Wind energy companies have swarmed to the area with big plans for wind farms to power the likes of Coca-Cola plants and Wal-Marts and a push to acquire huge tracts of land to do so. The "rush" for land farmed by locals since ancient times has divided the impoverished indigenous population over money, land rights, and changing values. Villagers' distrust of outsiders has led to increasing unrest throughout the Pacific edge of the isthmus for several years. Most recently, around the Laguna Superior, it has included a paralyzing blockade of one village by another and, in October, a deadly shooting at a demonstration.
"Oaxaca is the center of communal landownership. There is probably no worse place to make a land deal in Mexico," says Ben Cokelet, founder of the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research.
And yet, with such an overwhelming wind resource, it was bound to attract development. The rush for Tehuantapec's wind energy is a green-tinged twist in the age-old story of resource extraction: The quest for "clean" energy isn't always so clean.
Farmers shocked at size of turbines
Mexico's potential wind energy capacity is enormous: 71 gigawatts, which is 40 percent more than the nation's entire installed electricity-generating capacity, including coal, gas, and hydropower. That potential was behind Mexican President Felipe Calderón's promise at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Convention in Cancún to double solar and wind energy production from 3.3 percent of the nation's energy production to 7.6 percent in just two years (a goal Mexico is on track to hit later this year).