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SIERRA HUICHOL – DAWN 2005

©Pablo Alarcón-Cháires
Laboratory of Ethno ecology
– UNAM                                                     Go to Original

Sunday, January 2, 2005

The misleading attempts of the State and Federal governments that are aimed at restraining the greatest calamity that tears apart Mexico, its poverty, appear to be further from success and instead threaten to definitively eliminate access to the country’s two principal sources of wealth: the environment and its culture.

The environment is the material base upon which the present and future of the country rest, while cultural roots, represented among other actors by the indigenous populations, sustain it and give the nation its identity. Both the environment and culture have fallen victims to that which, in theory, should bolster them: development. Concealed in the Trojan horse of great economic interests, the institutionally promoted model of development destroys natural resources. It induces the subjugation of the indigenous culture, retards progress and annihilates hopes. Forgotten in this endeavor is the fact that development is not an official construction. On the contrary, its foundations rest upon society and the environment.

The present development plan for the Sierra Huichol clearly exemplifies this situation. On at least four fronts, the imposed model of development violently bursts into a territory considered one of the last vestiges of ancient Mesoamerican cultures. The four fronts—namely road construction, electrification, the mammoth construction project of the El Cajón dam and multinational company’s assembly plants in search of cheap labor to lower their production costs—collectively serve as the point of a spear aiming to impose a particular vision of development and progress.

These people not only face the onslaught of the influence of Mexican party political machinations—which seem to achieve their aim of dividing communities with perfection—they face frenetic evangelism, and the now age-old agrarian conflicts with the Meztizo (mixed-blood) landowners. In addition to these adversities, the Huichol tradition now battles a more formidable enemy—development.

Road construction within the sacred geography of the Huichol threatens to turn this geography into a tourist attraction, ripe for the sacking of the thousands of Huichol ceremonial centers like Ratontita and Teakata—spaces that serve vital roles in the educational and spiritual formation of this indigenous group. The advancement of the clear cutters is already palpable thanks to the access provided to the bountiful forests in the region.

The El Cajón dam has already been declared inoperative and a future white elephant by hydrology experts, who claim that there is insufficient water flow for the projected capacity of the project. Environmentally, the prognosis for El Cajon is that it will fragment and destroy ecosystems, restrict the distribution of flora and fauna, modify food chains and, on a more global basis, contribute to the atmospheric imbalance of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide.

Having previous experience with the social and environmental damage brought on by the Huajimic dam in Nayarit, the El Cajon dam has been rejected by the Huichol, the Cora and Mestizos of the region alike. One can expect that the effects of the displacement of these people will manifest itself in greater pressures on the region’s forest ecosystems, as demand for arable land and raw material increases. One can also expect the flooding of some sacred Huichol sites.

As if this were not enough, communal farmers of Santa María del Oro, where the dam is being built, have demanded indemnification from to the federal government for the confiscation of their lands. But true indemnification would include payments to compensate for the environmental and sociological effects that will arise from the modification of hydrology patterns in the tributary rivers such as the Jesús María and Huaynamota, near the Chapalagana River, which serves as the main drainage of the Sierra Huichol.

The problem with this development scheme is one of violation of human rights, in addition to the violation of Clause 169 of the International Labor Organization convention signed by Mexico. Even if such projects are necessary to improve living conditions in the region, alternatives must be considered—alternatives that go beyond their mere application and take into account the interest of the large local populations when weighed against the economic interests of a few. Can it be that in this democratic system we cannot achieve the type of development for which we aspire and instead must surrender before a model of imposed development?

palarcon@oikos.unam.mx

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Translated from Spanish by Arturo Ramos