Message #272:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Problems For Tarahumara
Date: Wed, 23 Jul 1997 20:28:18 -0700

[ just found 1996 article -- SASIG Ed. ]

Mexican Deforestation in the Sierra Madre 
Mexican Deforestation in the Sierra Madre (MEXDEFOR case)

   Mexican Deforestation in the Sierra Madre 

About TED Categories and Clusters 
A.        IDENTIFICATION 1.        The Issue      The forests of the
Sierra Madre Occidental are being assaulted on several fronts.  The
Mexican government is legitimately taking millions of acres of board
feet from the forest to export abroad to earn some hard cash and to help
solve their terrible foreign debt crisis.  Nearly twenty percent of the
timber logged in the Sierra Madre is sold to the U.S. as plywood, paper,
or pulp.  Many other thousands of acres are being logged illegally or
burned by narcotraficantes who then plant acres of marijuana and opium
plants in their stead.  Usually, the drug traffickers force the
Tarahumara Indians into growing the crops for them, oftentimes, under
the penalty of death if they refuse.  These drugs, once processed, are
worth hundreds of millions of dollars at their final destination - the
streets of the United States.  The forests are being destroyed with
little attempt at reforestation, and currently, both plant and animal
species are starting to disappear, erosion is becoming a larger problem,
and the Tarahumara Indian tribe is facing the destruction of their
culture. 2.        Description      The issue is the massive
deforestation of the Sierra Madre Occidental in the Mexican state of
Chihuahua to both legal and illegal forestry practices.  Home to one of
the largest biologically diverse areas in Mexico, the old growth forests
and the many animal species living within it are quickly falling prey to
the clear-cutting methods of Mexican forestry companies, and
increasingly, to drug lords seeking to clear and use the land to plant
and grow their illicit crops.  The Tarahumara Indian tribe, residents of
this area for the past several thousand years, are finding their
traditional lifestyle and culture being destroyed as they fall prey to
brutal drug lords who coercively force them to grow their crops and to a
Mexican government that increasingly looks the other way.        The
Tarahumara Indians have lived relatively untouched by Western
civilization in the Sierra Madre Occidental and its extensive network of
massive canyons called barrancas for the past 6,000 years.  The
Tarahumara were never conquered by the Spanish Conquistadores or the
Jesuit missionaries who brought their smallpox with them in 1607.  In
1631, the Spaniards briefly controlled the Tarahumara and coerced them
into working for them in their silver mines.  After a failed revolt in
1696 led to brutal reprisals by the Spanish, the Tarahumara went farther
into the Sierra back country fleeing civilization.  Since then, the
indigenous people have largely been left to their own ways until gradual
Western encroachment began in the latter part of the nineteenth century
and the early part of this century.  Loggers started arriving in the
Sierra Madre in the late 1800s and conscripted the Tarahumara to provide
a cheap labor supply for their operations (Shoumatoff 90, 1995).  Again,
instead of actively opposing the intervention of Westerners onto their
lands, although they did briefly rebel against the loggers in 1918, the
Tarahumara fled deeper into the labyrinthine maze of canyons to escape
foreign influence.  Sustained Mexican encroachment and Tarahumara
isolation came to a relative end in 1962 when the last section of the
Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad was finally completed to traverse the
Sierra Madre (Weisman 1994, 1994).  With the railroad came more loggers
and the environmental degradation of the area began to accelerate.      
