Mexico News & Politics

Puerto Vallarta • Riviera Nayarit 

  News &
Politics
Issues &
Opinions
Business &
Finance
Health &
Evironment
Lifestyle &
Entertainment
Travel &
Outdoors
Science &
Technology

Indigenous Tarahumara Settlement Faces Food Crisis

John MacCormack - Chron.com
go to original
October 28, 2012
Share



Insight into the Tarahumaras life, Mexico (André Hedinger)

BATOPILAS, Mexico - After a grinding, hour-long climb on bad mountain roads, the pickup loaded with corn, beans and outsiders arrived at a plateau of rolling pastures and gray adobe huts.

On the ascent from the Batopilas River, semi-tropical plants had given way to mesquite, then to stunted oaks and maguey. At the airy summit, the silence was broken only by a distant rooster and a bell dangling from a grazing burro.

Although more than 100 Tarahumara live in the settlement of Santa Rita, it appeared deserted, aside from a couple of women and children at the roadside.

"They don't have (two-way) radio up here. They didn't know we were coming," noted Porfirio Mendez Enriquez, 45, in charge of indigenous affairs for the municipality of Batopilas.

Silos nearly empty

Mendez began shouting, in the tongue of his Tarahumara mother, an invitation to the four corners of Santa Rita.

"Come down, everyone come together, we have corn!" he hollered.

Like many Tarahumara communities, Santa Rita was hit hard last winter by a drought. Food ran out and infants died, here and elsewhere in the vast Sierra Tarahumara.

In January, a false report of suicides triggered public and private food drives to save the Indians. The effort was criticized as politicking by the press. Jesuits, who work with the Tarahumara, said it was overblown.

But none of that was known or mattered to the people in Santa Rita in early October.

Responding to Mendez's calls, women in bold, colorful full blouses and dresses, some with toddlers and children slung in shawls, began approaching, while others watched from afar.

Pilar Pedersen, 59, a court interpreter from Alpine who had brought donations from Texas for this corn purchase, following up on a larger relief mission in January, renewed a friendship from an earlier visit.

News was scant. Most of the men were away with the older children visiting a school. The last outsiders had come months ago, also bringing food. The primitive stone silos on the hillsides held little corn.

"Because of the insects, the harvest was not good. And a lot of people didn't plant because they did not have any seed corn," said Marcial Mendoza Quimere, 40, wearing a western-style shirt and faded bill cap.

"Two children and three adults died here last year. And we will be hungry again in December and January. We will be completely without food," he said.

Tribe of survivors

Known for their prowess at long-distance running, resistance to assimilation and dependence on subsistence farming, the Tarahumara have survived in Mexico long after other native people vanished.

An estimated 70,000 Tarahumara, who refer to themselves as the Rarámuri, occupy the Sierra Tarahumara, a vast region of pine forests, high peaks and deep canyons that centuries ago provided refuge from Western invaders.

Here they exist in small communities, relying on corn, beans and squash, supplemented with livestock and chickens, living in primitive shelters.

Among their more noteworthy customs is the tesguinada, a raucous social event in which large quantities of corn beer are consumed in community gatherings. But Tarahumara can now also be seen dangling a six-pack.

In recent times, unforeseen dangers have reached the Sierra Tarahumara.

Alcoholism, unregulated lumbering that causes erosion and deforestation, drug gangs who seize their corn plots to grow marijuana, and the steady encroachment of outsiders all threaten the Tarahumara.

"The Indians have changed. Now they don't cook in the ollas (big clay pots), and some of them don't want to speak Rarámuri," Mendez said.

While the Tarahumara are no strangers to hunger, in the past two decades, extreme dry cycles in northern Mexico have brought repeated rounds of suffering, triggering food drives on both sides of the border.

But it was the worst drought in 70 years, coupled with a brutal freeze in early 2011, that early this year brought many of the Tarahumara to their knees and afflicted thousands of other Mexicans.

According to the state government, more than 250,000 people in Chihuahua were affected by the drought, which extended to 19 states in Mexico.

False suicide report

But protest marches by campesinos, newspaper articles about the growing crisis and frantic calls for help from local officials and activists brought little government relief to the drought-afflicted areas.

