“Wirikuta is for us, the Wixarika people. It is the foundation of our communal and family life.
Without Wirikuta we die as a people.” Wirrárika Authorities

By granting mining permits that will affect the sacred zone they call Wirikuta, “the state committed irregularities and didn’t consult the people”, explains Santos de la Cruz, president of the Autonomous Commission of Communal Property of Bancos de San Hipolite and member of the Wirikuta Defense Front. “Because of this, we demand that they find alternatives to resolve them.” he added.

The traditional leaders and leaders of the communal property of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlán, Tuxpan de Bolaños, Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán and Bancos de San Hipólito, that represent the voice of Mara’akame, along with the council of elders and assemblies of more than 500 Wirrárika ceremonial centers, reaffirmed before the new federal government their determination to defend their territories against mining and agro-industries.

A year after the Feb. 7 traditional pilgrimage to Cerro Quemado in Wirikuta, in the state of San Luis Potosi, the Wixárika Regional Council made another pilgrimage—this time to Mexico City to reiterate their demands and to deliver their petition to the new Peña Nieto administration.

De la Cruz says that their demands remain the same and that their “position is clear: and we will continue to strengthen our community organization, along with other communities.”

The demands, stated in an “urgent letter” that is also directed to the “peoples and governments of the world”, summarize the issues that remain from the administration of former president, Felipe Calderón. The letter calls for Wirikuta to be declared a Protected Natural Area; the cancellation of mining concessions, in accordance with the recommendation made by the National Commission of Human Rights; the closure of tomato agribusinesses; and for Wirikuta to be inscribed in the list of Natural World Heritage Sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Wirikuta is a place of extraordinary cultural, spiritual and natural wealth. Located in the plains and mountains of Catorce, it forms part of the World Network of Sacred Natural Sites. In 1999,  UNESCO declared it one of the world’s 14 sacred natural sites that must be protected. The Wixárika people go to Wirikuta to collect Jicuri (peyote).

Every year, since before recorded history, the Wixárika people have gathered in the semi-desert of Real de Catorce to take on a pilgrimage that recreates the long route their ancestors walked during the formation of the world to the birthplace of the Sun. It is there where their ancestors rest and sacred natural springs are found.

The Wixárika authorities have demanded that the area of Wirikuta be designated a Natural Protected Area from a bio-cultural perspective. This means that it must guarantee the human rights of the ejidos* inhabitants of the region, the territorial rights of native peoples and the need for ecological restoration of the area.

Wirikuta is a biological oasis in the desert. It is home to 80% of all bird species that inhabit the desert, 60% of the mammal species and 50% of the native plant species. The sacred territory of the Wixaritari extends over 14,000 hectares predominantly found in the current state of San Luis Potosí. Nearly 70% of this territory is threatened by mining concessions and agro-industrial projects. The primary demand of the indigenous people, for whom the area is the center of their world and the birthplace of their gods, is to stop all mining projects in the area and place a ban on re-issuing mining concessions.

The ecological, social and spiritual effects of mining and agribusiness activities would be severe and gravely affect the Wixárika people and the ejido residents in the region who, according to Tunuary Chavez, coordinator of the environmental committee of the Wirikuta Defense Front, will be most affected. Thirteen localities would suffer immediate water shortages along with the drying up of natural springs. Estación Catorce, Estación Wadley, Coronados, Ojo de Agua, San Cristobal, La Cañada and La Palma are among some of the communities that would be most affected. Moreover, the social cost would be very high because of the 3,110 inhabitants, only 166 would be eligible to be hired to work on the projects due to working age requirements.

Progress in protecting the land

The Wirrárika have not been idle. After the May 2012 musical festival, Wirikuta Fest, the communities began to focus on strengthening their communal organization. They continue with the legal defense, and are implementing productive and infrastructure projects such as installing tubing and plumbing and a vocational training center. They are also starting projects of ecological restoration that include dry/ compost toilets, and the growing and harvesting of fruit trees.

“We know that legal processes take a long time,” notes Santos, adding that judges oftn stall. There is currently an order of suspension that states that the area should be preserved and that directly affects the mining activities of the company, First Majestic Silver.

“We continue to document the irregularities committed not only by the mining companies, but also by the tomato companies that cause great devastation and affect the flora and fauna,” says De la Cruz.

The campaign against the indigenous people

To create friction and conflict between the mestizo (mixed race) and indigenous residents of the area and to avoid naming Wirikuta as a Biosphere Reserve, the mining company First Majestic (owner of 22 mining concessions within the sacred area) and the mayor of Catorce have launched a defamation campaign, denouncing the Wirrarika authorities and the Jalisciense Association in Support of Indigenous Groups (AJAGI).

The Wirrárika seek cooperation with the mestizo population, says Santos de la Cruz, although this has been difficult due to the information that the mining company circulates. “They [mestizos] want jobs and the company says that it will create them without polluting the environment”, states De la Cruz. He affirms that the current scarce water supply will be polluted if mining is permitted.

The other argument being circulated is that if Wirikuta is declared a Biosphere Reserve the Wirrárika will force the mestizos off their land, blocking their ability to harvest. However, de la Cruz says, “We are clearing that up with them”.

We understand that they (mestizos) are not behind this campaign,” de la Cruz pointed out. “We want to have a direct line of dialogue, of one people to another, so that the solution will benefit us both.”

Originally published at Desinformémonos.

Desinformémonos is an “autonomous, global communications project” and sister organization to the Americas Program. It covers grassroots movements throughout the world and the ideas and aspirations behind them.

Translation: Clayton Conn


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