PBI-Canada to host the Network in Defense of Indigenous Territories of Sierra Tarahumara (REDETI) in Ottawa, October 24-29

Published by Brent Patterson on

Mariana Azucena Villarreal Frías of the Network in Defense of Indigenous Territories of Sierra Tarahumara (REDETI) will be in Ottawa this coming October 24 to 29.

REDETI has highlighted: “The lack of legal recognition of ancestral lands is one of the causes of the dispossession of the Indigenous peoples of the Sierra Tarahumara. Among the most obvious dispossessions are the extraction of natural assets such as timber, medicinal and edible wild plants, as well as [the denial of] land, autonomy and their traditional forms of government.”

Photo: PBI-Mexico accompanies the REDETI supported Indigenous Rarámuri forest community of San Elías Repechique as they blockade a highway to demand legal recognition of their territory; November 2022.

The network includes the Sierra Madre Alliance (ASMAC) that “defends more than 50 thousand hectares of indigenous territories, and fights to definitively suspend forestry activity to protect primitive forests.”

It also includes the PBI-Mexico accompanied Community Technical Consultancy, A.C. (CONTEC) that “offers training and technical advice to the forest ejidos [communally owned lands] and indigenous communities of the Sierra Tarahumara.”

Photo: PBI-Mexico accompanies the Meeting of Indigenous Communities in Coloradas de la Virgen, Guadalupe and Calvo, Chihuahua; June 2022.

PBI-Mexico has noted that the main causes of the issues faced by the Indigenous communities supported by CONTEC “are related to economic interests surrounding tourism projects, legal and illegal exploitation of forests, real estate and energy projects such as mining, pipelines and the presence of organized crime.”

The goal of REDETI is to achieve “legal recognition of the territories and preferential access to the natural resources of the peoples and communities of the Sierra Tarahumara.”

The major issues they have highlighted include internal forced displacement, illegal logging, and threats against Indigenous peoples and their rights.

Illegal logging

Reuters reports: “An academic at UNAM [the National Autonomous University of Mexico], Leticia Merino, estimates that 70% of the wood consumed in Mexico is illegal. [A report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime] found that drug traffickers involved in illegal logging have also been associated with deforestation and land theft, which often affect marginalized indigenous groups.”

The Yucatan Times also reports: “The rate of deforestation in Mexico is 155,000 hectares per year, of which 60,000 have their origin in clandestine logging. …Two thirds of the wood sold in the country comes from illegal logging. In Mexico, the territories of Campeche, Oaxaca, Chiapas and Chihuahua are the most affected by this activity.”

In May of this year, Red TDT noted: “Indigenous peoples of the region have denounced that illegal logging intensified since 2015 and in the last 8 months it has worsened. Currently, there has yet to be a comprehensive action plan to prevent illegal logging in the forests of the Sierra Tarahumara of Chihuahua.”

Internal forced displacement

Puerto Vallarta News reports: “The crisis of internal displacement caused by violence continues to escalate in Mexico. Between January and June 2023, 26 events of mass displacement were registered across eight states – Chiapas, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Michoacan, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. This resulted in at least 7,710 individuals being affected, averaging one displacement event per week and 43 people displaced per day.”

Last year, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, visited Mexico.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that Jimenez-Damary “heard from internally displaced persons, and in communities affected, how violence, agrarian conflicts, sometimes related to development projects, mining, illegal logging and disasters forced people to move. In addition, she saw the impacts of displacement on women, relatives of disappeared persons, members of indigenous peoples and communities, journalists, human rights defenders, and members of the LGBTI community.”

Threats to Indigenous environmental defenders

Since 1966, at least 22 people have been killed for defending the forest and territory in the Sierra Tarahumara.

Global Witness has also documented that 31 land and environmental defenders were killed in Mexico in 2022 (and that globally a disproportionate number of those killed are Indigenous). Furthermore, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) says that there were 322 attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) in Mexico between January 2015 and December 2022 with the sectors most dangerous for HRDs to challenge in Latin America including mining and logging.

What can be done?

During her visit to Ottawa, Mariana Azucena Villarreal Frías of the Network in Defense of Indigenous Territories of Sierra Tarahumara (REDETI) will be meeting with Canadian officials, Members of Parliament and civil society allies to help answer:

– What can be done to develop an urgent and comprehensive action plan to stop illegal logging in the Sierra Tarahumara?

– What can be done to protect Indigenous peoples who have been forcibly displaced by organized crime, illegal logging and mining?

– What can be done to ensure the dignified and safe return of Indigenous peoples to their communities?

– What can be done to achieve legal recognition and Indigenous authority over their ancestral lands in the Sierra Tarahumara?

– What can be done to ensure that Mexico complies with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and ILO Convention 169?

– What can be done to protect Indigenous environmental defenders challenging illegal logging, mining and energy projects in the Sierra Tarahumara?

Within this framework we also ask: What Canadian mining operations might be contributing to environmental harm and forced displacement in the Sierra Tarahumara? What role could the Canadian government’s “Voices at Risk” voluntary guidelines for embassies and missions play to better support Indigenous defenders at risk in the Sierra Tarahumara? How does the export of Canadian-made “military goods” to Mexican security forces contribute to the militarization of territory and human rights violations?

Photo: PBI-Mexico accompanies CONTEC on a visit to the San Elías Repechique Forest community; August 2016. This Indigenous Rarámuri community resisted the Canadian transnational TC Energy’s Encino-Topolobampo pipeline on their ancestral lands.

To learn more about the work of REDETI, click here and here.


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