Sacred Indigenous Site in Mexico Threatened by Canadian Mining Company
Every year, the Wixarika (Huichol) indigenous people of central west México walk 500 km to the sacred land of Wirikuta, where according to legend, the sun was born. Here, they collect jíkuri (peyote), carry out rituals of purification and come into communion with their gods, who give them blessings and guidance. In this way, they conserve their culture, maintain harmony with nature, and uphold a thousand-year-old tradition.
Located in the state of San Luis Potosi, Wirikuta is one of the most biologically rich and diverse deserts in the world. In 1994 it was decreed “a Site of Cultural and Historic Heritage and an Area under Ecological Conservation”; in the year 2000 the protected area was expanded to 140 thousand hectares; and in 2001 it was declared a Sacred Natural Site by UNESCO. There is also a bird sanctuary in Wirikuta. In spite of this, it is currently under siege by First Majestic Silver, a Vancouver-based mining company that paid 3 million dollars to obtain 22 mining concessions in the area.
To be sure, First Majestic Silver is not the first mining company to covet the mineral resources in the region. In fact, local mining activities were initiated by the Spanish in the 1770s. The town of Real de Catorce was founded then, but it did not reach the height of its splendor until the end of the 19th century, during the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship. Decadence followed as mining activities became more sporadic. The last mining activities in Real de Catorce took place about 20 years ago, leaving behind a ghost town, hills pockmarked with mining shafts, contaminated water and soil, unemployment and poverty. The aesthetic beauty of the landscape, however, remains intact and Real de Catorce has since become an off-the-beaten-track tourist attraction. It has also served as a filming site for two Hollywood movies: The Mexican, starring Brad Pitt and Julie Roberts, and Bandidas, featuring Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz.
This same stage is now the backdrop for a social environmental conflict that is unfolding around First Majestic Silver’s intentions to reinitiate mining activities in the area. Where the Wixarika people see sacred beauty and the fountain of life, Keith Neumeyer – president and CEO of First Majestic Silver – sees an opportunity to further enrich himself and his company’s shareholders. With state-of-the-art technologies, he hopes to reopen old mines, exploit previously undetected veins of minerals, and squeeze out the last remaining traces of silver from tailings left behind by others. There are promises of job creation and social corporate responsibility, but the jobs are both dangerous and ephemeral. Moreover, it is not entirely clear how cyanide and other noxious substances could possibly be contained. In Real de Catorce, past experience has shown that mining companies do not stay for long and when they go, they leave behind diverse forms of environmental degradation. Along these lines, in 2010 a team of researchers from the University of Guadalajara detected lead and arsenic in plant and animal samples collected in the Wirikuta desert. Follow link to continue reading...