Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Where water is a crime

People in the developed world might be amazed to hear this, but many of the leaders of Maclovio Rojas, a squatter community in Tijuana, Mexico, spent years in jail for the crime of stealing water.

These are people who have been living without this basic resource for 18 years. Their local, state, and national governments have done little to help them. They are treated as criminals for demanding access to something that is fundamental for human survival.

Maclovio Rojas is set on the scrubby hills on the eastern edge of Tijuana. Here, the dusty dirt streets are rutted and the homes sit precariously on the denuded turf. And yet people here have pooled their money and established their own schools. They have built an active community center and a neighborhood bank. They are striving desperately to improve their community.

Yet they are still considered illegal, still considered radical, still considered criminal.

When will Mexico and Tijuana recognize that these are citizens who should be offered cooperation and understanding and not charged with crimes for simply trying to make their lives and the life of their city better?

Sadly, Maclovio Rojas is not only fighting with the governments for recognition, but is also battling a nearby colonia, which has claimed the same land as its own holding. When squatters battle each other, the battle for legitimacy is weakened.

(praise be to Carlos--aka philipk--for his expertise on Tijuana and for introducing me to Maclovio Rojas)

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