Source: Business and Human Rights Centre
Kumiai water defender, Óscar Eyraud Adams (34) was shot dead at his home in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico on the night of September 25th, 2020. Witnesses say two vehicles with tinted windshields arrived at the house where the indigenous rights defender lived and shot him at approximately 7 pm. Eyraud had been a vocal indigenous rights defender for many years, speaking out about issues of ethnicity and environmental injustice.
A month prior to his murder, in an interview with the newspaper Reforma conducted in a dried-up field, Eyraud complained that water that should go to indigenous communities to irrigate their crops was being diverted to transnational companies, such as Heineken. He said “These [water] rights should be for the indigenous community first rather than businesses and people who have the purchasing power just to have them … That puts the culture of this community at risk”.
The human rights defenders group, Comisión Ciudadana de Derechos Humanos (CCDH) del Noreste, holds Comisión Nacional del Agua (Conagua) and Heineken Brewery responsible for Eyraud’s death. In 2010, Conagua delivered a permit to Heineken Brewery to exploit 1,892,160 cubic meters of water each year in Tecate, Baja California. However, by 2020 Heineken Brewery was carrying out an additional 25% expansion of its production capacity. In a written statement, the CCDH has said that the death of Eyraud was intended to silence his work as an advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples and for the democratisation of water management.
A BLOG BY HIS MOTHER, NORMA ADAMS (Source: Global Witness)
“I’m indigenous. I’m Kumiai, from Nejí’’ … That’s how my son, Óscar Eyraud Adams introduced himself, no matter where he was. He was proud of his heritage. He even learned his ancestral language, so that he could speak with my mother, who spoke no Spanish.
Óscar always wanted to live here on the rancho, close to his people. You never see pollution here; the air is always so clean. He left when he was two years old, but came back when he was eight or nine.
He was always an intelligent kid, willing to help his community by any means. “Here, we’re going to sow and harvest. We’ll extend the house. We’re going to get through it, mum,” he used to tell me. Yet he soon realised how severe the drought was because when he sowed, the water shortages meant he couldn’t harvest his crops.
That’s how he started defending water and the kumiai territory. “There’s not much we can do without water” he told me, and the rest of the community supported him because they trusted him. Sometimes, we asked him to participate in the assemblies so that he could represent us. People sought him out for advice and asked him to take part in projects they were planning. He was a leader, a guide, and a mentor for the community.
I never knew where he got so many ideas. He studied to become an engineer, but he was still able to quote legal articles, or the constitution. He read a lot to advise us. Once, he protected us from a lawyer who tried to sell us a project that would have profited at the expense of our land. “Those outsiders cannot come and command us. Not here. I will defend myself because nobody will tell me what we should do in our house”, he would tell me.
It hasn’t rained much for the last couple of years. That has left our water wells empty, and we had to ask for permission from the authorities to dig new wells. They rarely granted us that right. Óscar’s vision was that the whole community would have access to water. Yet he witnessed the repeated invasions from outsiders.
“Big companies have much easier access to the water. That’s not fair – we need the water to survive,” he said, and encouraged us to come together to demand access: “If you come together, if you organize, there’s no way they can beat us down”.
The authorities even threatened to take away the permits we did have allowing us access to the water wells. To this day, we still struggle with water permits. Our watering holes are dry.
He frequently travelled to Mexicali, meeting other defenders and with the authorities, trying to get our permits back. He would invite journalists and activists to visit our Kumiai territory and see how it was being parched. I wonder how you did it, son, being in so many places, meeting all those people and carrying your ideals so far.
With all the challenges he took on, I was afraid that something might happen to him. However, the idea of somebody killing my son never crossed my mind. I thought people might beat or kidnap him, but I never imagined they would go as far as they did.
Óscar Eyraud, my son, was murdered in Tecate on the 24th of September 2020. He was just 34. When he was killed, he didn’t defend himself because he didn’t have anything to fight back with.
His soul continues its journey. I felt obliged to bring him back home, so he could rest nearby his community, where he always wanted to be. I believe that here he will be able to finish that journey.
People still speak so highly of him. So many people say: “I hope somebody follow in the footsteps of the Kumiai activist”, and it makes me proud that he did so many things and that he left a great legacy. My son was a humble person with a good heart.
But I am also sad because he is gone, and because he had so much more to contribute. His next project was a bilingual school in Spanish and Kumiai, to teach children to defend the environment.
I hope that wherever he is, he will find the person who will continue the fight when he cannot, but I also ask myself: will there be anyone that brave? I hope that someone follows in his footsteps, so that our community can survive and have access to water in the future.
Óscar was doing his job; the killers had no justification for taking his life. I will continue to seek justice for him. We need it soon, to prevent the next killing.