 The Sierra Madre boasts some of the richest biodiversity anywhere in
North America and contains about two thirds of the standing timber in
Mexico.  Twenty three different species of pine and some 200 species of
oak reside within the Sierra Madre Occidental.  So far, over cutting of
the forests in this area since the early part of this century has caused
the extinction of the imperial woodpecker (the largest woodpecker on
Earth) and has lead to several other species becoming critically
endangered such as the Mexican gray wolf, jaguar, and thick-billed
parrot.  Currently, all but 300,000 acres or about 2 percent of the
old-growth forest is gone, most without approval or permits from the
Tarahumara tribe (Shoumatoff 1995, 92).  The smaller trees left as seed
stock in place of the old growth forests have mostly died because they
lack protection from the elements provided by taller trees.  Local
logging companies - some believed to be in close association with, and
in a few cases, owned by the narcotraficantes, have been forcing new
roads into remote settlements and cutting what remains of the last
old-growth forests. This land, often under Indian protectorship, is
often logged without Tarahumara permission.       In addition to being
under attack by illegal logging practices, another severe threat to the
Sierra Madre Occidental old-growth stands was a 1989 World Bank Loan to
Mexico of  $45.5 million for a logging and forest-management project
(Mardon and Borowitz 1990, 98).  The plan, to log more than 4 billion
board feet of lumber from 20 million acres of forest over six and one-
half years was ostensibly put in place to help Mexico correct its trade
deficit by reducing its dependence on imported paper pulp.  Many
environmentalists were opposed to this loan for the following reasons:
indigenous peoples' lives would be even more disrupted (no jobs were
promised, just lots of erosion), any hope of a world- class national
park in the region would be dashed, and lastly, the oak and pine-covered
watersheds would be destroyed with far- reaching effects that could
eventually be felt in Texas.  (The erosion and destruction of watersheds
could eventually deplete underground aquifers used as water sources by
both Texans and Mexicans to grow crops or for industrial purposes.) 
Plus, the World Bank had slated only three percent of the total funds
for conservation purposes.  An amount many people felt to be woefully
inadequate.  Many environmentalists also felt that logging would be a
big mistake compared to potential revenue a park encompassing Copper
Canyon (a system of tangled, immense chasms, four of which are deeper
than the Grand) and the Tarahumara tribe would generate from tourist
visitation.  Even though the area is currently a popular eco-tourist
destination, the threat and destruction posed by drug traffickers and
their activities is still very real problem.  People flock to the Sierra
Madre Occidental to experience nature and its indigenous peoples at its
unspoiled best.  But if that beauty is marred by deforestation, erosion,
and the threat of bodily harm by narcotraficantes, individuals will stop
traveling there and the area will no longer be seen as a suitable
destination.             Potential erosion of the Sierra Madre
Occidental due to logging also threatens the headwaters of the Rio
Conchos, the Rio Grande's largest tributary.  In the rainy season, with
no forests to protect the exposed slopes, the area could face floods,
extensive siltation of the river followed by a drying out of the
riverbeds (Mardon and Borowitz 1990, 99).  Instead of slowly filtering
into underground aquifers, water quickly gets swept away leaving
traditional underground springs dry and depriving the Tarahumara of a
vital drinking source.  With no springs, the Indians have turned to
drinking river water that is increasingly becoming polluted by paraquat
(a herbicide I will discuss later).  Higher disease rates are stalking
the Indians because they have to drink this contaminated water.  With
the drying out of the riverbeds, during a drought the Rio Conchos does
not flow nearly as well affecting agricultural communities on both sides
of the border.  In essence, the environmentalists claimed that by
logging the Sierra Madre Occidental the Mexican government was
sacrificing wildlife, people, and forests for short-term economic gain. 
      Along with deforestation, drug cultivation is another threat to
one of the continent's most crucial ecosystems.  The first opium and
marijuana seeds were brought to the Sierra Madre Occidental in the 1930s
by Chinese traders who saw the potential for growing plants in the
large, unpatrollable area (Weisman 1994, 10).  Modern drug traffickers
started showing up in the Sierra Madre 25 years ago with promises of
lots of cash.  The counterculture revolution in the States created a new
market for mind-altering plants and the Sierra Madre provided the
perfect location.   Much like the 1960s, the U.S. is still the vast
consumer market where most of the drugs from this area are headed for. 
Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of drugs originate from the
Sierra's each year.  Seven million pounds of marijuana, much of if
cultivated in the Sierra Madre, made its way into the U.S. as did 2,500
pounds of Sierra- grown heroin in 1995, with a street value of roughly
$650 million (Weisman 1994, 150).      In many areas of the Sierra Madre
there are opium plants surrounded by strands of barb wire in clearings
of downed trees that have either been burned or logged.  According to
the latest statistics, ten poppy bulbs yield one gram of opium and one
bulb can be milked three to ten times.  In a raid against a poppy field
one author participated in, he watched authorities destroy twelve acres
of crops.  Estimating that there were ten bulbs per square yard, 150,000
grams of opium were destroyed that was worth at least $450,000,
estimating $80 per gram in the U.S. (Weisman 1994, 33).  Unfortunately,
these kind of raids are a rare occurrence in the area because there is
no budget for the Mexican federales to destroy crops.  The government
has no funds to hire men, purchase sophisticated arms to fight the
heavily armed narcotraficantes, or maintain the necessary air support to
carry out or support raids.       Colombians are increasingly carrying
out the drug trade within the Mexican states of Jalisco and Chihuahua. 
