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Zapatista Cucapa Camp Defends Fishing Rights on Colorado River Delta
by Dan Bacher
Friday Apr 20th, 2007 5:53 PM
The Cucapa Tribe on the Colorado River Delta in Baja California, 40 miles south of Mexicali, faces similar problems in the battle for environmental justice that the Winnemem Wintu and other California tribes face on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and California rivers and coastal waters.
By Dan Bacher

Since February 26, the Cucapa Tribe in El Mayor, Baja California has organized an historic Zapatista peace camp to defend their fishing rights against harassment and intimidation by the Mexican government on the Colorado River Delta.

The idea for the camp originated during a visit by Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman for the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), to El Mayor during the Zapatista “Otra Campana” (Other Campaign) in October 2006.

“We have decided to send an urgent message to the Mexicans and Chicanos north of the Rio Grande to come in order to maximize the number of people here, create a safe space, and protect the Cucapa and Kiliwa community during the fishing season,” said Marcos, also known as “delegado zero,” in announcing the initiation of the camp after a meeting with the Cucapa and Kiliwa community leaders.

In February, the Cucapa community issued its call to action. “You are no longer being asked to stand in solidarity with the indigenous people of Mexico. Now you are being asked to stand to play an integral role in a bi-national effort that will no longer consist of only resisting but also helping these communities exist and live as they have for thousands of years,” said the tribe.

The 304 member Cucapa Tribe said the camp aimed to “help reestablish the networks and relations that existed before borders separated families and communities, and to help expose these atrocities to a world that has avoided looking at the price of its excess, comfort and luxury.”

Although the peace camp got off to a slow start, the momentum built in March as the Cucapa and supporters constructed a fishing camp, secured buyers for the fish (corvina), purchased a refrigerated trailer and netted fish in defiance of federal fishing regulations that require permits in a “marine protected area.”

By the end of April, the camp had achieved its goals. “The camp is almost over, but it has been extremely successful,” explained Cesar Soriano from the Banda Martes in Los Angeles. “The main goal of the Cucapa – to fish without government harassment - was achieved.”

“The camp also achieved its second goal, to organize direct support from people from both sides of the border,” said Soriano. At different points during the camp, activists from Mexico City, Australia, El Salvador, and American Indian nations, as well as from San Diego and Los Angeles, showed their solidarity with the Cucapa. Many Zapatista solidarity groups from throughout California and the Southwest organized fundraisers for the Cucapa struggle.

Subcomandante Marcos and 10 Comandantes from Chiapas, en route to the Cucapa Camp in April, were also welcomed by the O’odham Tribe and friends in the state of Sonora.

“The Cucapa are doing the same thing they have been doing for 9,000 years,” said Marcos, as quoted by Brenda Norrell in Narco News on April 11. “The Cucapa and other Indian people called for this camp in defense of nature so they can fish without detentions or being put in jail.”

Caravans from Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and other California cities have gone to the camp to support the Cucapa when they fish during the high tides. While some accompanied the fishermen and fisherwomen on their boats, the others stayed on shore to watch out for federal soliders coming to cite or harass the Cucapa. The last high tide that the Cucapa will fish during will be from May 10-May 16, 2007.

For over thousands of years, the Cucapa people lived on land surrounding the Colorado River and its Delta where it empties into the Sea of Cortez. The tribe, in what is now the southwestern United States and north end of Baja California, lived off harvesting the native fish and plants of the river and Delta.

However, fish catches by the Cucapa and other tribes plummeted in recent decades as agribusiness in California and Arizona and thirsty Southern California cities diverted the entire flow of the Colorado without regard for the indigenous people below the U.S.-Mexico border. With only a trickle of the river ever reaching the once fertile Delta, catches of corvina, totuava (a giant seabass like fish that is now protected) and other species of fish declined dramatically.

Rather than addressing the problems of massive water diversions and fishing by corporate commercial fishing fleets that caused the fishery and ecosystem to decline, the Mexican government, with support by corporate-funded U.S. conservation groups like Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund, declared the traditional area of the Cucapa and Kiliwa people “an ecological reserve.”

They transformed the waters that for thousands of years sustained indigenous people into the “Biosphere Reserve of the Upper Gulf of California” on June, 10, 1993, because it was “in the public interest,” according to the government’s National Commission of Protected Natural Areas website.

“The website also noted that 77 percent of the people who live and around the reserve rely on fishing for their livelihoods, so it is unclear which public interest the fishing ban in the protected area serves,” said Kristin Bricker, in the Narco News Bulletin, October 22, 2007.

According to Bricker, “The problem isn’t that the Cucapa and Killiwa don’t want to preserve endangered fish and dolphins. They point out that it is in their very best interest to protect the species they rely upon for their livelihood and they want very much to be custodians of the river and its fish as they have for generations.”
Hilda Hurtado Valenzuela, the secretary of the Cucapa fishing cooperative, stressed that the Cucapa was not responsible for the overfishing, even though they bear the brunt of its consequences.

