Mitzy Violeta Cortés Guzmán is a Mixtec from San Sebastián Tecomaxtlahuaca, Oaxaca. She's part of Futoros Indígenas, a network that discusses the climate crisis narrative from Indigenous Peoples' perspective. She was part of the "Defenders of the Earth" delegation at COP26, and the "Cura Da Terra" Assembly of Indigenous Women. Mitzy wants to make sure more people get involved in the protection of the Earth, and that the fight against the climate crisis focuses on its structural causes, including intersectional perspectives. Find out more here about her work and how you can join Mitzy in taking action

Keep reading to find out why Mitzy knows that solutions to the climate crisis must center the perspectives of the world's Indigenous Peoples. 

Across much of Mesoamerica (that is, southern Mexico and Central America), when we talk about climate change we can’t help talking about water — especially in the parts of the region where what’s known as the “dry corridor” is located. 

Climate change for countries like Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, means less rain and longer dry seasons — which will affect crops, drinking water consumption, and other areas and activities essential for life.

So much conversation about climate change right now refers to “adaptation” — but is “adapting” to the imminent droughts and other environmental impacts that will run rampant across our territories really our only choice? 

Climate change is far from a neutral problem, nor is it a purely environmental problem, since it is also linked to social, economic, and political aspects. When it comes to water — and weather events like droughts and floods — responsibilities for solutions are diluted. If we look at these issues at a local level, however, some important specifications emerge. 

In the Mesoamerican region — which includes parts of North and Central America — conflicts over water are already a reality. A reality linked to the hydroelectric plants that divert rivers; the construction industry that extracts sand without limits; mega-projects and industries, such as the soft drink industry, that loot the water sources. 

Similarly, there are conflicts linked to energy, mining, real estate, and agribusiness projects, where local resistance movements are working to highlight the effects that these industries are having on the intensifying droughts and water scarcity. 

In 2022, Mexico declared a drought-induced emergency. But drought isn’t our only crisis when it comes to water. In 18 states across Mexico, water exceeded the international risk threshold for health impact. That’s due to arsenic contamination which, according to Data Crítica, is linked to the excessive extraction of water, caused by extractive industries like mining. 

About 62% of the water concessions are granted to private companies, while the general population only has access to the remaining 40%. In Guatemala, there are 60 sanction processes against palm oil-producing companies for water diversion and hoarding, as well as logging. Meanwhile, conflicts over water and control of territory are becoming ever-more frequent in the region.

Even while faced with this reality, we still see international forums, like the UN Climate Change Conference (COP), continuing business-as-usual, without naming those who are responsible for the water crisis that’s being experienced worldwide. What’s more, some of the biggest consumer brands, also big polluters, are often financing the spaces where these climate and environmental negotiations are happening. 

Those same polluting companies are the ones that seek to sell us solutions to the problems they themselves caused. 

Nevertheless, and due to Indigenous-led movements to defend our territories, inequalities have been brought into the light in terms of the distribution of water access, the responsibilities of damaging and polluting industries, and, above all, the demand to stop the excessive extraction and contamination of our water sources. Climate justice doesn’t mean money or profit, it means stopping the extermination. 

Activist movements are demanding community-led water management — even by suing governments themselves. They’ve been taking actions like taking over the plants of companies, like Bonafont, that were drying up Mexico’s Metlapalapa River; resisting the establishment of hydroelectric plants, in the case of the Lenca people in Honduras; combating the palm monoculture in in Guatemala’s El Estor; recovering the identities stolen from them, as with the Xinca people; and using music and rituals to tell the stories of the rivers and the ancestors. 

This is how Indigenous peoples are generating alternatives to climate devastation, working to highlight that it is Indigenous people’s knowledge and organization that will heal the land and water — flying in the face of the false solutions presented by polluting industries. 

Defending Indigenous territories is to defend the life of the entire planet. 

You can learn more about the organization of the peoples of Mesoamerica, and how they are fighting the climate crisis through the #MilpaméricaResiste campaign. The campaign is working to create a regional alliance, working together to amplify the perspective of the Indigenous peoples and how they are defending their land in the face of the climate crisis. 


Defend the Planet

Activist Mitzy Cortés: Indigenous Peoples Must Lead If We’re Going to Beat Climate Change