In the case of Chihuahua, the Sierra Madre Occidental is one of the most
productive drug-growing areas in the world because of its year- round
sunshine and thousands of acres of unpatrolled hillsides. Chihuahua also
offers the cartels easy access to the U.S. with its 480 miles of
unguarded border.  The Mexican government has tried to crack down on
this infiltration of South American drug cartels but has largely been
ineffectual.  As a response to this encroachment, the Mexican army has
recently been summarily arresting the Tarahumara drug growers (usually
reluctant) while the druglords, the caciques, seldom are caught.  Also,
Mexican authorities, in an effort to wipe the drug plants, have
repeatedly sprayed the back country with paraquat and other herbicides,
wiping out rare butterflies and contaminating local water supplies and
plant life.  This spraying presents another hazard to the Tarahumara
because they eat 200 different species of plants and use 300 more for
medicinal purposes (Shoumatoff 1995, 91).  The Fontes Cartel, one of the
larger groups operating in the Sierra Madre and lead by Artemio Fontes,
is also suspected of being involved in the illegal logging that has
defaced much of the Sierra.  Logging companies are oftentimes used as a
cover by traffickers because the roads make it easier for them to
harvest their illicit crops, timber trucks provide a legitimate,
camouflaged mode of drug transport and the loggers often serve the
traficantes by acting as their intimidation squads.        The
increasingly-powerful drug cartels have systematically coerced the
Indians into cultivating marijuana and opium poppies.  If the Indians
cooperate, they are sometimes paid in alcohol or corn.  A kilogram of
marijuana is worth between 100 and 200 kilos of corn to the Tarahumara,
or about $250 (Weisman 1994, 150).  In times of drought when the corn
crop fails, the cash crop alternative is often the only choice the
Indians have to live.  In fact, a few acres of opium could bring
approximately $500 to an Indian if he could survive the threats and
violence to himself and his family (De Palma 1995, 6).  If they are not
cooperative, they are intimidated, forced off the land, have their food
and livestock stolen and oftentimes their families are subjected to
harassment, rape, torture, and murder (Shoumatoff 1995, 90).  The local
Mexican authorities are too intimidated or often too implicated in the
dealings to protect them.  The Indians, who have depended on the forests
for millennia, have been left hanging in the balance with hardly anyone
to defend their way of life.       One group that has formed to stop the
human-rights abuses and environmental degradation of the area is the
Consejo Asevor Sierra Madre (CASMAC).  Their basic function is to
provide a safe haven for terrorized Indians.  This group, formed several
years ago and lead by Edwin Bustillos, who is part Tarahumara, also
seeks to put a halt to the devastating drug trade, cattle rustling, and
lumber practices within the Sierra Madre.  In one instance, a drug lord
built a road into a remote Tarahumara village without their permission
and was going to charge the Indians $100,000 for its completion
(Shoumatoff 1995, 91).  If the Indians couldn't pay, the drug lords were
willing to take their payment in trees with the intent of planting
illicit crops once the trees were gone.  Fortunately, CASMAC and the
Indians won this battle in the Chihuahua courts so that the Indians did
not have to pay anything and the forest remained intact.  Edwin
Bustillos, in 1995, had survived three attempts on his life within the
past year by narcotraficantes looking to silence his opposition to their
operations in the Sierra Madre.  Unfortunately, CASMAC has not proven to
be that effective in protecting the Indians and from 1994 to 1995 has
reported an average of four Indians per week being murdered by the
narcotraficantes (Shoumatoff 1995, 57).   CASMAC's partner in the U.S.,
the Arizona Rainforest Alliance, provides funds for these projects as do
groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources
Institute.  Some of CASMAC's goals include introducing environmentally
sound farming techniques to the Tarahumara to trying to save an
endangered parrot species.  In 1994, CASMAC, along with several U.S.
environmental groups, was able to stop another $90 million World Bank
road-building project in the Sierra Madre that would have given loggers
and narcotraficantes access to 4 billion more board feet of lumber. 
