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Visionary gathering brings regenerative development to Caribbean shores

All the pieces are beginning to come together for the XV Vision Council – Guardians of the Earth “Call of the Water” gathering. This year, the itinerant ecovillage and high-impact social movement has set its sights on Mexico’s Caribbean coast near the border with Belize. The gathering is set for the shores of the magnificent Laguna de Bacalar, which in Mayan means “Gate of the sky where the reed grows,” also known as the Lagoon of Seven Colors.

Sian Ka’an Bakhalal, the Lagoon of Seven Colors – site of the XV Vision Council, the Call of the Water

This year, as it was in 1992, the goal is to protect a unique coastal ecosystem, organizers say.

“We are talking about a unique lagoon ecosystem in imminent danger,” said Santiago Palomar, one of the event organizers. Palomar and others on the team have been working to strengthen community networks and to teach techniques applicable for protecting the bioregion.

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Spirituality Council, XIV Vision Council – Call of the Sage, Teopantli Kalpulli, Jalisco, Mexico, 2015. (Santiago Palomar photo)

For seven days in November-December, hundreds of environmentalists, healers, artists, activists, spiritual seekers and people from all walks of life will create community for a gathering which, unlike most festivals, is designed to leave the site better than they found it. From Nov. 26-Dec. 3, the open-air ecovillage will be the site of workshops, ceremonies, forums, performances and celebrations, all geared toward shifting the paradigm to one more in tune with the rhythms of the planet.
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Justice thwarted in Huichol land restitution case

By Tracy L. Barnett
Intercontinental Cry
Photos by Octaviano Díaz Chema

HUAJIMIC, Nayarit, Mexico — A century-old land conflict has flared up again in the Western Sierra Madre, deepening already raw tensions in the wake of the May 2017 assassination of two Huichol (Wixárika) leaders who fought to reclaim that land.

On Friday, the anniversary of last year’s equally contentious reclamation action, 1,200 indigenous Huichols, hiked for three hours down a mountain into the contested valley of Huajimic to meet the court officials scheduled to sign over to them a bitterly contested piece of farmland.

The officials never arrived, however, because ranchers opposing the restitution staged a roadblock, and police never showed up to enforce the action. Now the Huichols say they’ll stay put on the remote piece of farmland until the restitution is complete, setting the stage for a potentially violent standoff of uncertain duration.
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Manolo Miranda, one of three Ngäbe leaders facing trial, explains the impacts of the Barro Blanco Dam on the Tabasará River and surrounding communities. (Jonathan González photo)

Panama trial of three Ngäbe leaders “a pattern” of intimidation and criminalization”

Above: Manolo Miranda, one of three Ngäbe leaders facing trial, explains the impacts of the Barro Blanco Dam on the Tabasará River and surrounding communities. (Jonathan González photo)

By Tracy L. Barnett
Intercontinental Cry

Manolo Miranda, leader of an indigenous community recently flooded by the Barro Blanco dam, now faces up to two years in prison for causing delays and financial losses to the company that has ruined his community’s way of life.

Miranda is scheduled for trial Aug. 18, together with two other leaders of the Ngäbe-Buglé who opposed the dam, regional cacique Toribio García and religious and protest leader Clementina Pérez. All three face up to two years in prison for trespassing and interfering with the “inviolability of work” for their alleged role in an encampment that blocked the entrance to the hydro dam in May and June of 2015. Charges against two other activists who were present at the encampment, Oscar Sogandares and Carmen Tedman, have been provisionally dismissed.

Ngäbe religious leader and Barro Blanco opponent Clementina Pérez, one of the three facing trial, shares an article about her arrest during the May-June 2015 protest. (Photo: Tracy L. Barnett)

Human rights and environmental leaders say the case is typical of a growing trend of using the courts to silence and intimidate environmental and human rights defenders throughout the country. Some point to a request made in March of this year by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington D.C. to meet with such defenders and try to address the problem. Miranda’s sister, Weni Bagama, was one of those who testified at the IACHR hearing in March, and Barro Blanco was one of the cases discussed. Government representatives have not responded to requests for information on this process or on the lawsuit.
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Huichol leader assassinations ‘A wound to the heart of the community’

(Above: Nearly 1,000 Wixárika community members participated in a mobilization led by Miguel Vázquez Torres Sept. 22, 2016, to reclaim the first parcel of 10,000 hectares being contested in the federal agrarian tribunal. Photo: Abraham Pérez

by Tracy Barnett
For Intercontinental Cry
 Este artículo está disponible en español aquí 

GUADALAJARA — As commissioner of public lands for the indigenous Wixárika territory of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlán, Miguel Vázquez Torres was at the forefront of the legal fight to recover 10,000 hectares of indigenous ancestral lands from surrounding ranching communities. He was among those who repeatedly urged the federal and state governments to intervene to prevent violence in the increasingly tense region that had been the subject of land conflicts for more than a century and, more recently, an increasing presence on the part of the drug cartels.

