MEXICALI, Mexico — It was around 3 a.m. when Filiberto Sanchez snuck onto the property of a huge brewery under construction, hopped three fences and scaled a construction crane.
At the top, he hung a Mexican flag and a sign that read in Spanish: “Get out of here, Constellation!”
He remained there for three days in November with no food, he said, in protest of United States-based Constellation Brands’ new facility, which will produce popular Mexican beers like Corona, Negra Modelo and Pacifico.
“We’re not opposed to businesses coming here and providing jobs,” Sanchez said in Spanish, a few weeks after the hunger strike. “This business is going to dry up this state and city.”
In the agriculturally rich Mexicali Valley, construction of the brewery has sparked a heated conflict among a small, passionate group of farmers like Sanchez, who feel their water and way of life are under attack. In addition to the hunger strike, some have set up a protest camp outside the brewery, vowing to remain there until it shuts down.
A group called Mexicali Resiste is supporting the fight. They’ve protested outside the brewery, motivated by what they view as an injustice: That a U.S.-based company plans to use Mexico’s scarce water to make beer destined for U.S. consumers.
“There’s this mythology intertwined with the lives of (Mexicali residents,) where water is a fundamental aspect of our history,” said Jesus Galaz Duarte, a member of Mexicali Resiste. “Defending this water is in many ways defending our history.”
Meanwhile, Constellation and water experts suggest the brewery will use a negligible amount of water. The company said it will use between 0.1 and 0.3 percent of the total water available to service the region.
Carlos de la Parra, a professor and researcher at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a research institution focused on the U.S.-Mexico border, called the controversy over the brewery “a lot of hot air.”
“We’re always scared of changes,” he said.