CASMAC has also lobbied successfully for an amendment to the Chihuahua
state constitution guaranteeing the rights of indigenous people, blocked
several illegal logging operations, and overseen the eradication of over
250 acres of illicit crops (Shoumatoff 1995, 60).          One of Edwin
Bustillos' more controversial ideas to stop this drug-induced
destruction of the Tarahumara culture is to legalize drugs so that
narcotraficantes would contain their activities to certain areas and
stay out the increasingly-remote lands cared for by the Tarahumara. 
These remote areas within the Sierra Madre where the Indians still flee
to escape foreign encroachment, are marginal for producing corn, the
Indians main staple.  Because of a severe drought the past several years
(the worst in 40 years) the corn crop has failed to produce and the
Tarahumara were seeing an increasing rise in the number of deaths of
children to malnutrition-related diseases.  In fact, infant mortality
rates were so high in 1994 that Tarahumara women gave birth to ten
children hoping that half would survive (Marks 1994, 5).  Although the
Mexican government has tried to provide some relief to the Indians, it
was not nearly enough to stop the Tarahumara population from dropping
precipitously.        Some of these areas where the Indians have fled,
deep within the Mexican state of Chihuahua, house one of the most
complex and productive systems of native agriculture in the world.  The
Tarahumara have been able to survive in this harsh environment for
thousands of years by being able to adapt their crops to the tough
conditions.  The pockets of Tarahumara human habitation in the Sierra
Madre offer ethnobotanists an unprecedented genetic repository
including: heirloom strains of beans, squash, gourds, chiles, and
especially corn (Marks 1994, 13).  These strains, found nowhere else in
the world, offer scientists a link to human agricultural activity in the
past and possibly, knowledge of how to grow vegetables in other
drought-plagued areas of the planet.  As of now, the Mexican government
is still unconcerned about the Indians' plight despite numerous calls
and heeds to Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo's office by Bustillos'
organization and others to protect the remaining Tarahumara.  Countless
sorrow and ecological loss is being wreaked upon Chihuahua.  Poverty,
marginalization, logging and rampant drug trafficking have destabilized
the Sierra Madre Occidental and left its fragile ecosystem and
indigenous people, the Tarahumara, on the verge of destruction. 3.      
 Related Cases COLDEFOR Case BOLCOCA Case
COCA Case COLCOCA Case Key Words            (1) :
Deforestation            (2) : Indigenous            (3) : Opium 4.     
  Geoff Galster (May, 1996) B.        LEGAL Clusters            5.      
 Discourse: Disagreement and Allegation                 Certainly there
is consensus among many environmental groups, the Tarahumara, and CASMAC
that the Sierra Madre Occidental is worth saving.  On the other hand,
however, the narcotraficantes and the Mexican government view the area
as an exploitable resource that does not need any attention.  The
protection of the Tarahumara and their fragile ecosystem is not a
priority in the eyes of many officials who instead feel that the Sierra
timber is a vital source of foreign capital.  Although CASMAC has
successfully pursued some legal action against the loggers and the
Mexican government has carried out some anti-drug activity in the area,
narcotraficantes rule the area with impunity.  6.        Forum and
Scope: MEXICO and UNILATeral      Mexican legislation, and more
specifically, the state of Chihuahua, has passed legislation giving
rights to the Tarahumara Indians.  Although the growing of, transport,
sale, etc. of drugs is illegal in Mexico, so many officials at all
levels have been corrupted by narcotraficante money that drug
interdiction and capture/prosecution of drug lords is nearly impossible.
 The U.S. is currently reviewing whether the Mexican government is doing
all that it can to stop the flow of drugs into this country.  A finding
that they are not could lead to a suspension or withdrawal of U.S. aid.
7.        Number of Parties Affected: ONE (Mexico)      The countries of
Mexico and the U.S. are both directly and indirectly involved in the
drug trafficking and deforestation of the Sierra Madre Occidental. 
While the Mexican state of Chihuahua encompasses the part most severely
affected, the U.S. is the major export market for a good percentage of
the wood pulp logged in the area and is the major destination for much
of the opium and marijuana grown in the area.  The deforestation of the
area and watershed destruction can also lead to trouble in areas around
the Rio Conchos and Rio Grande in times of drought causing problems for
farmers on both sides of the border.  The Tarahumara Indian is also a
party that is seriously affected by what is going on in the mountains.
