The Deadly Costs for Mexico’s Indigenous Communities Fighting Climate Change
Rafael E. Lozano and Anjan Sundaram - Los Angeles Times
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March 21, 2023

San Juan Mixtepec, a small town in a mountainous region of Oaxaca, Mexico. It is known as Nuu Snuviko in Mixteco, an Indigenous language, which translates to the “place where the clouds descend.”  (Melissa Gomez/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Mexico’s Indigenous communities are on the front lines of ecological preservation. Many still live on their ancestral lands and struggle against development projects that would destroy some of the world’s most precious ecosystems that they call home. Their resistance has taken the form of protests, blockades of major highways and the occupation of government buildings.

These communities are showing us how the fight against climate change begins at the local level. They also have valuable lessons to teach us about maintaining plants, fauna and species native to their lands. But Mexico has become the deadliest place in the world for environmental and land activists protecting Indigenous territories, according to the nonprofit Global Witness, which says 54 environmental and land defenders were killed in Mexico in 2021. We need to protect Indigenous people from increasingly violent threats, if we are to also protect our fragile environment.

As journalists, we have seen what communities are facing. We recently traveled to Paso de la Reina, a town where six Indigenous environmental activists have been killed over two years for defending their pristine Rio Verde River. The activists had protested against the construction of a hydroelectric dam and excessive sand and gravel mining on the riverbed, and set up a blockade on the road leading to their town and the Rio Verde.

This isolated Chatino and Mixtec Indigenous territory lies in the southern state of Oaxaca — a couple of hours drive from the beach resort of Puerto Escondido, popular with foreign tourists. Researchers told us they believe the activists were targeted for their environmental work. Prosecutors aren’t following up on the killings. And the Indigenous community has spoken to few reporters, providing no details about the killers, for they fear more reprisals.

Indigenous defenders are increasingly becoming the last line of defense for the environment in Mexico, playing an essential role in the monumental task of preserving the national biodiversity. Indigenous people comprise less than 5% of the world’s population, but take care of an estimated 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity, according to the World Wildlife Fund. And Mexico is one of the seven most biodiverse countries on the North and South American continents, along with Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and the United States.

Of these countries, Mexico possesses the largest percentage of land collectively owned by Indigenous and local communities.

A study by the Rights and Resources Initiative estimates that more than half of Mexico’s land is owned by Indigenous peoples and local communities. This is possible in large part because of Mexico’s specific so-called tierras ejidales and tierras comunales systems, both of which allow for collective property ownership in Mexico, often by Indigenous communities who exercise their political right to self-determination, guaranteed by the constitution.

But these progressive political reforms have not changed the aggression against Mexico’s Indigenous communities. Indigenous people, who represent more than 19% of the Mexican population, according to a government census — about 24 million people — have been under threat for centuries. First by Spanish colonial occupiers, then by the modern Mexican state, which massacred them repeatedly, forced intermixing and erased their culture.

This historic marginalization continues to hamper Indigenous people protecting ecosystems whose untapped natural resources are now sought after, to spur industrialization, economic growth and clean-energy production in the form of wind farms and hydroelectric dams.

If we fail to pay attention to and protect Indigenous voices, we all stand to suffer the consequences of our fading ecology.

Read the rest at The Brunswick News

Related: In Latin America, Heat Warnings Can Prevent Deaths (Inter Press Service)

Related: Mexico-US Climate Meeting Yields Good Will but Few Specifics (Mexico News Daily)

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