“These tensions, these tendencies, are already there, and they’re just made so much worse by climate change,” said Christopher Scott, a professor of water resources policy at the University of Arizona. “They are in a fight for their lives, because no water, no agriculture; no agriculture, no rural communities.”
Since February, when federal forces first occupied the dam to ensure water deliveries to the United States continued, activists in Chihuahua have burned government buildings, destroyed cars and briefly held a group of politicians hostage. For weeks, they’ve blocked a major railroad used to ferry industrial goods between Mexico and the United States.
Their revolt has alarmed farmers and politicians in Texas. Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor, appealed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month, demanding that he persuade Mexico to deliver the water by the deadline next week, or risk inflicting pain on American farmers.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has repeatedly bent to President Trump’s demands on immigration, has vowed that his country will make good on its water obligations to the United States — whether the state of Chihuahua likes it or not.
He sent hundreds of members of the National Guard to protect Chihuahua’s dams, and his government temporarily froze bank accounts belonging to the city where many of the protesters live.
For farmers, the government’s stance is a betrayal.
Mr. Velderrain, 42, said he never saw himself as the type of person who would lead hundreds over a hill to overwhelm a group of soldiers protecting a cache of automatic weapons. But there he was in a video posted on Facebook, escorting a Mexican general out of the Boquilla Dam on the day he led the takeover, which saw the National Guard, surprised and heavily outnumbered, quickly surrender. Later that day, one protester was shot and killed by the National Guard.