So it was particularly painful to learn that Miguel and his brother, Agustín, a young attorney also active in the land restitution project have become victims of the violence that they had worked so hard to avoid. They were both gunned down on Saturday. Preliminary investigations implicate an organized crime cell operating on the border between Jalisco and Zacatecas states.

Miguel Vázquez Torres, the Wixarika leader most responsible for mobilizing an effort to reclaim 10,000 hectares of ancestral lands, shows the vast expanse of lands belonging to San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan. Photo: Nelson Denman photo.

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Panama’s hydroelectric boom destroys ecosystems, threatens rural way of life

by Tracy L. Barnett
for Global Sisters Report

Sr. Edia “Hermana Tita” López was living out her mission as a Sister of Mercy, seeking the best ways to serve the poor and disenfranchised of Immaculate Conception Parish in La Concepción on the western end of Panama, when she learned of a plan that would leave many far poorer.

She and other religious in the Vincentian community where she was working in 2005 heard about a “public consultation” in the nearby town of Volcán, and they went to see what it was about. Church and community leaders were shocked to learn that a company was planning to build 11 hydroelectric dams on the largest river in the area, Río Chiriquí Viejo.

Once known for its spectacular whitewater rafting and lush riparian forests filled with wildlife, Chiriquí Viejo was a Neotropical gem. Along its banks, farmers produced much of the food for the nation.

López was alarmed.
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A wall in their river: Flooded Ngäbe communities continue to fight dam

Above: Döegeo Gallardo and Göejet Miranda paddle home through the dead zone that was once a shady, fish-filled river. (Tracy L. Barnett)

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Global Sisters Report

Kiad, Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca, Panama – “Bulu Bagama is my positive name. Luis Jiménez, my negative one,” the Ngäbe elder began, standing on an expanse of cracked mud that covered what for generations was his family patrimony. A tumbledown shell of a house lay in ruins, and a few dead leaves clinging to one remaining tree provided scant shade from the sweltering midday sun.

The words, referring to his indigenous name and the one imposed by the dominant Spanish culture, summed up the feelings of betrayal from a people that has fought bitterly for nearly two decades to stop the Barro Blanco dam, a hydroelectric project that to local communities and environmentalists has become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the current model of development in Panama.

Bulu and his wife, Adelaida González, stood in the mud and recalled that terrible night last August when they awoke to find the waters of their sacred Tabasará River seeping into their home. They scrambled to collect their children and as many of their possessions as possible. Neighbors weren’t so lucky; their houses were completely washed downstream. A child narrowly escaped drowning in those harrowing hours.

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Coyote Alberto on the Rights of Nature

By Keala Carter

 “Coyote” Alberto Ruz Buenfil has devoted his life to nurturing the bonds that connect humans with the place we inhabit and its other inhabitants, from the beaver to the bee to the wind and the water. His ethic has been influenced by and has in turn influenced movements toward intentional communities, ecovillages and bioregionalism. He has assiduously advocated for the inclusion of the Rights of Nature in legal frameworks and was instrumental in the inclusion of Article 13 ‘Rights of Nature’ in the Constitution of Mexico City in 2016. With a sense of history and the survival of the earth at stake, Alberto is keen to arm people, poets and politicians with the knowledge of our inherent interdependence and the belief that we can do something to change the course of our collective future.

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Ruz, a founder of the Rainbow Peace Caravan, the Vision Council-Guardians of the Earth and the first Forum for the Rights of the Mother Earth in Mexico City, is preparing for a rare free web conference on Monday, Feb. 27 for Gaia University. We took advantage of the moment to visit with him about this most timely subject. Details about the conference follow. 

EP: The title of the upcoming Gaia University conference “Why rights of nature is an essential issue today.” Can you explain to me why now is a ripe moment in time for the rights of nature and a shift toward biocentric jurisprudence?
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Esperanza Means Hope