The third-largest brewer of beer in the US, Constellation Brands, seeks to set up a plant in the Mexican state of Mexicali. Constellation—which is based in New York and owns the Corona, Pacifica, and Modelo brands—hopes to start production in Mexicali by 2019, with the aim of exporting four million bottles of beer each day. As David Agren reported in a February 2018 Guardian article, there has been considerable opposition to Constellation’s plans. The local community believes the impacts of this plant will be significantly more detrimental than beneficial to its residents and the local farming economy.
Mexicali Resists, the group taking on the brewery, are speaking out, not only against the plan’s environmental ramifications but also regarding the long-lasting negative impacts on residents that will ultimately be swept under the rug. Mexicali is a fairly dry area; access to water is of utmost importance for sustaining life and maintaining healthy harvests. With the construction of the plant and the manufacturing of beer, Constellation will usurp large quantities of water. Numerous protests have erupted at the site of the planned brewery, but there has been received very little media attention outside of activists sharing news and images of the resistance on social media.
Despite the lack of corporate media coverage, local demonstrators continue to speak out to raise awareness of their plight. “We’re already having water shortages,” said one of the protesters, Ana Lopez, “now imagine when the plant starts working.” Many are skeptical about what this could mean for the community and the motives of the corporation. “If this brewery was such a good idea wouldn’t it be across the border in Calexico or Las Vegas?” asked a seventy-five-year-old farmer, Eduardo Cisneros. “They just want cheap water, and cheap labor.”
Many residents and farmers share these same sentiments. However, the Constellation corporation denies all accusations that its breweries are linked to water shortages and instead claims they will contribute to the community by offering jobs and bringing in more people and infrastructure. What Constellation does not address is that the opening of the brewery will usher in the privatization and redistribution of water sources. This will increase water rates and lessen the reliability of a consistent water supply in poorer areas.
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) transformed Mexico’s historically closed economy into one focused on exports. NAFTA caused uneasiness among farmers in the Mexicali valley, and many believe the country has lost sight of its fundamental principles of self-sufficiency and sovereignty. Older farmers recall a time when the government provided credit and gave subsidies for fuel and fertilizer, however these policies were plagued by corruption and created a cycle of dependency on the products and an inability to pay for acquired debts. In the end, NAFTA policies resulted in the loss of livelihood for many farmers. In this context, residents are skeptical of Constellation’s claims to assist the community. They are suspicious that the brewery will have long-term negative effects.
Constellation Brands is not the only competitor expanding into the borderlands. Heineken, which owns Mexican brands such as Sol and Tecate, has recently announced plans to expand in Mexicali, entailing even greater demands on local water supplies. With these large corporations in competition with local communities for limited water resources, a water war may be on the horizon.
Source: David Agren, “Mexico protesters fear US-owned brewery will drain their land dry,” The Guardian, February 4, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/04/mexico-water-brewery-mexicali-constellation-brands.
Student Researcher: Tonatiuh Beltran (College of Marin)
Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)