Those who defend the Sierra Tarahumara, one of the most important forested areas in Mexico, are up against drug traffickers, local political bosses, extractive projects and government indifference. These defenders are mainly indigenous people whose identities were forged in the mountains, cliffs, forests and creeks. Without their territory, they say, they are nothing. This is why they protect it. It is the reason they oppose their forests being cut down and their springs drying up. It is the reason they confront those who try to cut off their roots.
When someone dies in the family of the Rarámuri, indigenous people from Coloradas de la Virgen, it is their custom to drink tesgüino, a corn fermented traditional drink. They collect the objects that the deceased person cherished or made, everything that identifies that person, and then give them to him or her symbolically. They talk with the person and give them advice. They advise them not to return and to remain with those who have already died. To stay there. To rest.
It must be done three times if the deceased was a man and four times if it was a woman, explains a traditional Rarámuri doctor. He is a defender of the forests of his territory and friend of Julián Carrillo Martínez, a Rarámuri, murdered on October 24, 2018 in Coloradas de la Virgen, a community from Sierra Tarahumara in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
The day after Julián was murdered, his family left Coloradas de la Virgen. They knew the murderers could come back and kill them as well. They abandoned their house, their belongings and their animals. They were prevented from following their custom. Julián did not have the farewell of his community’s tradition.
“He knew that they wanted to kill him”, says María, his wife, in Rarámuri. The traditional doctor translates her words to Spanish. “He said that if something happened to him, we should stay on the farm. If we chose to leave we would not be able to come back to our land. But we had to leave.”
María has suffered the death of her people. In February 2016 they murdered her son Víctor Carrillo. In December that year, they burnt her house down. In 2017 they killed two of her nephews and in July 2018 they killed her son-in-law. And now, she has lost Julián. She is far from home and displaced with her four sons, two daughters-in-law and four grandchildren in the north of the country.
The community of Coloradas de la Virgen, including Julián and his family, have been receiving death threats for years. The threats increased when the indigenous people began their legal fight to oppose the cutting down of trees grown in the territory inhabited by their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
When Julián was murdered, he was the community’s president of collective property. His role was to protect what belonged to all of them: trees, water and land.
Weeks before his murder, he discovered that the Mexican government had granted concessions for mining in Coloradas de la Virgen.
One of these concessions was granted to Mario Humberto Ayub Touche, a powerful entrepreneur from Chihuahua, and two sons of Artemio Fontes Lugo, a local political boss who has a long been reported by indigenous people as the person responsible for the cutting down of their forest and the dispossession of their territory, as well as being linked to drug-trafficking groups.
Julián was murdered soon after he and his colleagues who defend the forests of Coloradas de la Virgen began denouncing the existence of these mining concessions for the exploration and exploitation of minerals in their community.
Coloradas de la Virgen is only one of several communities from the Sierra Tarahumara that defend their natural resources and territory from local bosses, concessions for mining, touristic projects, illegal logging and drug trafficking.