By Asela Viar
MEXICO CITY – The Raramuri Indians, inhabitants of the Sierra Tarahumara region of the northern state of Chihuahua, are battling severe food shortages and a threat to their traditional way of life amid Mexico’s most worst drought in 71 years.
“The situation is difficult,” Tomas Ruiz, a member of the Tarahumara Supreme Council, said. “We had droughts for three years and it’s gotten worse this year; and the frost even left us unable to bring in the harvest.”
The Raramuri (“the light-footed ones”), or Tarahumara, a community of roughly 100,000 people, inhabit scattered hamlets in the Tarahumara mountains. They prefer to live far from urban areas and remain in direct contact with nature, a pillar of their ancient culture.
Like other peasant communities in northern Mexico, the Raramuri face a severe scarcity of food and cattle due to the drought, prompting them to travel to Mexico City to demand emergency assistance from the federal authorities.
Raramuri Indians, as well as peasants from several states in northern Mexico, have been holding demonstrations in recent days in Mexico City, walking or riding on horseback or tractors through the streets and holding up signs demanding more drought-relief funds.
Hundreds of people walked Monday from the iconic Monument to the Revolution to the Government Secretariat in the last phase of a protest that began earlier this month in Chihuahua city.
Peasants plan a national march on Mexico City on Jan. 31.
“What we need the most is for aid and assistance to arrive so we can feed our children and our adults,” Gabino Gomez, leader of the El Barzon movement in Chihuahua, told Efe.
The demonstrators also carried emaciated goats and cows in their pick-up trucks, showcasing them as proof of the drought’s devastating effects.
“Eighty percent of the cattle have died where I work because we don’t have electricity or water. The little we get we bring from a nearby well, like years ago,” Veronica Rios, a young woman from Chihuahua, said with a hint of desperation in her voice.
Ruiz, for his part, said the situation in the highlands is grave not only due to a shortage of basic foodstuffs but also a lack of work and infrastructure.
“We need corn and food urgently because the storerooms don’t have enough for all the families ... also the people don’t have employment or welfare,” he said.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International and other organizations say a lack of rainfall and the frost are not the only causes of the desperate situation.
“Indigenous people in our country have endured permanent discrimination, exclusion and marginalization,” the director of AI Mexico, Alberto Herrera, said.
To date, the federal government has ordered the disbursement of some 100,000 packages of food and blankets, as well as 33.8 billion pesos (some $2.5 billion), to confront the humanitarian disaster.
The funds are to be used to fix and improve the systems that supply water to residents of drought-stricken areas, as well as to provide food to communities affected by the natural disaster.
A massive citizen relief drive also was launched a week ago after a report – denied by the authorities – of alleged hunger-related suicides in the Tarahumara highlands.
Dozens of food-collection centers were spontaneously organized in Mexico City through social-networking sites.
“We’ve had everything from a woman with two rolls of toilet paper saying that was all she could give to a boy with more than 450 cans of food for children,” Mariana Taibo, a volunteer at one of the centers, said.
Nineteen of Mexico’s 32 states are suffering from the drought, with northern states, such as Chihuahua, the hardest hit. EFE