Tuesday, June 9, 2015

PRI Wins Back Sonora, Yaqui Water War Left in the Dust

Vineyards to produce table grapes for export to U.S. markets continue to expand in the Sonoran Desert north of Hermosillo due to government-backed water drilling and water diversion projects supported by government, while farmers and ranchers with small holdings and shallow wells (top photo of abandoned farm south of now-dry Abelardo Rodríquez dam in Hermosillo) are left without traditional water supplies -- despite their prayers. New vineyard attributes its prosperity with belief in desert miracles. After all, Luke in the Bible says: "Nothing is impossible for God." / Photos by Tom Barry

Sonora Chronicles

PRI Wins Back Sonora, Yaqui Water War Left in the Dust

Tom Barry

As election day approached, it was a toss-up. In Sonora, the gubernatorial election pitted two governing parties against one another.

The PRI controlled the federal government, and PAN held political power in the state. The gubernatorial election pitted the PRI the PAN – two parties bereft of moral principles and burdened by long rap sheets for their patronage schemes, personal enrichment of political leaders, and blatant favoritism of friends and family in government contracts.

There were good reasons to believe that PAN’s Javier Gándara (former Hermosillo mayor) would succeed Guillermo Padrés Elías as Sonora’s new governor in September 2015. But many other observers and political insiders in Sonora persuasively argued that Senator Claudia Pavlovich would win back the Palacio del Gobierno in Hermosillo for PRI – the political party that had held the governor’s office for seven decades until PAN’s electoral victory in June 2009.

In hindsight, Pavlovich’s victory seemed assured given the crescendo of corruption scandals that started sweeping over the PAN administration in mid-2014.

From his first year, Governor Padrés began building a virulent opposition movement to his administration. By pushing through the Novillo-Hermosillo aqueduct transfers mountain water from the Yaqui River to the state’s booming capital city situated in the Sonoran Desert, Padrés sparked an anti-aqueduct alliance in the river’s lower basin in the Yaqui Valley and in Ciudad Obregón.  At the same time, however, Padrés initially reinforced – and even extended – support for his administration and PAN by his backing of water megaprojects, including dams and other aqueducts, to bring mountain water to desert cities and coastal plains.

But the governor’s arrogance, lack of fiscal accountability (or any other sort of public accountability), self-serving projects (like using government funds to build a dam to serve his family’s ranch), and shocking (even for Mexico) corruption, eroded his base of political support, even in Hermosillo. The PAN administration’s pilfering of the budgets of an array of state agencies – including the education, public health, education, among other departments – to shift funds to favorite projects and favored companies surpassed the traditional and expected levels of corruption in the governor’s palace.

Yet PRI also faced the election burdened by the plummeting support for President Peña Nieto – mainly because of his own corruption scandals and the increasing evidence that the military and police were among the prime suspects in a wave of horrific violence (including the disappearance of 43 students in Michoacán).

While each party tapped government funds to buy the vote, Senator Pavlovich had the advantage of being able to promise an increased flow of federal funds and favors from the national PRI-controlled government (executive branch, Congress, and courts) to communities that would support PRI in the June electoral contest.

Governor Padrés won the 2009 election with his promise to create a “New Sonora.” But after six years, voters, sickened by the blatant corruption and the resulting monumental public debt (20.7 billion pesos – representing more then 55% of annual state revenues), more voters were persuaded by Pavlovich’s promises of “Another Sonora. (“Otro Sonora”).”

Despite all the protests and brouhaha about the Novillo-Sonora aqueduct during the past five years, it wasn’t an issue during the elections. None of the candidates – from either the major or minor parties – took a position on the aqueduct. Given that the PRI at both the federal and state levels has been the primary proponent and financial backer of water megaprojects, there is little expectation that the new governor will withdraw state or federal financial support for the hydraulic projects initiated by Padrés and his Sonora SI (Integrated System) water-project agency.

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