Beer transnationals are sucking Mexico dry


Locals near the coming Heineken factory in Puebla meet to organize their opposition to it. PHOTO/Raul Rojano

Mexico is the biggest beer exporter globally, but it barely has enough water for its residents and farmers. Experiencing long-lasting droughts, the country, which is half desert, has become a cheap place for transnationals to consume its remaining water, then send the products and profits to wealthier regions.

In 2018, Mexico exported almost 40 million hectoliters of water, with 80% of that going to the US. Mexico’s beer production is monopolized by two transnational companies: AB InBev, which acquired Grupo Modelo in 2013, and Heineken, which acquired Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma in 2010. Between them, the companies own 97.5% of the domestic consumption market. The Tecate brand, owned by Heineken, is one of the fastest-rising beer brands in the US, and Corona Extra, owned by AB InBev, is in the global top 10.

Heineken uses Mexico because of how profitable it is. “The country has a young population, natural and human resources, and macro-economic stability,” Dolf Van Den Brink, president of Heineken Mexico, said. The company built its seventh brewery in Northern Mexico last year, choosing the location because it was close to the US and they could easily export Tecate and Dos Equis brands to US consumers.

Here in Puebla, in the center of the country, most residents only receive water twice a week for 15 minutes at a time, forcing us to severely ration water use. A new Heineken factory, currently being built 15 minutes from the city center, will make that even worse. The company is taking water directly from the domestic pipe network, rather than the industrial water supply, as laws mandate.

Omar Jimenez Castro, a water rights activist and lawyer who has taken Puebla’s private water company Aguas de Puebla to court and won in nearly 400 cases, reported that drainage in that area of the city was at the point of collapse and that it couldn’t cope with industrial use from the Heineken factory.

Locals have been documenting the excavations and operations the company has carried out in the area with photos and video since June of last year, and have noted that Heinekin’s pipes redirect water from their domestic pipes.

“We’ve spent nine months monitoring what they are doing, and watching over the construction. They’ve told us now that the water pipes they are installing are just for two toilets for the workers, but the pipes are huge,” Raul Rojano, a local opposed to the factory told me as we tried to inspect the Heineken site. However, since protests and legal steps were taken against it, the company has erected a tall brick fence topped with barbed wire to stop locals from observing.

“They have something to hide,” one local commented. However, Jimenez doesn’t just blame Heineken. The “three levels of government – federal, state, and municipal ” are at fault for allowing a private company to be responsible for the water supply, he told me. “On a daily basis they systematically violate human rights,” he said, referring to the water shortages and mass disconnections so that Aguas de Puebla can collect more fees and also send more water to transnationals like Heineken and Walmart.

Meanwhile, another Heineken factory inaugurated last year in Chihuahua, on the border with the US, is using the amount of water that would supply 200,000 houses. Residents there have become so desperate for water that enterprising individuals are selling plastic containers of water off the back of their trucks. Northern Mexico, with extremely hot summers and little rainfall year-round, suffers from ongoing water supply issues. Due to over-exploitation, Chihuahua only has about 10 years of water left, and activists, farmers, and academics have spoken out against local authorities there, saying they put transnational companies first.

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