Tag Archives: Mexico

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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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Juventino Carrillo, a former authority of the Huichol community of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlán, discusses the long history of the land disputes as his wife, Marta Torres, sews the family’s traditional clothing. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nelson Denman

Mexican ranchers and Huichol people urge government to solve land conflict

Above: Juventino Carrillo, a former authority of the Huichol community of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlán, discusses the long history of the land disputes as his wife, Marta Torres, sews the family’s traditional clothing. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nelson Denman

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Thomson Reuters News Service

Audelina Villagrana has managed her ranch alone, with the assistance of Wixárika hired help, since her husband died 23 years ago. (Nelson Denman photo)
Audelina Villagrana has managed her ranch alone, with the assistance of Wixárika hired help, since her husband died 23 years ago. (Nelson Denman photo)

LA YESCA, Mexico, Dec 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Audelina Villagrana has run her ranch in Mexico’s Western Sierra Madre mountains on her own since the death of her husband 23 years ago, herding livestock, hiring local Huichol people and even raising a young Huichol boy like a son. Now she and other ranchers are locked in tense confrontation with their indigenous neighbors over land that has been in contention for centuries. A series of recent legal decisions has brought the dispute to a boiling point.

“It’s a strange situation, when on the one hand I share my home with them, and on the other, they’re suing me for my land,” Villagrana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from her terracotta-tiled farmhouse in the mesquite-studded hills.
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Court kicks the El Zapotillo Dam decision down the road

By Tracy L. Barnett
For El Daily Post
Photo courtesy International Rivers

Farmers and ranchers desperate to stop construction of an aqueduct across their lands in Jalisco must bide their time for resolution. The Supreme Court removed the case from its docket, deciding it needed more time to study the particulars of the complicated El Zapotillo dam case. The decision could impact similar water projects, but the specifics of this case deserve a closer look.

The Mexican Supreme Court has postponed a hearing on a case that could have repercussions not only for the aqueduct of the controversial El Zapotillo Dam project in Jalisco, but other contentious water projects, as well.

These include the Independence Aqueduct carrying water from the Yaqui territories in the north to supply the thirsty industrial city of Hermosillo, and Monterrey VI, a $50 billion-peso project carrying water from the Huasteca region to Monterrey.

The Court was scheduled to hear arguments on an appeal of the El Zapotillo case by the San Juan de los Lagos Ranchers Association, a group of 800 farmers in the Los Altos region of Jalisco. The plaintiffs argue that a planned 140-kilometer aqueduct that would carry water from the dam across their farm and ranch land to León, Guanajuato, will violate their rights.

The ranchers are asking that the project be suspended under the Precautionary Principle, as laid out in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Any ruling based on this provision would set precedent with regard to large-scale water projects vs. more environmentally friendly water management methodologies.

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Victory is theirs! Ahuisculco villagers save their water supply

Tracy L. Barnett
for El Daily Post

It was one of those heartwarming victories that can renew your faith in the possibility of achieving justice peacefully. Mountain villagers in Ahuisculco, Jalisco, who had camped out for months in front of bulldozers were finally able to broker a land swap with the sugar company that was threatening their water supply. Here’s how they did it.

 

Church bells clanged, fireworks exploded and a brass band blared as the Virgin of Ahuisculco made her way down the streets of her town Wednesday, part of a procession of hundreds of villagers celebrating the victory of their fight to save their water supply.

After nearly three months camped out in front of  bulldozers that threatened their drinking water supply, the villagers celebrated the news of the project’s cancellation with a Mass and one final fiesta in the encampment as they prepared to disassemble it and resume their lives.
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Jalisco villagers have set up camp against the bulldozers

Tracy L. Barnett
for El Daily Post

The Jalisco village of Ahuisculco was one of the few places in Mexico where residents could open their taps and drink fresh, clean water. But an anonymous corporation moved in last September and began digging. After a while, the villagers’ crystal-blue springs ran a muddy brown. That’s when the camp went up.

Ahuisulco, Guadalajara

Photos: Tracy L. Barnett

AHUISCULCO, Jalisco – The grey mists of morning rise in the valley of Ahuisculco, bringing the new day to the roadside encampment where ten hardy villagers have spent the night around the fire, drinking coffee and sharing stories to ward off chill and exhaustion. One by one, reinforcements begin to arrive from the nearby village with chicharrones, chismes and good cheer.

It’s another day in the plantón, the protest encampment blocking the path of the bulldozers – where hundreds of villagers of this town of 5,000 have taken a stand for more than a month to protect their water supply from the excavations of a shadowy corporation that has yet to be identified. Here in the entrance to the construction zone that menaces their springs they’ve blocked the construction with their bodies, building a temporary encampment complete with kitchen, port-a-potties, sound system and now an open-air tent chapel with their beloved “Chaparrita,” the miraculous Virgin of the Ascension.
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Film chronicles the movement to save a sacred land and a visionary culture

Turama2-HuicholesFilm-esThe film Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians will be on a North American tour with 30+ screenings in more than 20 cities in the United States and Canada, with the U.S. premiere at Rice Theater in Houston, Texas, and theCanadian premiere hosted by Cinema Politica in Montreal, Quebec. The documentary presents the emblematic case of the defense of Wirikuta, sacred territory to the Wixárika (Huichol) people against the threat of transnational mining corporations. The Wixárika people, native to the Sierra Madre, have since time immemorial made their pilgrimages to this land; now they find themselves at the forefront of a spiritual crusade to protect life, evidencing the internal contradictions in our materialistic world.

