In February 44-year-old Adelina Fontes was one of five Tarahumara women, unarmed and alone, who walked onto a dirt road deep in the Sierra Madre Occidental in nothern Mexico, said “¡Ya Basta!” and stepped into the path of the logging trucks bound for the state capital. For three days, they had been holding vigil at Baborigame, a town of 3,000 in the southern part of the state of Chihuahua. There they watched as empty trucks drove up the mountains to the village of Coloradas de la Virgen and returned filled with logs cut from 200-year-old pine trees in the only remaining stretch of old-growth forest in the region. Fontes had grown up in Colaradas, but had moved down the mountains to Baborigame after all the killing began. In this part of Mexico, unchecked logging, drugs, and violence has been going on for decades, destroying not only the forest, but the heart of the Tarahumara culture.
News of the women’s blockade quickly spread. The original five were soon joined by other women, including Chana Torres, who at 30 had been widowed twice by the local violence. The truckers tried to force their way through, saying that “Temo” had sent them, referring to Artemio Fontes, (no relation to Adelina) a narco-timber baron who has dominated this remote region of Chihuahua for more than three decades. Had the blockaders been men, the truckers said, they would have run over them. On the heels of the women’s blockage, Isidro Baldenegro, a local inidgenous leader and longtime environmental activist whose father was murdered in 1987–allegedly on the order of Artemio Fontes–led 20 men into the forest to stop the chainsaws. The work stoppage gave time for Fuerza Ambiental, a local environmental NGO and partner of the internal NGO Sierra Madre Alliance, to obtain a court order suspending the logging. Now the logging camps are abandoned and the sawmills silent—at least temporarily. Fuerza Ambiental has filed more than 1,500 land claims on behalf of the indigenous families. Fontes’ henchmen made it known that the women will have to pay for their act of defiance. Isidro Baldenegro is already paying a price. On March 29, he and a neighbor were arrested by state and federal police. He is currently in prison in the state capital on trumped up charges of possession of a high-powered weapon and marijuana seeds. Fuerza Ambiental and Sierra Madre Alliance have organized a campaign to free them. Adelina Fontes, Isidro Baldenegro, and others of their community have a long, uphill battle. But it is not only their battle. The more trees that are cut, the more land is available for marijuana and poppy cultivation. Deforestation has not only dramatically impacted the Tarahumara, but has also changed weather patterns throughout northern Mexico and the Southwest, contributing to the devastating drought that has plagued this region in recent years. The ancients had forewarned the Tarahumara of these problems, says Adelina Fontes, recalling the words of the elders: “Never let them take the forest because the forest calls the rain. If they take the forests, even the people will be no more.”
Left: From her father, a well respected shaman, Adelina Fontes learned the healing arts. Like him, she is a dreamer and a curandera.
Above: The women who started the blockade inspired Primativa Mendez Cruz, 29, to attend her first community workshop in March to see what she could do to help her community.
Above: Lucinda, the wife of Isidoro Baldenegro, who is currently in prison in Chihuaha.
Left: Tarahumara men and women drinking tesguino, a corn-based alcoholic beverage, as part of a traditional rainmaking ceremony.
Above: This abandoned mission in Coloradas de la Virgen is no sanctuary; gunshot holes mark the walls where two men were assassinated.
Above: When she was widowed the first time, Chana Torres moved to Baborigame from Coloradas de la Virgen to look for work to support herself and her children. As a cook, she earned 20 pesos, or about two dollars, a day. Two years ago, she started working for the Sierra Madre Alliance, conducting a census and collective evidence for the community’s land ownership claims. Since others were afraid to accompany her through the remote area, Torres often had to travel alone. Today she is president of an indigenous women’s cooperative that is trying to help local women with small business projects. They have a truck, and a building, shown here, powered by solar panels. Torres says that she is “a little afraid and also a little bit proud” of having taken part in the blockade of the logging trucks. “Some people said we had ganas (guts).” she explains.
Left: Gathering mushrooms outside Baborigame.
Above: Woman from Pino Gordo uses a metate to prepare meals. Those who live on this ejido, or communal farm, have no water and no utilities. About 300 children lack access to schools. They live in small wooden houses scattered through thousands of acres of pine forest, oak savanna, and canyon land, where life is harsh and the vistas are stunningly beautiful. The day after we arrived in Pino Gordo, the Mexican Army showed up and set up camp within an intimidatingly close distance.
Below: Cleaning corn during a crop rotation workshop for local farmers.
Observer photographer Alan Pogue and Austin attorney D’Ann Johnson, a member of the board of the Texas Democracy Foundation, traveled to Chihuahua in August. On December 6, Randall Gingrich, founder of the Sierra Madre Alliance (SMA), will be in Austin to talk about the women’s blockade, the campaign to free Isidro Baldenegro, and ecotourism in the Sierra Madre. For more information about SMA and their efforts to support indigenous rights and local economic development projects, see http://www.sierramadrealliance.org.