The Rainbow Warrior Comes to Mexico

Brimming with eco-messages, Greenpeace’s flagship Rainbow Warrior visited Puerto Vallarta the second week of January.  As part of a Latin American tour aimed at raising environmental consciousness and exposing specific instances of pollution, Greenpeace members and activists from other groups spoke to the press, released a new report on toxic contamination of Mexican rivers and gave the public guided tours of a nearly 160-foot ship often powered by the wind.

Unseasonably rainy weather coincided with the Rainbow Warrior’s port-of-call to Banderas Bay.

Aleira Lara, Greenpeace Mexico activist and tour coordinator, charged that pressing environmental issues were “unfortunately being ignored by the Mexican government,” which is instead pursuing energy and food policies that will hand the country  “an unsustainable future.”  Citing threats from climate change and the expansion of genetically-modified food crops, Lara said the goal of the Rainbow Warrior’s tour is for the “government to take action, and also for people to come together.”

In response to a question from FNS, Lara assessed the new energy reform promulgated by the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto and approved by the Mexican Congress last month as a policy that will privilege “dirty energy,” further Mexico’s dependence on oil,  leave renewable energy in the back seat, and deny social justice.

In a similar vein, Sinai Guevara, Greenpeace Mexico toxics campaign coordinator, criticized the reform as paving the way for the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas and oil, or fracking, especially in arid, northern states like Coahuila beset by drought and water shortages.

“This worries us,” Guevara said. “A lot of water and chemicals are used to extract (energy resources),  Guevara said of the process used in the fracking technique. “(Fracking) will take away water from communities.”  Greenpeace Mexico is working with other organizations in the Mexican Alliance against Fracking, she added.

At a press conference, Guevara presented Greenpeace Mexico’s report on toxic contamination of two important river basins-the Lerma in west-central Mexico and the Atoyac in the south-central part of the nation. Situated in and around Mexico’s most densely populated corridors of Mexico City and Guadalajara, both ecosystems provide a source of water for millions of people.

According to the Mexican environmentalist, the report documents that the Mexican government’s strategy of relying on primary and secondary wastewater treatment to keep rivers clean fails to remove heavy metals and chemicals, dozens of which were detected in the Lerma and Atoyac river basins by researchers.

The report notes the presence of substances linked to cancers, reproductive and immunological disorders and hormonal disruptions.

Cancer-causing cadmium and chromium were among the heavy metals found in the Rio Lerma, while 51 volatile organic compounds were discovered in the sediments of both the Rio Lerma and Rio Atoyac during a 2013 Greenpeace investigation.

Some of the substances discussed in the report have been banned in the European Union, Guevara said. “It’s only one case,” Guevara said of the report.  “But it’s a very worrisome case of what’s happening to rivers in Mexico,” she said.

Greenpeace demands that the Mexican federal government update its wastewater discharge regulations to take toxic substances into account,  make the registration of toxic discharges obligatory and require reporting of accidental toxic discharges into rivers.

Omar Arellano, member of the Mexican Union of Concerned Scientists,  said a “lack of planning and scientific knowledge about protecting aquatic ecosystems” combines with official omission in the ecological crisis of Mexican rivers.

Other Mexican rivers in similarly bad ecological shape include the Colorado and Rio Grande in the northern border region, Guevara said.

Representatives of two Guadalajara-area organizations, Un Salto de Vida and the Mexican Institute for Community Development (IMDEC), joined Guevara in denouncing the condition of Mexican rivers like the Rio Santiago,  where residents have waged a long anti-pollution campaign that’s reached the Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Cooperation and other international institutions.

Sofia Enciso, Un Salto de Vida spokesperson, contended that cancers and other health maladies are becoming more pronounced in the Rio Santiago zone, where hundreds of foreign and national industries discharge wastewater.

Maria Gonzalez, IMDEC director, described the Rio Santiago pollution as a massive human rights violation of the type that is under increased consideration in the United Nations.

Private industry as well as government should be held accountable,  Gonzalez demanded.   Overall, the Rio Santiago contamination represented a “grave problem of public health,” she contended.

Greenpeace’s Puerto Vallarta visit was the second stop in a winter voyage to Mexico and Colombia.

Prior to Puerto Vallarta, the Rainbow Warrior docked in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, after departing from San Diego. Upwards of three or four thousand people turned out for the Mazatlan visit, estimated Edith Martinez,  Greenpeace press liaison.  Keen public interest was also evident in Puerto Vallarta, where crowds began forming to board a ship that is akin to a floating eco-village.

According to crew members, the Dutch-designed Rainbow Warrior was built in Poland and Germany with recycled materials, and relies on five big sails to traverse the oceans whenever possible.

“We’re trying to show everyone that wind has a place not only on land, but also on the sea,” said Joel Stewart,  the Rainbow Warrior’s captain.

Constructed for a 32-member crew, the ship boasts a heliport and state-of-the-art navigational technology.  For garbage recycling, the Rainbow Warrior has separate trash bins and a compost container.  Crew members enjoy meals prepared by a chef who uses food purchased from cooperatives and organic producers at ports the Rainbow Warrior visits.

Greenpeace’s sleek ship is the third one to bear the Rainbow Warrior name. In an effort to squash Greenpeace anti-nuclear protests in the South Pacific,  French intelligence agents blew up the first vessel in New Zealand back in 1985,  killing photographer Fernando Pereira in the attack.

“It’s incredible that a strong government like France would feel threatened by such a (smaller) organization like Greenpeace was at the time,” Stewart reflected.

The second Rainbow Warrior was retired a couple of years ago and transformed into a  ship for climate refugees in Bangladesh, Stewart said.

A survivor of the  1985 French attack on the Rainbow Warrior, the wooden Dave the Dolphin, sits high on the deck of the new ship gazing forward into the sea. Appropriately enough, leaping dolphins and lumbering humpback whales were visible not far from the pier where the Dave the Dolphin and the Rainbow Warrior rested on Banderas Bay.

The Rainbow Warrior is part of Greenpeace’s three-ship fleet, which also includes the Esperanza and Artic Sunrise. The Russian government’s seizure of the Artic Sunrise and its 30-member crew in international waters last September prompted an international uproar. All of the anti-oil drilling activists accused of piracy were released from jail by the end of last month, but the Artic Sunrise remains in Russian custody.

After Puerto Vallarta,  the Rainbow Warrior headed to Acapulco before continuing on to Colombia, where the group is increasingly active.  The eco-ship plans on returning to Mexico in February, with visits programmed for Cozumel and Veracruz.

Readers interested in Greenpeace’s Spanish language report on the contamination of the Lerma and Atoyac rivers can go to:óxicos%20Lerma%20y%20Atoyac-WEB.pdf

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