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In Mexico: time to end ‘sacrifice zones’

In Mexico: it's time to end the "sacrifice zone"

Mexico is currently at the forefront of the fight against waste incineration in cement kilns. Hear the opinions of community activists on the importance of their struggle.

Apaxco, Mexico is a small town with a population of no more than 30,000, about two hours’ drive from Mexico City. It is located in the Mezquital Valley, an area rich in hot springs, with two watersheds and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

But in Apaksko, the Apaksko-Tula-Atotonilco Industrial Corridor between Mexico and Hidalgo, only a few birds were seen, shy vegetation covered with a gray mantle.

Apaxco and its surrounding cities are called "sacrifice zones" by academic circles. The highly concentrated industries in these places have caused such serious pollution that it seems impossible to reverse it, and mitigation measures will never be enough. Cement plants, waste co-processing plants, thermal power plants, oil refineries, and agrochemical plants constitute the landscape of these areas. Their communities will not succumb to these areas and continue to demand justice and clean air for all.

One of the bloodiest struggles in the Apaxco community began in 2009, when a camp was set up in front of the entrance of Ecoltec, a subsidiary of Holcim-Apasco Cement Company, to protest the death of 11 farmers due to inhalation of toxic gas. The company is polluted. Two years later, the camp that prevented trucks and materials to be processed from entering the cement plant was expelled, failing to comply with any requirements of the community.

Nine years later, the local community is still fighting. This year, they hosted the third international conference against incineration at Apaxco from November 24 to 26. The agenda was extensive, including Mexican groups, organizations and networks (FCCI) participating in the Community Front Against Incineration (FCCI), as well as members of the Global Coalition for Alternative Incineration (GAIA) and the personnel and global organization of the Zero Waste European Union.

At this meeting, the meeting expanded the overall incineration framework, as the existing threats were added today, and proposed to build a municipal waste incinerator in Temascalapa (the Tizayuca incinerator in the state of Hidalgo, resisted by the Pueblos de Temascalapa Front) and Mexico city.

The meeting allowed to share experiences, review current strategies and strengthen the promotion of the community’s zero waste plan to respond to the urgent needs of these threats, and ended with a declaration.

Today, this concern has expanded because not only is the threat of cement plants burning hazardous waste, but “cement plants have become a pioneer in the promotion of municipal waste incineration”, FCCI’s Jorge Tadeo Vargas explained, adding that “Mexico’s waste incineration landscape order People fear that for decades, cement plants have been cooperating with the federal government to incinerate hazardous waste, allowing and encouraging such high-polluting activities, and now they have proposed the construction of municipal waste incinerators."

Increasing waste incineration in cement plants

In 2011, the Mexico City government and CEMEX signed an agreement to incinerate some of the waste at factories in Hidalgo and Puebla. In 2017, the Morelos government signed a further agreement with Cementos Cruz Azul (CYNCA de Oriente) with the goal of incinerating the state's waste in cement kilns.

This year, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) granted the Holcim Cement Plant in Apisco, Mexico a permit to receive and treat more than 127,000 tons of hazardous waste each year, which will then be in the kiln. The Catalan anti-incineration coordinating organization José Luis Conejeros said: “These practices have greatly affected the health of the population and the environment, just like what has happened in our Moncada community for decades.” “The Apaxco community is A benchmark for serious pollution problems, and at the same time, awareness of the urgency of creating a zero-waste solution must be sent from the same affected communities,” added Carlos Samayoa, Greenpeace Mexico’s Toxic Area Coordinator. , He also attended the meeting.

For these reasons, the third international conference against incineration began with the symbolic acquisition of the Holcim plant in Apaxco.

Community resistance

During the gathering, the affected communities shared their work, monitoring and experience in resisting the incineration of cement plants. International organizations from Montcada (Spain) and Barletta (Italy) shared their experience against cement companies in Europe, emphasizing the need to create alternatives to the current waste treatment model.


Apaxco and Atotonilco share a territory, but there are serious problems due to the concentration of incinerators and waste co-processing plants surrounding them. They also have a history of community resistance.

Leonardo Navarrete from Atotonilco explained that this sharing occurs because "pollution knows no borders." Atotonilco owns the two largest cement companies in the country: Cemex and Fortaleza, and has added many boilers to them. "We are a heavily polluted area, because the authorities allow it and there is no supervision, but we have to live here, and we are working hard to reverse these situations."

At the same time, in Apaxco, the deaths of the above-mentioned farmers have aroused strong concern in the community, and the health movement Apaxco-Atotonilco was established. "The movement has filed 900 complaints since its establishment. The lack of satisfactory answers is a clear indicator. . The environment is not fair,” said Marisa Jacott de Fronteras Comunes.

Jacott added that since 2000, the Profepa Federal Office of Environmental Protection has announced that it has expressed “concern” about the health problems that may be caused by industrial activities in the region, adding that one sign of the abnormal operation of these companies is the long-term Ecotec (Today’s Geocycles) , Belonging to the Carlos Slim Group) and other facilities “do not even register the entry and exit of waste.”

Apaxco Refugio Churena’s dermatologist is a great promoter of Apaxco’s zero-waste principle. Through the Apaxcle Holistic Development Foundation, Ecoltec “equates to destruction, disease, and death. This is a history of impunity that has not even ended. We know that. The gas released by the factory and Holcim is harmful to health. A permanent complaint was filed with the authorities, and there was no response after 8 years."

Santiago de AnayaPonciano Jiménez was threatened and criminalized by the resistance leading the Santiago de Anaya community and its "survival and defend" movement.

The struggle started in 2011. After persuading farmers that an agro-industry company would be established to support the agricultural sector, and after purchasing possible land, the violations in the project approval that ended with the installation of Cementos Fortaleza were thoroughly monitored.

The new cement plant was completed in 2011 and named Plant to Crusher and Material Processing Santa Anita. Elementia, a joint construction consortium between Slim (via Grupo Carso) and Antonio del Valle (Grupo Mexichem), purchased shares in January 2013, making it the owner of 100% of the business. Ponciano Jiménez said that "David vs. Goliath" was established in this way: the cement plant of the Carso-Elementia Group confronted the indigenous people of Mexico's Hidalgo state. Moreover, Carlos Slim Group acquired Holcim and Lafarge in Mexico, so today it is a large conglomerate.

"I feel that I am an aboriginal. I demand respect for Convention No. 169. We will defend our land through the courage and pride of truly realizing that we are an aboriginal. The best land and the best natural resources belong to the strong. They Being usurped by deception and false promises, we need to organize ourselves", Jiménez added.


Temascalapa, a municipality in Hidalgo state, faces a municipal waste incinerator project. Although the proposal is not in their state, it is only one block away from them. "We know this will cause serious damage to the entire community," Armando Ramos said.

"With the support of GAIA and human rights defense organizations, we investigated how to combat such projects within a year, and we submitted a project to the Temascalapa municipal government to train and raise awareness of waste management under the concept of zero waste," Armando said .

Nearly 3,000 people participated in the parade recently, which inspired Armando’s team: “We believe that the support of the public coupled with legal and media strategies can prevent such projects.” Due to the efforts of the community, the project is currently shelved.


On the other hand, the struggle with the Cruz Azul Group (Cycna de Oriente) in Puebla is very active. The environmental organization Eco Tuzuapan described the collusion to expropriate 250 hectares of land at an absurd price. These lands dedicated to agribusiness eventually fall into the hands of third parties who set up cement companies-explosions occur every day and are permanently polluted.

Information from two years ago stated that “in the past three years, five people died of lung cancer due to inhalation of dust from explosions.

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