MEXICO.- Since the beer production plant that was intended to be one of the largest in the world was canceled through a citizen consultation in Mexicali and there is no legal recourse to reverse the decision supported by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the American company Constellations Brands is looking for another place in this country to set it up.
“The firm believes that it should open a new factory in Mexico given a growing demand for beer in the North American market,” acknowledged William Newlands, president and CEO of Constellation Brands.
Research in the United States such as the one carried out by the JAMA Network Open magazine found that, since 2019, people over 30 years of age increased alcohol consumption during the coronavirus pandemic by about 14%. And the trend continues to rise.
López Obrador has proposed to Constellations Brands —which has the exclusivity of selling the Modelo and Corona brands in the United States— thatEU to move its production plant to the southeast where they do not have water problems as in the north of the country.
The southeastern state that has so far made public interest in attracting such investment is the president’s home state: Tabasco. It would be the company’s third plant in Mexico: the others are in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, and in Nava, in Coahuila.
“Tabasco is fighting the investment of just over 1.5 billion dollars that means the installation of the Constellation Brands brewing company,” warned Federico García, local secretary for Economic Development and Competitiveness.
The problems that led to the cancellation of the Project in Baja California began in 2017, a year after it was announced that the plant would be built with an investment of 1.5 billion dollars.
Farmers from the region and members of the Mexicali Resiste organization accused the company of not having their land use permit And yet, it would remain in the state for 50 years, consuming 20 million cubic meters of water per year, drying up the population and local crops.
The protests led to the confrontation of activists with the armed forces and public security, blockades and protests to prevent the construction of a 47-kilometer pipeline from the Colorado River to the south of Mexicali that would supply the new plant.
Paradoxically in Tabasco, at that time the floods were the problem every day like every year in hurricane season because the state is facing 60% of flat territory and susceptible to river overflows.
The first records of floods in the capital of the entity are located in the 16th century due to the largest rivers in the country, the Grijalva and the Usumacinta. This year only due to the passage of Hurricane Eta, there were more than 1,800 victims; 10 years ago, in 2011 they affected 130,000 people and four years earlier three-quarters of the population was under water.
The authorities believe that an improvement in the infrastructure could control the overflows that get out of control, regularly, every 10 years, and therefore they are looking for investments that manage the storage and recycling of water.
“In the southeast what is left over is water,” said the president who proposed as a campaign axis to strengthen the region that is one of the poorest in Mexico.
Federico García, the official who announced Tabasco’s interest in the more than one billion dollars that Constellations Brands still has to invest, said that this “would be a tractor company that would detonate other projects at the same time.”
But the American firm is not an easy prey. In a report sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States government, he said that in the Mexicali work had already executed 900 million dollars and that it had hurt him a lot. Still, he acknowledged that he still had $ 1.1 billion for a new headquarters that should have two characteristics: abundant water and a skilled workforce.
So far the company has not announced the selected place. Darío Celis, a financial analyst, assures that another of the states that will fight to attract the brewery is Veracruz, currently governed by Cuitláhuac García, a close ally of the Mexican president and of the Morena party that brought him to power.
Veracruz is also one of the states with the largest number of rivers (24) and lagoons (15) and one of the most affected by excessive rainfall during six months of the year of the hurricane season, although, like Tabasco, it is not a few kilometers from the northern border: transportation It involves expenses that they would not have had in Baja California.
After the survey that the Mexican government organized to ask the inhabitants if they wanted the plant in Mexicali to continue or not, the exit of the American brewery has been very controversial. He is accused, among other things, of campaigning with the support of government and business promoters to anchor himself.
The Employers’ Confederation of the Mexican Republic (Coparmex) has openly opposed the departure of the Mexicali company to avoid job losses and lack of economic benefit.
“Constellations Brands will not lose a penny of the investment since the federation will be obliged to return the corresponding amount to what had already been paid by the company,” declared Francisco Fiorentini, counselor of the employers’ organization.
“The people of Mexicali are the ones who will lose out if the company goes elsewhere.”
For the activists, the recent reopening of the legal proceedings against them is related to the objective of retaining the company. In past days, the organization Mexicali Resiste held a protest in San Francisco, where the Constelations Brands brewery headquarters are located, to demand “a stop to criminalization.”
Between 2017 and 2018, the Baja California prosecutor’s office prosecuted some of the opponents of the installation of the brewery for deprivation of liberty, attempted homicide and dispossession of the local congress, including the leader of the organization Mexicali Resiste, León Fierro, during a protest.
