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The Mining Corruption in Wirikuta

 

For several months now, it has been made clear that First Majestic Silver and the Pietro Sutti Company acquired 22 mining concessions for exploration and development in San Luis Potosi, in Wirikuta, also know as the Coronado Desert (a subsystem of the Great Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most important mega-diverse areas in Mexico).

By now, the delegate of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) in San Luis Potosi, Joel Navarro Milan, was forced to declare that neither First Majestic Silver nor Pietro Sutti have filed formal requests nor submitted environmental impact statements (MIA): "Semarnat so far does not have recorded any project or request by the companies, because to do so they must first have an environmental impact study, but there is no record that they have done it" (The Express, St. Louis, April 8 2011).

But the company Pietro Sutti has made explorations in the semi-desert on the border of San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas, at least since 2009, "under its responsibility", ie without authorizations for the change of land use and without environmental impact studies, as stated by Francisco Sandoval, the delegate of SEMARNAT in Zacatecas (La Jornada San Luis, October 28, 2009), to tap a huge reservoir of lithium.

We can not afford the luxury of doubting the intentions of the mining prospector. His background is black in so far as social management is concerned because the fragmentation, the intended division, and the engineering of violent conflict are part of their strategies as has been seen in other parts of the world, and Mexico is an open field favorable to the mining companies. Just check the untidy reform of mining laws (1996, 2005 and 2006). In 2008 Mexico won "the fifth best destination in the world for mining investment”, according to the Behre Dolbear report, February 2009, and first place in investment in exploration in Latin America (according to Metals Economics Group report, March 2009) by receiving 6 percent of global exploration investment (626 million dollars), "staying on top of major mining countries like Chile, Peru and Brazil. View the Second Report of Performance of the National Development Plan 2007-2012, of the Mexican federal government   (p. 206).

And if the mentioned concessions do not exist or do not appear, remember that it becomes difficult to find official documents that demonstrate the construction of the necessary infrastructure to access the sites of mining since permits can be transferred to the municipalities and they may mask works to benefit the suburbs, roads or water wells, which communities authorize without knowing they are directly signing the destruction of their villages.

It's really crucial to understand the dangers that threaten Wirikuta. Any mining project involves opening underground conduits and/or gutting the hills, creating ponds for the process of lixiviacion, altering the height of the ground, and addressing landslides. It will poison the air in the region, seriously affect the biologically rich areas of the desert, the vitality of the soil, rivers, springs and groundwater but also in a brutal manner the profound social diversity and the potential for the future of a population of peasants on land grants and small landholders, Huachichiles,  as an ancient presence guarding the desert.

The mines will fragment the territory, leading to the installation of industrial corridors in the region of Catorce with their mines, sweatshops, stores, saloons, brothels, "recreational” tourist sites, and promote a climate of widespread corruption just as any boom-town. They would expand the paved road system and open its branches for better access to extract the minerals, and urbanize the desert, proletarizing those who live mainly by planting maize and being shepherds of goats and sheep, and gathering wild fruits and medicinal herbs from the vast desert vegetation, like the women who are knowedgeable in old local remedies.

It should be made clear that what the future holds is the promised environmental and social destruction of the entire region and not just the areas identified as the exact spot where they will be carrying out the extractions.

And last but not least Wirikuta is, since 1999, one of 14 sacred sites identified by UNESCO, undoubtedly one of the areas of the most important rituals of Latin America because it is alive: reflecting a relationship between the ancient desert dwellers, who have peasant titles to these lands, and the Wixárika communities that make annual pilgrimages and carry out ceremonies, collect hicuri and revitalize the springs, perpetuating an insight into the holy nature of water that some indigenous peoples exercise from the earliest times between both Sierra Madre Mesoamerican mothers to balance the flows and torrents of Water in all its forms, thus for the Wixaritari, Wirikuta is a symbolic corner of its territory.

By 2000, the Wixaritari and the Huachichiles of the desert had managed to develop a deep relationship of mutual respect that enabled them to care for the wilderness and sharply reduce the trafficking of species and peyote through self-management rules agreed on by common accord after Wirikuta was declared a Natural Protected Area for its biodiversity in 1994.

But successive management plans proposed by conservation bodies such as WWF, together with other NGOs and federal agencies and authorities of Potosí, at all levels of government, were hurting this respectful relationship through a process of increasing control of Wixaritari pilgrims, trying to control by credentials, certification, collection fees, permits and route planning and access, plus the intolerable harassment of police and the army as if they were traffickers, while the door is opened to real trafficking of substances and corruption in the region.

To confront the mines and all their corruption inevitably involves strengthening ties between the ancient Huichol communities and desert settlers. It is also time to enforce the rights consecrated in Mexican laws, in agreements such as ILO 169 and Vienna, and the recent jurisprudence of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights which ascribes peoples' relationship with territory on something more than mere possession and production, beginning with spiritual and cultural foundations.

Through legal actions, both national and international, the Wixárika communities have managed to recover thousands of hectares of their ancestral territory, which has given them worldwide recognition thanks to their transparency and legal effectiveness. We must join these actions with all the social force available.

 ©2011 Yessica Alquiciras, José Godoy, Evangelina Robles y Ramón Vera Herrera

Published in La Jornada May 14, 2011