Indigenous Town in Mexico Celebrates Two Years of Autonomy and Defense of their Community Forest
After two years of resisting illegal logging and organized crime, indigenous people in the town of Cheran Mexico demand justice for their assassinated community members and respect for their autonomous government
ANDALUSIA KNOLL, PRODUCER, TRNN: On April 15, 2011, the people of Cherán, a largely indigenous town in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, rose up to put an end to illegal logging and insecurity connected to organized crime in the region, marking the second anniversary of the uprising.
The community of Cherán is celebrating their reforestation efforts and the autonomous forms of government that they have put in place.
A group of women were among the first community members to prevent the illegal loggers from entering the town with the trees that they had cut down. They tried to prevent them from entering, and when the loggers refused to comply, other town residents joined in and set fire to their trucks. They set up fogatas, or bonfire barricades at all the main entrances to the town, and also on corners throughout the rest of Cherán, some which continue to this day.
ROSA, CHERÁN COMMUNITY MEMBER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We organized the bonfire barricades, and then on April 15, when the people rose up—and all the women organized here in Cherán because they were destroying the forest. And here is where the [loggers] were passing through. We couldn’t do anything, because they threatened us. But then on April 15, all the people rose up and took on all the clearcutting loggers, and we ran all of them out of town. Some of them left the town running.
The bad ones wanted to enter here. We were posted at every corner. We were alert, all the people in the streets, all of the people, the whole town. We started to say, how are we going to do this? And we decided to erect a bonfire barricade. And this is where it all started.
KNOLL: They started a ronda comunitaria, or a community guard, in line with their indigenous Purépecha tradition to secure the community and patrol the forest ensuring that no one is illegally clearcutting. Over the past two years, close to 100 people have joined the voluntary-run ronda to dedicate themselves to protecting the forest and promoting sustainable forest use, just as their ancestors did.
MEMBER OF THE RONDA, CHERÁN COMMUNITY GUARD: [incompr.] Cheránas hacienda that we were doing something good, and a lot of people, you know, they said, this is good what you are doing, keep doing it. And a lot of people started coming with us. They say, I want to be in the group to, in la ronda. And we said, alright, you’re welcome. You know.
But you know what [incompr.] you know, what we’re doing. This is dangerous. This is not just, like, a job. You know, this is [incompr.] But they were saying that they wanted to, ’cause they were from there, from Cherán, and they want to do something for the town. You know. So, yeah, we started.
And finally, right now, it’s—we have everything on control, you know, with a little bit of control. Maybe there’s one or two still cutting trees, but not like they used to. So that’s what we’re trying to do and that’s how we formed. So now we’re, like, a lot of us.
And people, you know, they recognize us, that we’re doing something real good for—not just for us, for the whole world, right. I mean, this is a green planet. That’s what we’re trying to do, save it.
KNOLL: Over the past two years in Cherán, over 13 community members have been killed while attending to their animals and crops in the forest or while sustainably harvesting trees. This lack of security has led the people of Cherán to separate themselves from the local corrupt government and implement a traditional form of government previously seen in indigenous Purépecha communities. They set up a community council of 12 elders to govern the town, as opposed to one mayor.
JOSE MERCED, CHERÁN STORYTELLER/SHAMAN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): In our case, we have a great responsibility to recuperate the community consciousness, to start with something elemental. Brothers and sisters, we have a great task at hand, to start to raise consciousness about what it really means to be a “comunero” or community member.
Comunero is a very deep word. It is not a slogan or tag. It is a way of life and a cell to build a new society, a new humanity. This is how I see it, a grand responsibility. The result of consciousness raising is realizing that we are universal beings and part of the universe, we are not owners of the universe, this according to the indigenous philosophy of our wise ancestors. We are not owners of the land. We are part of the land.
KNOLL: Over the past 30 years, the state of Michoacán, where Cherán is located, has seen large tides of migration to the United States. Community members in Cherán see their autonomy and self-defense as a way of curbing immigration and preserving their indigenous culture.
DAVID ROMERO, CHERÁN LAWYER AND COMUNERO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This is something very important for us to achieve to maintain our community within our community. That’s to say, while we reverse the effects of neoliberalism, we will be able to have more satisfying lives within our own community, just as our ancestors did. Our ancestors didn’t have to migrate, because we have the right conditions to lead dignified lives.
Now this is the work that we all have to do, all of the communities, not just the community of Cherán, all the communities of the world, to reverse the logic of neoliberalism, which makes us believe that processing raw materials is the only way to fulfill the necessities of our people, of our communities and ourselves as individuals. We have to return to the fundamental, return to our cosmovision, and understand that happiness isn’t only achieved with material things.
KNOLL: While the town celebrated the anniversary, a fire blazed in one of the forests nearby. These kind of forest fires are common due to a lack of respect for natural resources, and also reckless behavior on behalf of organized crime groups in the area. The community ronda and various volunteers attended to the fires to try to put them out. This blaze reiterated the need for reforestation efforts.
The Cherán Committee for the Common Good started a greenhouse project shortly after the uprising to grow baby pine trees. Their greenhouses are home now to over 1.5 million pine tree saplings, and the project serves as a crucial source of work for 12 community members.
LETICIA MEDINA, COMMITTEE FOR COMMON GOOD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): On this end it has been very good, to avoid or at least curtail migration. There aren’t many jobs here. For me it has been something very good, a very good project, because there exists this type of work, because it gives employment to more people. With migration as it is, there are many women who are alone who also need money. This is a big help for these kind of women. Also for the men. It has been a great advantage. The community has plans for more beneficial projects to curb migration.
KNOLL: While proudly displaying the trees from the reforestation project, people from Cherán shared their feelings on the anniversary.
WILBER TAPIA, COMMITTEE FOR COMMON GOOD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): You feel great on this day being part of this movement. I live a block from where it all happened. At five in the morning, the people were there rising up in arms—we don’t mean guns, necessarily, many people with sticks and rocks—all of this to prevent the [logging] vehicles from passing through, including rounding up some of those responsible. You feel motivated. You have something to tell the people. And on this side it fills us with joy, because the struggle that’s taken place has not been in vain. We’re here remembering it on the second anniversary, and it’s pretty cool.
KNOLL: While celebrating their autonomy and reforestation efforts, the people of Cherán also solemnly recognized those who have died in the struggle, demanding justice and investigations into their deaths.
Andalusia Knoll, The Real News Network, Cherán, Mexico.
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