Armed federal soldiers (federales) have patrolled the reserve and accosted the fishermen since the marine protected area was established. In October, the community had approximately thirty outstanding warrants for “illegal” fishing in their attempt to survive, practicing the same traditions as their ancestors.

Hopefully, the success of this camp will send a strong message to the Mexican government and U.S. “conservation” groups that so called “bio-reserves” and “marine protected areas” cannot be imposed upon indigenous people and other family fishermen without resistance.

The problems that the Cucapa Tribe faces in Mexico parallel the situation in California where well-funded “conservation” groups, in collusion with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, are attempting to kick recreational anglers and family commercial fishermen off the water through the institution of “marine protected areas,” even though massive de-facto reserves and some of the strictest fishing regulations in the world are already in place.

The “marine protected areas” constitute a major case of “green washing” where the main problems responsible for fishery declines in California - habitat destruction, water quality decline and global warming – are avoided because to address these problems would require dealing with major corporate interests responsible for fishery declines.

Just like the Cucapa and other tribes have been completely excluded by "conservation" groups and Mexican government from any input into the institution of the bioreserves, the California Indian tribes have to date been completely excluded from a privately funded “stakeholders” process to push through the MLPA (Marine Life Protection Act) initiative.

And just like the ecosystem of the Colorado River Delta has been destroyed by water diversions and pollution, the California Delta, a nursery sustaining a wide variety of species along the California Coast, is threatened by a food chain collapse caused by massive increases in water diversions by the state and federal governments.

For more information about the Cucapa Camp go to
§Cucapa Boat fishing on Colorado Delta
by Dan Bacher Friday Apr 20th, 2007 5:53 PM
Cucupa tribe members fish for corvina (a delicious saltwater fish) on the Colorado River Delta.

Photo by Joel Garcia.
§Cucapa Cleaning Fish
by Dan Bacher Friday Apr 20th, 2007 5:53 PM
Members of Zapatista Peace Camp clean corvina before selling the fish to a fish buyer.

Photo by Joel Garcia.
§Boat on shore of Zapatista Camp
by Dan Bacher Friday Apr 20th, 2007 5:53 PM
Pangas like this one, located on the shore of the Zapatista Camp, are used by the Cucapa and other indigenous people to fish for corvina and other species on the Colorado Delta and throughout the Sea of Cortez.

Photo by Joel Garcia.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by possible with fresh rio agua increase!!
Tuesday Apr 24th, 2007 6:10 PM
Dan wrote;

"For over thousands of years, the Cucapa people lived on land surrounding the Colorado River and its Delta where it empties into the Sea of Cortez. The tribe, in what is now the southwestern United States and north end of Baja California, lived off harvesting the native fish and plants of the river and Delta.

However, fish catches by the Cucapa and other tribes plummeted in recent decades as agribusiness in California and Arizona and thirsty Southern California cities diverted the entire flow of the Colorado without regard for the indigenous people below the U.S.-Mexico border. With only a trickle of the river ever reaching the once fertile Delta, catches of corvina, totuava (a giant seabass like fish that is now protected) and other species of fish declined dramatically."

Yes, the ecological problems the Cucapa people face today along the Rio Colorado delta are directly caused by the diversion of massive amounts of water to the agribusiness plantations of CA's deserts. Include golf courses and suburban lawns and there's another large portions of fresh agua lost from el rios delta. Lack of freshwater agua from Rio Colorado results in increased salinity that becomes difficult for indigenous delta species to tolerate. In addition lack of riverload mineral sediment (blocked behind dams) prevents the delta substrate (aka 'mudflats') from resisting erosion. In these mudflats grow a great number of clams and other invertabrates that are a base of the delta's food chain. Scientists believe that an increase of freshwater input into the delta would rescue many species from extinction. We've all got to try to give some fresh river water to the Cucapa and the Colorado delta. Their culture and lifestyle are at risk of extinction if they are forced off their land and into maquiladora sweatshop factories along the border because of ecosystem degradation..

Growing temperate climactic acclimated crops like iceberg lettuce in desert ecosystems like Imperial Valley needs to cease and desist. Not only does this process of irrigation with Colorado Rio agua degrade the delta, the soils around the irrigated crops are poisoned with selenium and other transported rio minerals that would be diluted and dispersed by the delta's larger volume of water. Instead the selenium concentrates on the soil surface along with other salts and toxins (not to mention perchlorate, aka rocket fuel thanks to those friendly military bases) is taken up by the lettuce..

This from OC;

"All three jurisdictions concluded that perchlorate exposure should be limited to a few parts per billion, but based on growing evidence showing harm at very small doses, EWG argues that a drinking water standard should be no more than one-tenth EPA's recommended level.

Previous studies have shown that the rocket fuel chemical, leaking from hundreds of military bases and defense contractors' facilities, concentrates in lettuce grown with contaminated irrigation water. When contaminated water is used to grow alfalfa, cattle feeding on the hay take in the chemical and pass it on in their milk.

