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CANCUN – “Arriving at the ocean is very important; you can’t just walk up to it like it’s a common thing,” Antonio told us as we bumped along through the night on our way to Isla Blanca. “We consider the sea to be sacred; we come from the sea. We have to ask permission to be here.”
That’s how I found myself standing at the edge of the gleaming surf, saying a prayer of gratitude and tossing a chocolate cookie along with a 5-peso coin into the Caribbean along with my prayer. Antonio made an eloquent petition to the great spirits of the ocean and of the five directions sacred to the Wixarika people, asking for special attention during the climate summit proceedings – that everything go well for all of humanity, for those attending the COP-16 events, and for all the Earth.
The candle was offered to the sea as well, and a last gleaming spark scooted downwind along the edge of the surf: earth, wind, fire, water. There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to begin our mission, or the first visit to the Yucatan for all five of us.
Antonio Candelario had been chosen to represent the Huichol or Wixarika community of Santa Catarina at the COP 16 events, along with Rodolfo Cosio, a jicarero or carrier of the ancient pilgrimage tradition of his peoples. Jesus Lara, a leader in the neighboring Wixarika community of San Sebastian, had been chosen as well. The Wixarika delegation was rounded out by Tunari Chavez, a technical advisor with the Guadalajara-based Jalisco Association in Support of Indigenous Peoples, known by its Spanish acronym AJAGI, and me, a journalist who is accompanying the organization.
We were there, primarily, to get the word out about the Canadian silver mining operation that is poised to break ground in Wirikuta, the most sacred site of the Wixarika people, the place where, according to their tradition, the sun was born. This site is in some ways the center of their universe, the destination of an annual pilgrimage conducted for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, which culminates in a series of ceremonies convoking the ancestral spirits and balancing the energies of the entire planet. First Majestic Silver Corp. of Canada has been granted 22 mining concessions, for a total of 6,326 hectares, much of which lies in a federally protected ecological reserve and the UNESCO-recognized architectural treasure of Real de Catorce.
We arrived in Cancun on the evening of Dec. 3 and were met at the airport by Jack and Belem, a delightful young couple who opened their home and their hearts to us during our week in Cancun. After dinner we piled into the back of their ample van, which was to serve as our transport throughout the event, and headed to Isla Blanca, a natural preserve far removed from the towering hotels and touristic chaos of Cancun.
The next morning began bright and early with an interview at the Via Campesina camp, one of a number of sites with a full schedule of activities presenting a counterpoint to the official COP 16 summit. We began with an interview with Chilean journalist Paulina Acevedo, which quickly turned into a press conference with half a dozen journalists from Notimex to alternative media outlets attracted by the beautiful canvas we carried, designed with traditional Wixarika art, saying “NO a la Mineria en Wirikuta.”
From here we attended the opening ceremonies at the Via Campesina, a beautiful Mayan ceremony involving the lighting of candles in a giant mandala at the front of the stage, and an invocation the four directions.
Our delegation attracted attention wherever they went, and it wasn’t long before Elizabeth Press from Democracy Now stopped Jesus and Antonio for an interview.
“As indigenous people from Sierra, we are protectors of the environment,” Antonio said. “We are appealing to the world on behalf of life for all of humanity. But these people who know so much and have the latest technology don’t realize that they have broken the womb of Mother Earth through exploiting oil, mining, cement making, building highways, deforestation.”
This was followed by a meeting at the Radisson Hotel with the official delegates of the Congress of Indigenous Peoples for the COP 16, where the Wixarika delegation added their thoughts to the discussion of the official statement that this group was preparing to deliver at the official climate summit.
The day ended with two more interviews – first, with Emily Hunter of MTV-Canada, and second, with Maricarmen Wister of TV Cable.
Sunday began with another pair of interviews, this time in the very different hotel district of Cancun.
“We’re not in Mexico anymore – we’re in Miami,” marveled Rodolfo, looking out the back window at the skyscrapers receding into the background.
The first interview was with Isaias Perez from El Universal, followed by Adolfo Cordova Ortiz from Reforma. It was quite late by the time these interviews ended and the program was light so the compañeros accepted an invitation to see a cenote, a beautiful formation of clear water and stone characteristic of the region, before ending the day with a meeting at another site prepared for the climate event, Villa Climatica, where we were able to reserve a space for a presentation on Monday evening.
Meanwhile we learned that a rock concert would be occurring there later in the evening with none other than the famous classic rock group El Tri, and most of the party opted to attend. It was a grand event with thousands cheering their support for the Madre Tierra. Rodolfo and Antonio stood back and observed the spectacle, arms crossed, for the most part impassive – although Rodolfo occasionally picked up the infectious rhythm, the dangling chakiras of his traditional hat keeping time with the beat.
Monday morning we sought out another site, the Espacio Mexicano por Dialogo Climatico, where a series of events on Forests, Food Sovereignty and Indigenous Peoples was to occupy the day. We met with one of the organizers, Carlos Beas of MAIZ, who invited the delegation to have a representative on the panel. Rodolfo represented the group with a 10-minute presentation on the Wixarika people and the situation in Wirikuta, along with leaders such as Roly Escobar Ochoa of Guatemala, Sandy Gauntlett of New Zealand, and Ben Powless of the First Nations of Canada.
Afterwards we organized a meeting with Francisco “Chico” Mateo of the Departmental Assembly of Communities of Huehuetenango, who shared the story of the indigenous Maya communities’ resistance to the mining concessions granted by the Guatemalan government, and the experience of the neighboring department of San Marcos, which is the site of the highly destructive and controversial Marlin Mine owned by the Canadian transnational Goldcorp.
The delegation was interviewed by Robert Free Galvan and Brenda Norrell for an article which appeared in Censored News.
The day ended with an excellent presentation by the Wixarika delegation, in English and Spanish, with audiovisuals and traditional Wixarika music, at the Villa Climatica.
Tuesday was a day of mobilization in Cancun. More than 10,000 marched in different zones of the city for most of the day; we joined Via Campesina, where peasant farmers from Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico joined their indigenous compatriots, waving flags of all colors and chanting slogans like “Zapata vive! La lucha sigue! (Zapata lives; the struggle continues),” and “Obama! The world is not a plaything!”
Rodolfo and Jesus paused to pose with a stilt-walker and a bus with a mural on the side featuring a mountain closely resembling Wirikuta’s Cerro Quemado.
The compañeros fielded multiple interviews throughout the march, including with Pacifica Radio, Telesur and the Yomiuri Shimbun from Japan.
Wednesday was the final day, with panels on the menace of mining throughout Latin America, at which Tunuari presented a short report of the situation in Wirikuta. Meanwhile, other anti-mining battles in El Salvador, Guatemala, Bolivia and Peru unfolded.
Tunuari next did an interview with Eugenio Bermejillo of the Latin American Network of Community Radio Stations.
The delegation escaped for a brief trip to the beach and a celebration of what may be the Wixarika delegation’s first and only trip to the Yucatan. Jesus and Rodolfo donned the snorkeling gear and went off in search of manta rays and sea urchins, while Antonio contented himself with paddling in the shallower waters.
The evening ended with yet another interview with Matilde Perez of La Jornada and a fandango of traditional jarocho music from Veracruz.
The farewell was bittersweet; our flight was scheduled the same day as Bolivian president Evo Morales’ speech at the Via Campesina, and the compañeros longed for just one more walk along the beach. But duty called, and amid goodbye hugs and photographs, we made our way home.