León Fierro is one of the most visible faces in the defense of human rights, activist and defender of water. He was teaching at the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC) when Constellations Brands arrived. Thus began an opposition fight against the company, which he accused of bribing Mexican officials “with millions” to allow it to operate.
He was detained without a warrant outside his home in May 2018 after a confrontation with police officers who accused him of wanting to run them over. They released him a few days after multiple protests and sit-ins in the state and in Mexico City. Then, last August, the Baja California state congress decided to reopen the case and the defendants will have hearings during this month of November.
“We are going to continue protesting here or in any place where the human right to use water is put at risk,” León Fierro warned in recent interviews.
Mexicali Resiste affirms that Constellations Brands continues to operate at the Mexicali plantHowever, officials from the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) assure that the work observed is only for the dismantling of the plant that will last 24 months from last February.
“Not even a liter of beer has been produced and they are not using water to make product,” said Laura Flores, a government representative.
“Of all the facilities, the workshop is the only building that is in operation and it is where they are finishing assembling the tanks that are being moved to other locations, where the components that are being taken from Mexicali will be received.”
– 2016 Constellation Brands announced the construction of the Mexicali plant, which was expected to open in 2019 to provide 10 million hectoliters of production capacity and scale to 20 million hectoliters in the future.
– 2018 The Mexicali Resiste collective called the then presidential candidates, among whom was the now president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to discuss the privatization of water. They imprison the leader of the organization, León Fierro, and release him after a few days.
– November 2018, civil organization groups asked the Baja California State and Electoral Institute (IEEBC) to submit the work to a popular vote. The petition was approved on February 11, 2019.
– March 2020. 76% of the electoral roll vote against the plant.
–2021. Constalation Brands is looking for a new headquarters in Mexico with more than a million dollars in hand.
– 2022. End of the dismantling of the plant in Mexicali
The craft beer boom
While Constellations Brands is looking for a friendlier headquarters to install its new plant, Ximena Salmerón, businesswoman and owner of the Lágrimas de Malta brewery, is bidding for boost sales of Mexican craft beer at its premises located in the Naples neighborhood of the Mexican capital.
In recent years, craft beer production in Mexico had a rebound. In 2020, despite the pandemic, it was 7%, according to the National Survey of Independent Producers of Craft Beer (Enpica) 2020-2021. This increase is higher than the results of industrial growth, which showed an increase of 5%.
Empica documented that the employment rate registered in the independent beer sector grew 13%, going from an average per brewery of seven employees to eight and the trend is expected to continue increasing. Of these employees, 35% are women and 17% are in their first job.
The creativity of Mexican beer producers has led them to produce very original products such as mandarin, guava and all kinds of seasonal fruits mixed with notes of coffee or just with this grain.
During the past Day of the Dead festivities, a company launched a special edition of “Cempasúchitl”, the traditional flower that is placed on altars.
The “Victoria Cempasúchi” was promoted as perceptible in sweetness, notes of bread, light hints of hops and reminiscences of the flower. “A balanced beer to share with the living and the dead that is recommended to be served in a long glass to open the aromas and enjoy the yellowish-orange foam” to be accompanied with mole and even sweet bread.
Despite the originality of artisanal beer, they compete at a disadvantage with the costs of industrial beer such as Corona, Negra Modelo, Tecate and other brands. An artisanal one costs almost double in the bars and many times they prefer to guarantee a clientele of young people with the cheapest.
In the case of Lágrimas de Malta, Ximena Salmerón observes that her clientele is curious to try new flavors, but she must give them samples, offer them at the tables, talk about the new beers that come out on the market and that there are many. The best known, such as Cucapá or Colimita, are already asked for without promotion.
Online tutorials and the culture of craft beer have pushed many young people to explore their own brands and little by little they have managed to place them on a small scale in CDMX with batches of between 60 and 120 liters every one or two weeks.
“I’ve been in this for six months and I do see that these small beer producers are growing in the city, there must be at least 80!”, Says Ximena as she attends some of the small producers who held a small festival in her place.
Through the festivals, craft beers are making their way to grab more than the 1% they currently have on the market. In the next few days, right in Méxicali, where they kicked out Constellations Brands, there will be the 2021 edition of the Mexicali Beerfest, organized by the association of Micro Brewers of this city, expecting 6,000 attendees.
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