According to some activists, the deadly effects of the failed 2011 harvests were foreseen months earlier when Tarahumara mothers began bringing sick and starving babies to regional clinics late last year.

But it took a dramatic digital shout-out - the one that later proved false - to pierce the nation's conscience and ignite what quickly became a cause célèbre involving a host of agencies.

When Chihuahuan activist Ramon Gardea announced in mid-January that 50 starving Tarahumara had already committed suicide, the account went viral.

The story proved false, but the plight of the poorest of Mexico's poor became international news.

"I got calls from a radio station in Venezuela, from the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times," recalled Jesuit priest Javier Avila, who works closely with the Tarahumara around the town of Creel.

Articles in the national magazine Proceso described Indian babies bloated bellies and pencil-thin limbs, some with diarrhea and pneumonia.

According to the Jesuits in Creel, the crisis was both exaggerated and mismanaged.

"Certainly there was a very serious drought, but the indigenous always live in a situation of poverty and malnutrition, and this year wasn't really that different," said Guillermo Estrada, director of the Santa Teresita Clinic in Creel.

"The difference is, the false reports of the suicides really brought a lot of public attention. We were overwhelmed with food, but the stories about massive deaths and famine like in Africa were false."

Avila, who has worked for 37 years with the Tarahumara, also is a human-rights activist, a role that has brought death threats.

He works out of a small office, watched by security cameras, next to the Catholic Church on Creel's main square. Here tour guides pester tourists, and a few Tarahumara peddle handicrafts.

Avila said his appeals for help to the state government last fall fell on deaf ears. And, when relief finally arrived, he said, it was without good planning or consultation.

"In late January, the government began to distribute food, just handing it out of trucks without figuring out if it was needed it or not," he said.

Work for food

He said the relief effort revealed the dearth of well-designed programs for the Tarahumara. "They are just dealing with the effects, not with the causes. The reality is there are no good policies in place," he added.

And, he said, giving away food is contrary to all the Jesuits have learned over many decades. "Only children, widows and old people receive food from us without having to work. Those who can work must work to receive food," he said.

Meanwhile, in Mexico City, Isaac Oxenhaut, national aid coordinator for the Mexican Red Cross, is carefully monitoring the Sierra Tarahumara. "If the rains don't continue, we'll have to resume the food campaign," he said of the Red Cross, which has been distributing beans, grains, milk and chocolate. "We were involved from December to March of this year, and we are now entering the difficult months."

  Check out Cruz Roja Mexicana (Mexican Red Cross)

  Check out Peyote People


We invite you to add your charity or supporting organizations' news stories and coming events to PVAngels so we can share them with the world. Do it now!

CHARITY ALERT Vallarta Botanical Garden Needs Your Help

TripAdvisor singled out the Botanical Garden for removal and placed us on our own page in Cabo Corrientes.

Please write and ask TripAdvisor why all other Cabo Corrientes attractions are still on the Puerto Vallarta page while only the Garden was removed.

Click here to see all the details

Meet the Charities

Community Services

Environmental

Animals & Wildlife

Health Care

Youth & Family

Education

Culture & Recreation

Special Interests

How You Can Help

Use Your Powers for Good

Add Your Favorite Charity

Save a Life - Give Blood

 

Partners for Change

Meet the Partners

Become a Partner for Change

Stay Connected

Find PVAngels on Facebook Follow PVAngels on Twitter Sign up PVAngels Newsletter RSS Feeds on PVAngels


Resources

About PVAngels

Add Your Charity

Add Your News & Events

Locate Yourself on Our Maps

Jobs - Join PVAngels Team

About Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta Local News

Local Event Calendar

Puerto Vallarta Videos

Puerto Vallarta Photos

Historic Puerto Vallarta

Local Area Maps

Important Phone Numbers

Craig's List in Puerto Vallarta

News Around Mexico

Mexico Issues & Opinions

Mexico Business News

Mexico Evironmental News

Lifestyle & Entertainment

Mexico Travel & Outdoors

Science & Technology News

Mexico News & Travel Videos


FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance a more in-depth understanding of critical issues facing the world. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 USC Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

m3 • local actions from global awareness