“This documentary combines stunning cinematography with engaged and compassionate storytelling to bring an underrepresented tale of resistance to Cinema Politica audiences and beyond,” said Ezra Winton, co-founder of the Montreal-based media arts organization. Continue reading

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Interview with the Last Peyote Guardians: Marakame José Luis “Katira” Ramírez and son

José Luis “Katira” Ramirez invokes the sacred five directions of the Huichol people in a benediction before the showing in Guadalajara (Credit: José Andrés Solórzano)

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Intercontinental Cry

SECOND OF TWO INTERVIEWS
See also: Interview with the Directors of Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians

José Luis “Katira” Ramírez was serving as the governor of his community of San Andrés Cohamiata, Jalisco, when he met Argentine filmmaker Hernán Vilchez. He was not like any governor Vilchez had ever met. A Huichol shaman, or marakame, dressed in his colorful native clothing and distinctive plumed hat, he stood out in the urban environment of Mexico City. He had traveled far from his home in the Western Sierra Madre because his community was in crisis; the rains had not come in time, and the corn crop was ruined. He had come to the megalopolis to seek support for his people, who were in dire need with their failed harvest. Another crisis, too, loomed large in his mind: the fate of Wirikuta, the sacred land of his people, destined to be churned into ore by Canadian mining companies. He had no idea how it would be done, but he knew it had to be stopped. The fate of his people – and indeed, of the entire planet, according to his perspective – hung in the balance.

Hernán, for his part, was traveling the planet with his film crew, seeking subjects for a German reality show that portrayed the cultures and traditions of native peoples around the world. He asked Katira if he would be willing to participate in a filming of the program. Katira said he would consult with the elders of his community, and together they would decide.

Eventually the community gave their blessing, but they asked for something in return. They wanted Hernan to film the story of their struggle to save Wirikuta.

Katira’s family became the protagonists in the documentary, which follows the building of an extraordinary movement. I sat with Katira and with his son Clemente, a student at the University of Guadalajara, at the closure of the very intense Mexican film release tour to get a different perspective on the story behind the film. Producer Paola Stefani joined in at his invitation.

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José Luis “Katira” Ramírez introduces the film in Estación Catorce, in the sacred territory of Wirikuta, flanked by the film crew and his family. (Credit: José Andrés Solórzano)

Tracy: Katira, how was it to live with this film crew in your house, in your life, filming every day? Because of what I know of the Wixarika people, it’s a very private culture, very discreet, and people value their privacy very much.

Katira: Yes, it was very difficult. There were many people who think many things and said things to us (critical things), but you only think of the defense. I always said in the assembly, you also should do the work, this is what it costs. If there’s no support, it’s painful, but one does it because really they do it from the heart, because really they love the Mother and the territory, and also we have rights as guardians on this planet.

Tracy: I know that there are various documentarians who go to the sierra and ask for permission to film. Hernán is not the first; so why did you choose him to do this movie?

Katira: He has a heart to especially know us. It wasn’t his first time to come to an indigenous community; he had been to communities all over the world with almost the same problems, the same needs. So when we met it was like we had already known each other for many years.

Tracy: What were the most difficult challenges for you in this process?

Katira: The difficult thing was the distances, and because of the distances the cost of everything – it’s very far and that’s why, with work and with sacrifice, we did it.

Don’t think it was cheap; each trip was 1500 euros, 1,000 euros, from my pocket, from my work, but working together and with a lot of economic sacrifice we were able to do everything we needed to complete this documentary, so one day people will understand.

Thank God my heart is very strong, because I wanted to leave something for the children, for the grandchildren, for the future, because I’m not going to live 500 years, 300 years, who knows what’s going to happen; so this was very important for me.

Tracy: I really loved the opening you gave to the film in Guadalajara – the ceremonial blessing, the invocation of the five directions. I was curious to know if you opened each of the presentations with a benediction like that one, or were they all different?

Katira: Very different. Sometimes we arrived rested; other times the director was really sick and weak from so much travel, with the rains, with headaches, we had to take care of each other that week of the release tour.

Tracy: Katira, I know as a marakame you are also a healer, among other things. Were there times when you served as a healer for the film crew?

Katira: Yes, laying the hands on energetically, healing, that’s how we’ve always cared for each other.

Tracy: I’ll bet you had a lot of work, no?

Katira: ¡Sí!

Tracy: And did the treatments work?

Katira: Here’s Paola; ask her.

Read the full interview at Intercontinental Cry.
The film can be viewed online for $3.99 at huicholesfilm.com.
Anyone who is interested in organizing a film screening or supporting the effort may contact the director at hernanton@gmail.com.