8.        Standing: SUBLAW      As stated above, with the Mexican
federal government taking a hands off approach to the area, Chihuahua
law seems to be the only place of refuge for CASMAC and the Tarahumara.
C.        GEOGRAPHIC Clusters 9.        Geography a.        Continental
Domain: North America   [NAMER] b.        Geographic Site: SNAMER c.    
   Impact:  MEXICO 10.       SUB-STATE: NO 11.       Habitat Type:
TEMPERATE D.        TRADE Clusters 12.       Type of Measure: Regulatory
Standard 13.       Impact Direct or Indirect: INDirect 14.      
Relation of Measure to Impact a.   Directly Related to Product:     YES 
 PHARMaceutical b.   Indirectly Related to Product:   YES   WOOD c.  
Not Related to Product:          NO d.   Related to Process:            
 YES   Deforestation   [DEFOR] 15.       Product Type: WOOD      Boards,
wood pulp, paper, along with processed opium (heroin) and marijuana flow
into the U.S. from the Sierra Madre. 16.       Economic Data 17.      
Degree of Competitive Impact: MEDium      The wood and drug trade has a
severe impact on the environment and people within the Sierra Madre
Occidental.  We are witnessing the destruction of the one of the most
diverse and spectacular settings in all of North America without much
being done to stop it on either side of the border.  A certain number of
environmental groups here in the U.S. have provided funding for CASMAC,
but little has been done to support their work either from international
agencies (World Bank) or from the governments of Mexico or the U.S. 
Until the U.S. ceases to be a huge illicit drug market, or the Mexican
government cracks down on the drug-sponsored corruption of their
society, (both monumental tasks) little can be done to stop the
environmental and cultural degradation that is occurring incessantly.
18.       Industry Sector: WOOD 19.       Exporter and Importer:  
MEXICO and USA       E.        ENVIRONMENT Clusters 20.      
Environmental Problem Type:  Deforestation   [DEFOR] 21.       Name,
Type, and Diversity of Species      Name:           Mexican Gray Wolf,
Jaguar, Thick-billed Parrot      Type:          
Mammal-canine/Mammal-feline/Bird      Diversity:      Only a few hundred
thought to be surviving      IUCN Status:    ENDANGERED 22.       Impact
and Effect:   HIGH and SCALE 23.       Urgency and Lifetime:   HIGH and
Hundreds of Years       24.       Substitutes: Conservation of the
remaining habitat F.        OTHER Factors 25.       Culture:    YES     
The American consumption of wood and illicit drug products is driving
the Mexican forest companies and the drug cartels to monopolize the
Sierra Madre Occidental. 26.       Human Rights:    YES      As I have
noted previously in my descriptive part of the case study, the
Tarahumara's ancient culture is being destroyed by the ruthless loggers
and drug traffickers.  Powerless to stop the onslaught of machines and
men, the Indian culture stands dangerously on the brink of destruction.
27.       Trans-Boundary Issues:    YES       Mexico and the United
States. 28.       Works Cited De Palma, Anthony. "Dying Babies are
Witness to Proud People's Crisis." The New York Times, 31 October 1994,
sec. 1A, p. 4. De Palma, Anthony. "Mexico's Indians Face New
Conquistador: Drugs." The New York Times, 2 June 1995, sec. 1A, p. 6.
Mardon, Mark and Susan Borowitz. "Banking on Mexico's Forests." Sierra
75 (November/December): 98-100. Marks, Scott. "Starvation, Isolation
Killing Children of Mexico Indians." The Los Angeles Times, 25 November
1994, sec. 1A, p. 5. Shoumatoff, Alex. "Trouble in the Land of Muy
Verde." Outside 15 (March 1995): 56-63. Shoumatoff, Alex. "Hero of the
Sierra Madre." Utne Reader 70 (July/August 1995): 90-99. Weisman, Alan.
"The Drug Lords Versus The Tarahumara." The Los Angeles Times Magazine,
9 January 1994, 10. 
  Go to Super Page  
  Go to North America Cases  
 April 30, 1996