Mexican environmentalist speaks on Taramahura Indians' fight to protect their Sierra Madres from drug traffickers

By Christina Woo

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Sierra Madre in Mexico is one of the most biodiverse regions in North America. Its inhabitants, the Tarahumara Indians, are struggling to keep their native lands from being taken over by drug traffickers.

Randall Gingrich, International Director of the Sierra Madre Program, says that the Tarahumara are not only losing their land in the battle, but also their lives.

"There's no good way to look at it," Gingrich said. "Drug control is absolute."

The Sierra Madre Program is an international conservation partnership between Forest Guardians and CASMAC (the Spanish name translates as Advisory Council of the Sierra Madre).

"We assist the indigenous community to help protect them against attacks to protect their forests." Gingrich said.

Gingrich, and his partner, Mexican environmentalist Edwin Bustillos, are waging the battle against human rights abuses of the Tarahumara Indians.

"We want people to learn more about Sierra Madre," Gingrich said. "We want to inform Americans, and to get them to boycott American drugs."

Because of Bustillos' involvement in the situation, he has been targeted by the drug traffickers and local police, many of whom allegedly work for the drug traffickers.

Bustillos says he has survived five attempts on his life in the last two years. In one incident, he was forced off a 300-foot embankment. In another incident, he was beaten almost to the point of death by local police.

Activists such as Bustillos aren't the only ones targeted by the drug traffickers, however. Gingrich said that the innocent lives of the Tarahumaran people are taken every day, but that only a handful of cases are documented. He says about 39 cases of indigenous and campesino leaders were assassinated between 1988 and early 1995.

"There's no justice in Mexico," Gingrich said. "We need to promote democracy not in principle, but in practice."

An estimated 105,000 Tarahumara live in the Sierra Madre, which consists of five gorges, each approximately the size of the Grand Canyon.

Gingrich says that the Tarahumara live as they did 500 hundred years ago, and that they prefer to live a simplistic lifestyle.

"They prefer to live away from material things," Gingrich said. "These are beautiful people and they have much to share with us."

Bustillos and Gingrich said they hope to increase awareness of the situation by holding a slide presentation and speech, "The Tarahumara and the Drug Traffickers: Lessons in Conservation and Cultural Survival," tonight from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Student Union Arizona Ballroom.

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