In the new studies, the Food and Drug Administration reported finding perchlorate in 217 of 232 samples of milk and lettuce in 15 states."

entire article @;

The sad fact about iceberg lettuce is that it is (alongside a tomato slice) labeled a healthy nutritious vegetable by fast food corporations McDonalds, Burger King, etc.. Alongside the tomato plantations, farmworkers in CA's lettuce fields are exposed to massive quantities of pesticides. The lettuce itself is devoid of nutrition despite claims of McDonalds. Bio of lettuce; Between two slabs of greasy meat & dry floury buns there i wilt and die. Really sad fact of life for iceberg lettuce trapped in fast food's highway to nowhere. Just one more reason to boicott McDonalds, Burger King, etc..

"4/24/07: THE FUN'S OVER, TIME TO GET BACK TO WORK IN THE CAMPAIGN FOR FAIR FOOD!... After taking a few days to rest up from their trip to Chicago, the hard-working Kansas crew is back at it again. As a sure sign of things to come, Lawrence Fair Food officially launched the Burger King protest season last Thursday with this spirited action at a local BK restaurant."

article cont's @;

We need to protest the entire production process of agribusiness corporations. Instead of forcing temperate crops like iceberg lettuce to grow in the desert, we need to grow native drought tolerant crops like nopales, cholla, jojoba, and others that do not require large amounts of agua. Since these temperate crops occur on large agribusiness plantations, it is doubtful that we'll access the land anytime soon. In the meantime, we can work together with family farm support groups to help farmers that would like to diversify their crops, introduce hedgerows, tree islands and try drought tolerant desert cacti crops like cholla buds..

"Tohono O'odham Cholla Buds (Ciolim)

Picked from Buckthorn cholla cactus in early Spring, these highly unusual buds are part of the tradional O'odham diet. Very high in calcium with blood sugar lowering properties, they are extremely low on the Glycemic index. About the size of a thumb, they can be eaten boiled, roasted or sauteed. Flavor tones range from artichoke to asparagus. Its texture when boiled or reconstituted is similar to okra."

to sample cholla buds @;

The question again is land stewardship by human collectives or ownership by non-living corporations. Do we want to waste water on nutritionally devoid iceberg lettuce and foolhardy landscaping on golfcourses for wealthy elites or do we instead focus our energy on restoring native edible plant communities in our collective Sonoran desert ecosystem ejido farm??

In addition we need to discuss why plantation agribusiness corporations have replaced the communal ejido farms on both sides of the US/MEX border. Why not call for a return of land from wastefull corporate argi-plantations instead for the ejido farm stewardship, alongside a restoration of la's southcentral campesino farm collective??

According to this article below, free trade policies like NAFTA, WTO, PPP, etc.. encourage the displacement of indigenous farming communities by outlawing the ejido system of collective land ownership, claiming ejidos are "free trade barriers"..

"In preparation for NAFTA, the United States pressured the Mexican government to eliminate the progressive land reform statutes from Mexico's Constitution. It argued that these statutes--primarily the size limit for private land-holdings and the ejido system that safe-guards small farmers from losing their land through sale or debt--are barriers to free trade. Since these constitutional clauses were preventing US agribusiness from buying up huge tracts of Mexico's land to grow winter vegetables for export into the US, the White House insisted that the Mexican Constitution be changed. As it turned out, then President Salinas de Gotari was quite willing to disembowel the Mexican Constitution of its progressive land policies. The ruling party (PRI) was (and still is) controlled by a powerful club of bureaucrats, businessmen and big land owners who for decades have sought ways to sidestep the equity-enforcing statutes of the country's Constitution. The US pressure for free trade provided a perfect excuse to dismantle the revolutionary statutes that protected the needy from the greedy. So, even before NAFTA was passed, President Salinas and his Congress gutted the Mexican Constitution of its progressive land statutes. The ejido system was dismantled and laws limiting the size of land holdings were repealed. In effect, these regressive changes in the Constitution catapulted Mexico back to the pre-revolutionary feudal system with its latifundia or giant plantations."

article cont's @;

Sounds like land reclamations in the desert from agri-business plantations and restoration of indigenous ecosystems and ejido collective farms would enable additional freshwater inputs to the Cucapa's Rio Colorado delta, eh??

Viva Zapatismo!!

your amigo in el notre,

Sonoran pronghorn antelope

by wayne lee stedman
(waynestedman [at] Thursday Apr 26th, 2007 3:14 AM
I grew up on the Quechan Indian Reservation, at Fort Yuma, California, across the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona, which was founded with the Gadsden Purchase for the East to West southern u.s. transcontinental railroad from the Alantic to the Pacific to San Diego.
My Question is:
With the icecaps melting, is there any scientific reason to fear that the sandbar upon which Mexicali and Calexico sit since the Gulf receded in relatively recent times will disappear as warming continues and Gulf reclaims its prehistoric right to reach almost to the Los Angeles area?
by Abel
Monday May 7th, 2007 10:09 AM
If you are interested in learning more and want to support the Cucapa Fishing Cooperative, then join others on May 22 in San Francisco at 111 Minna from 6-9pm for a photo exhibit and more.

for more info contact:
Abel at coyotewarrior [at]