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Mexican Huichol protest road passing through their sacred land

March 24, 2008:

The road will travel through some of the most bio-diverse and sacred landscapes of Mexico

For the past two weeks 700 people in the Sierra Madre Occidental region of Central Mexico have sat patiently night and day in the dusty lay-by of a half-begun highway to protest the scheduled destruction of many kilometres of a sacred and ecologically fragile pilgrimage route.

Since February 11 members of the indigenous Huichol community have organised a protest beside the Bolaños – Huejuquilla El Alto Highway. They are supported by ARC’s partner body Conservacion Humana, which has been working on environmental projects with the Huichola for more than a decade.

Although the road-building is being carried out by the government of the state of Jalisco – a legislature that has in the past claimed some green credentials – protesters believe it is happening in violation to environmental legislation.

“The area is one of enormous ecological value,” said Humberto Fernandez of Conservacion Humana, indicating that it has not only been listed as a Federally Protected Natural Area but that it is also part of the Priority Hydrological Region of Rio Baluarte – Marismas Nacionales; the Priority Terrestrial Region (RTP – CONABIO) Sierra los Huicholes; and it is also within an Area of Importance for the Conservation of Birds. Some of the sites on the planned path of the highway have been recognized in the Mexican Tentative List for the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO.

Mr Fernandez confirmed that the Communal Assembly denied having given permission for the highway. “A change of land use of land hasn’t been established, nor is there evidence of the appropriate permits.”

This international recognition of the Huichol pilgrimage routes and their sacred sites is also a recognition of its cultural value and its potential in becoming part of the system of routes that would open a cultural corridor from the states of Jalisco to San Luis Potosí.

The neighbouring government of San Luis Potosí has already established the route and the protection of the sacred landscape as a protected area while the other neighbouring government of Zacatecas is closely studying the proposal to do the same. Many organizations, among them the World Bank, are interested in developing such projects since they recognize and promote social diversity as social capital.

The Huichola are not asking that there be no development activities, just that it should be at their own pace, and with respect to their traditions and sacred values.

“The community’s value could even be quantified as part of the national budget,” Mr Fernandez said, explaining that if we destroy a community by invading its territory with tourism projects that will turn them into another folkloric attraction or if we allow mining projects serving interests foreign to the community’s values then we only cause more fragmentation. “Without an indigenous authority, drug-trafficking and other forces of despair will harass those territories and their inhabitants.”

The Mexican Federal Government has made an official, and public commitment to fight deforestation and climate change. It also has an explicit policy to support communities which, in order to fight drug-trafficking more efficiently, are in charge of their own territories.

Conservacion Humana has issued video footage of the protest, with Spanish language narration, onto the Youtube site.

Links to ARC stories:

* Background to the Golden Eagles and Sacred Sites projects.

* Link here for details of a documentary created by Conservación Humana and the Huichol people with the help of ARC.

* Leading Huichol expert John Lilly dies.

Links to other sites:

Conservacion Humana
Huichol Sacred Sites and Landscapes, Mexico



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