Jul 11, 2012

Wirikuta, ready to fight for their sanctuaries

El Universal: Americas Program Original Translation by Anna Moses
See Spanish Original.

Demonstrations of discontent have grown in number and categories, experts say.The lawyer of the Wixarica Regional Council, Santos de le Cruz Carillo, explained the map he held in his hands: the 111,197 acres in Wirikuta which on May 24 the federal government declared a national mineral reserve, sacred territory in the desert of San Luis Potosi just in the region with no mining agreements.

The thirty year old who wears traditional Wixarican or Huichol clothing looks annoyed. He recently attended the press conference in Mexico City at which he was informed that the Wirikutafest, a rock concert that happened two days after the government announcement earned 9 million pesos for the legal process and programs for the people.

The indigenous leader hardens his look as he says, "The government announcement is a lie, a farce, a hoax not only to the Wixarika people but to national and international society."

Fact: 75% of the Wirikuta territory which is composed of 345,947 acres has become mining concessions. He warns, "We'll see the ultimate consequences."

The Wirikuta case is one addition to the national map of rural and indigenous communities fighting for their territorial rights. According to experts it is a phenomenon that had grown over the past six years in its conflict, articulation, and visibility.

Maria Fernanda Paz, in charge of the socio-environmental conflicts and social mobilization, categorization and analysis project of the Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), now counts 125 rural and urban conflicts in 22 states.

"They are fighting against mining, dams, wind farms, tourism development, urban development, roads and beltways," explained the anthropologist.

Many conflicts emerge because neoliberalism deprives territories of common goods that are now on sale: water, subsoil, cooperative land, as the water law expert at the Institute of Legal Research of UNAM, Rodrigo Gutierrez said: "There is a struggle for territory in the country that is unfair, illegal, violates the rights of individuals, and devastates communities."

Francisco Barcenas, co-author of "Ore or Life: Mining Legislation in Mexico" thinks the novelty of this emerging phenomenon is that "people combine mobilization, saving their identity and legal defense."

The Mixteca lawyer related that there had been important victories, such as the rarámuri community of Huetosachi, Chihuahua, which the Nation’s Supreme Court of Justice legitimized their indigenous status and upheld their land rights against Copper Canyon Trust.

But it is important to note that in many cases there is total impunity, as in the village of Temacapulin, Jalisco, whose people, despite winning a federal legal protection against their relocation due to dam construction by Zapotillo, still almost lost their village under water.

Map of resistance
Paz continues her investigations of their years with her upcoming editorial, "Deterioration and resistance: social-environmental conflicts in Mexico".

In the piece, the anthropologist analyzes 95 conflicts, 40% about water, 25% about farmland and indigenous territories, 15% about natural protected areas, 9% on forests and hills, 6% about the urban environment, 4% about coastal areas, and 1% about soil contamination.

The cases come from those presented at the National Assembly of Environmentally Affected Areas (ANAA), a popular forum for self-training, as well as a review of daily journalism and cybernetics. The ANAA began in 2008 with 30 organizations and citizen groups in the country. In 2012 it grew to include 130.

"If there are conflicts it is good news because it implies, "No More!" And in some places blood has been spilled as people fight with their all," she said. This documents the emergence of new "partnerships, village alliances, village councils, and coordinators" as well as networks such as the Movement of People Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers (MAPDER) and the Mexican Network of those Against Mining (Rema).

Most of her cases are concentrated in central, western central and southern Mexico. Observing underreporting in the Yucatan, Tabasco, Aguascalientes, Colima and Nayarit it is possible to see a lack of coverage or coordination with national networks of struggle, "We do not know whether this is due to organized crime and the drug war strategy."

Her map does not include the case of Cheran, Michoacan, which she says is linked to another emerging community phenomenon where organized crime activity arises in bursts.

Save Wirikuta
Cruz carries a blanket embroidered with doves, peacocks and eagles in intense greens and blues. His mother and sisters in her community, Bank of San Hipolito, municipality of Mezquital, Durango, took more than half a year to produce it.

In its pattern, the young lawyer said, reflects the worldview of his people. As in Wirkuta the essence of life is represented in a series of alters and shrines that pilgrims come to from long distances and ancient times.

"To end Wirikuta is to end the wixarika people, we're actually speaking of ethnocide," he said.

The Wixarica Regional Council had a legal victory in February 2012: they obtained federal protection against the Canadian mining company First Majestic so that it could not do exploitive work.

The mining company has 14,827,128 acres under the concession of which 70% are in Wirikuta. The same day the government announced the creation of the national mining reserves, the company ceded 1880 acres, among which is the Quemado Hill, which houses one of the sacred Huichol altars.

The defense emphasized that this was not just to save a hill: "These 1880 acres represent 0.5% of the 345,947 acres of Wirikuta". In Wirikuta there are already 74 mining concessions.

According to Miguel Angel Romero, General Director of Mines of the Ministry of Economy, the 74 concessions are still being processed as, "for dealers to perform operations they must obtain environmental permits." The agency reported that the national mining reserve was expanded from 111197 to 185329 acres and five mining concessions were canceled.
Conflict Engineering
Barcenas, the Mixteco lawyer, estimates that the case of Wirikuta successfully broke from preconceptions of struggle: “they held a ceremony in the sacred region and organized a rock concert with 60,000 attendees.

But their visibility is exceptional. Generally, communities face struggles without transcending through forms of mass media and without mobilizing citizens. In addition, with only limited resources for legal defense.

This is the case for the San Isidro Actopan, Veracruz community, which guards a coastal zone with dune formations. They tried to privatize it with tourism funds. Six farmers have been jailed (one died in prison), eight more are being persecuted and armed men threaten the population.

Researchers say that the increase in clearance and looting within communities can be attributed to the increase in capital, particularly foreign capital, with the support of the state.

Paz wrote that the State “modified article 27 of the constitution to free land and natural resources and changed the water and mineral regulations to pave the way for privatization and clearance; the law of foreign investments facilitated the entry of capital, with the government the principal promoter of private investment."

These legal modifications facilitate the execution of large projects with “conflict engineering”, the phrase coined by the researcher Andres Barreda, and which Gutierrez describes: “First the project is hidden, whichever one it may be, leaders are identified in the community and a key person is convinced to participate. Later, the people are divided; some are offered high prices for their land while others are given nothing.”

Romero rejects that in the government there exists such a strategy: “This interpretation is completely false, foreign to reality and biased”, he said. “Arguments such as these are just from those who want to generate conflict.”

In Barcenas’ opinión, the situation is aggravated by the multiplication of mining concessions. He estimates that 32% of national territory has been under concession for exploration and development work for 50 years and can be renewable to 100 years.

“Why do they need 100 years?,” he asked. “Because to speculate, gold goes up and down, because now the concessions can be sold, combined, divided, a consortium can control much of the shares and sell. What about the property of the nation?"

Romero affirms that the national territory given to miners “is about 15%”. And notes that the outbreak of local conflicts against the companies “is not the direct responsibility” of his office.

Barcenas expressed on his part that the popular struggle against mining has spiraled into violence. “The people now have peaceful strategies, but I don’t know what is going to happen when there are no other options”, he said.

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