to the so-called “water debt” Mexico has accumulated as part of a bilateral treaty that regulates water sharing between the neighbours.
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 magazine, and took them for processing to the city of Delicias.
Con relación a la agresión ocurrida la noche de ayer al personal de GN en la Presa La Boquilla y posteriormente en la Derivadora Andrew Weiss, en Delicias #Chihuahua, fueron detenidas tres personas que portaban granadas de gas lacrimógeno y un cargador para arma de fuego.
— Guardia Nacional (@GN_MEXICO_) September 9, 2020
There, the National Guard unit was shot at by armed civilians and it “repelled the aggression”, according to the statement released on Wednesday.
The clash led to one death on site, while another person who was injured died later in a hospital.
A witness told Reuters news agency that 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 showed. 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 joined the protests.
The interior ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters 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 US.
Several other demonstrations have turned violent over water sharing with the US 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 analyse 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.