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Endangered: Wirikuta Ceremonial Center

The opening of mines of gold and silver in the Huichol ceremonial center Wirikuta, in San Luis Potosí - under the auspices of the Canadian mining company First Majestic Silver - would put at grave risk the subsistence of the indigenous people of the region, due to the destruction of their sacred sites and the devastation of the environmental resources of the area.

Those were the concerns expressed in an interview with La Jornada, by representatives of the Wixarika communities who are preparing a series of actions to reject the activities of the mining company. Last Thursday they paid a visit to the Senate to express their opposition.

"We continue preserving our cultural identity, and what supports life for us are our sacred sites, which sustain the world," said Santos de la Cruz Carillo, member of the commission for the community of Bancos de San Hipólito, in the Durango municipality of Mezquital. An attack against those sites has very serious implications, he said, and not just on the symbolic level.

For about five years, the Wixarika Union has waged a battle against local authorities and businesses interested in exploiting the mineral wealth of the area, with the objective that the governmental decrees that protect their territories in theory be truly respected.

The 22 concessions that First Majestic Silver received, the activist explained, were granted by the Secretary of the Economy without having consulted with the indigenous communities, and despite the fact that the zone of Wirikuta is a natural area of more than 140,000 hectares protected since 1994 and includes a management plan since June 2008.

"It worries us a great deal, and above all it pains us; not only are they violating not only the legal requirements, but this represents an attack on our very lives. On Cerro Quemado we have our sacred plant, which is the hikuri (peyote). These sites are alive, they have a heart, and we are worried because they are going to destroy its veins," he said.

On the more than 6,000 hectares in which the mining company is seeking to install itself, in six municipalities in the state of San Luis Potosí, one of the elements that is most at risk is the water, given that the springs in the region could end up contaminated by the chemicals that are normally used in the extractive industry, among them cyanide (La Jornada, March 1 and 2, 2010).

One of the strategies of the Canadian company, De la Cruz said, is to divide the communities by offering the population supposedly good employment options - in an area where unemployment and marginalization are very high - and at the same time, disqualify those who oppose the project, by saying that they are not residents of the place.

In permitting the mining project to move ahead, said Jaime Carrillo of the security council for the Wixarika Union, the Mexican authorities are not only violating various international environmental protection treaties, but also the Pact of Huaxa Manaka'a, signed by President Fellipe Calderon on April 28, 2008.

On that day, the national leader along with governors of Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí committed themselves to preserve the sacred sites of the Huichol people, particularly Wirikuta, he recalled.

"We are really at a loss because the government hasn't turned over the documents to recognized our protected territories. We simply want Calderon's commitment to be kept and that the agreements be respected," he said.

For the Wixarika, Santos de la Cruz emphasized, the ceremonial zone of Wirikuta is as sacred and important as The Villa Guadalupana is for faithful followers of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

"It's as if they wanted to install a gas station in the (religious sites of) Rome. The ceremonial area doesn't have a price, and the Mexican government has no respect for it. The heart of Wirikuta is calling us, and we have to unite in order to counter this imposition. We are allying ourselves also with the indigenous peoples of the United States and Canada to diminish the power of this company," he said.

For all of that, the communities of the region have begun to mobilize to demand the immediate revocation of the concessions granted to First Majestic Silver, and the completion of the treaties that protect the mentioned ancestral indigenous sites.

To call attention to this conflict, today at 4 pm in the Multiforo Ollin Kan, a Concert for Wirikuta will be performed with the participation of the traditional music of the Wixarika, along with the groups Son de Madera and Los Vegas. Entry: 120 pesos.

Fernando Camacho Servín

La Jornada
Saturday, March 5, 2011

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