Mexico: Indigenous people allegedly commit suicide to avoid starvation
The Raramuri live in Mexico’s Sierra Tarahumara, near Chihuahua city. Hundreds are said to be facing starvation. (Photo: flickr Lon&Queta)
Update: After we published this article, union leader Ramon Gardea has clarified claims about indigenous suicide in the region specifying that there were no acts of mass suicide, but still sustaining that 50 indigenous people committed suicide in the Sierra Tarahumara in separate incidents throughout 2011. However our research also raises some doubts about these claims, which are addressed in our most recent post on indigenous suicides.
At least 50 indigenous people are said to have committed suicide in the north of Mexico, where freezing temperatures and a long drought have left hundreds of members of the Raramuri tribe at the brink of starvation.
The claims, which have not been independently confirmed, were made by indigenous activists and a farm workers union leader on a YouTube video released on Saturday, and were quickly spread on the web by Twitter users and activists who hastily organized food drives and fundraising efforts in several Mexican cities.
“When they have four or five days, without being able to feed their children, indigenous women get depressed” said Ramon Gardea, an organizer for the Organized Front of Indigenous Farm Workers.
“Their sadness was so great that on December 10th, 50 men and women jumped off a cliff, thinking that they had nothing to give to their children,” Gardea, added in a video that was attributed to Chihuahua’s channel 28 and is now going viral on YouTube.
The Raramuri, live in the Sierra Tarahumara, a mountainous and arid region of Chihuahua state that is also home to the world famous Copper Canyon.
In the channel 28 video, Gardea makes a desperate plea for help.
“Government officials don’t realize the miserable spectacle we are seeing in the sierra right now, with women and children so under nourished that you can see their bones” he said. “Since there is no TV or press in the sierra, the señores here (in the state capital) don’t care if the indians die, since they are indians it’s not a problem.”
The Chihuahua government denied claims that indigenous people in the state committed mass suicide. In a statement released on Sunday, it said that Quiñones and others in the video, fail to specify the place where the mass suicide allegedly occurred.
“Only those who do not understand the culture of the Tarahumara race could believe in such an assertion” the statement says. “They have grown up in the harsh sierra environment, which makes them men and women who have the character to withstand anything.”
The state government also mentioned it runs several food aid programs for indigenous people.
But despite these assertions, activists began to collect canned goods, flour and money to send to the Raramuri and their supporters, setting up food collection centers in Mexico City, Chihuahua City, Monterrey and Guadalajara on Sunday, and publishing information about bank accounts to which funds can be sent.
The Twitter hashtag, #SierraTarahumura became quickly popular with Mexican tuiteros, who blamed the government for not investing enough in schemes to mitigate droughts in Northern Mexico and elsewhere in the country.
“What’s the use of Mexico having $100 bln in reserves if our people die of hunger” wrote Twitter user @El_mojado. “They should cancel (pope) Benedict XVI’s visit, and invest that money in our indigenous people instead,” tweeted @frankstrada.