Defense Front of Wirikuta — Successful Media Activism
Humberto is a Mexican actor who played in well-known Hollywood movies, including: “The Mexican,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Rango,” and “Bandidos.” He acted alongside very famous actors like Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts, and Penelope Cruz. Humberto looked very handsome, almost as if his movie makeup, hairdo, and costumes had not yet been removed. He was running several hotels in Real de Catorce along with his Swiss wife. They had an extra apartment where I could stay. Humberto was passionate about Huichol culture. He had been accepted as one of them, although he was a Mestizo of mixed European and native descent. Humberto had had close contact with the Wixáritari for forty years and he was part of the Defense Front of Wirikuta, Tamatsima Wahaa, which means the water of our elder brother.
The ecological reserve of Wirikuta that hosts a variety of unique plants and is home to the endangered golden eagle was under threat by multinational corporations when I visited. The Defense Front of Wirikuta, Tamatsima Wahaa, was actively involved in defending this protected natural zone. Inside the conservation area of Wirkuta stands a mountain called Cerro Quemado that holds one of the most sacred altars of the Huicholes. In the Cosmovisión of the Wixáritari, Cerro Quemado is believed to be the birthplace of the sun.
Large amounts of silver containing ore apparently lie inside the huge hill! Although Real de Catorce had a history of silver mining and no mining was going on at the time of my visit, a billion dollar Canadian mining company was getting ready to start a subterranean mining excavation again. This would have probably resulted in the pollution of large amounts of water near the site with toxic cadmium, due to the high concentrations necessary for the precious metal’s extraction. No concessions had yet been granted to continue mining, but the Wixáritari were worried that the corrupt government officials in San Luis Potosi could not be trusted. The desert below Cerro Quemado is Wirikuta, the sacred pilgrimage site of the Huicholes, who have been harvesting peyote there that grows in symbiosis with an astounding variety of many other medicinal, herbal plants. Toxic waste tanks with polluted sludge from previous mining operations had broken and spilled there before, leaking into the groundwater. The worrying results of this ecological disaster could be measured and had caused pathological reactions in animals, plants, and human beings.
I met a Canadian journalist named Tracy Barnett, who was also connected to the Defense Front, Tamatsima Wahaa. We lived in Humberto’s apartment together and Tracy was writing a story on the mining company’s intentions to exploit this protected natural zone without due caution for its inhabitants. Together, we shared the mission of documenting this serious situation with the intention of bringing our awareness of it to the world. So, we started cruising around interviewing people about it. I filmed the interviews, while Tracy asked questions and took notes. We were even able to legally enter the silver mine and we also visited the former minister of the town and the priest of the local church. We spoke to activists living in nearby towns where the second most sacred mountain of the Huicholes had already been excavated by subterraneous mining. Studies conducted there by the University of Mexico City found heavy metal residues in animals, plants, and human brains that arose as a direct result of the local mining operation. The wind there blew toxic mining waste into town from a large and exposed mountain of rubble that was located near the mine and cancer rates observed in human beings living nearby were definitely increased! Tracy’s articles were published in international newspapers and our films started rotating on Mexican digital television over a period of several months. Reporters from the Mexican mass media company Televisa started to cover the exact same story we had been working on and posted on Youtube. The largest Mexican TV-channel also spoke to the same individuals we had interviewed during our personal efforts to make a difference in this situation. As a result, this crucial message and desperate cry for cultural and ecological survival eventually reached most of Mexico and it became a large social movement to support the Huichol people and their sacred site of Wirikuta.
Jorge and I also discovered another serious situation during our filmmaking trip in Wirikuta. We received a hot tip from locals that the cocaine mafia was laundering money by creating massive tomato plantations inside the natural reserve. They had also illegally drilled wells into the ground, thereby depriving one of the most bio-diverse deserts in the world of its scarce and vital water supply. According to local witnesses, nitrogen bombs had been shot into the sky to disperse clouds so that rain would not fall onto the tomato crops. This criminal activity was detrimental to the precious local fauna and flora, as well as to the people living there. Also, this draught affected the wild peyote gardens. Hardly any rain had fallen in Wirikuta for three years! We therefore made it our personal side-mission to find and document this illegal cocaine mafia activity on film so that we could provide video evidence for the environmental agency that needed proof to file a lawsuit against the greedy criminal perpetrators of this ecological disaster.
Wirikuta is a wide and flat region and it took us nearly a day to get to this plantation. We had no GPS coordinates and only the information that this was definitely going on, to guide us, but we eventually found it. No barricades prevented us from entering with Jorge’s four wheel drive. He drove and I filmed what shocked us both. The area that had been bulldozed for the illegal plantation was huge. We could not even see the end of the massive metal structure and we did not have time to drive all the way inside. People with large machines swiftly tried to block our exit. We raced to leave and barely made it out with the crucial footage that was successfully used during a legal proceeding against the offenders of this crime.
Eventually, the situation in Mexico got too hot for me, although I did not experience official political pressure. People from Tamatsima Wahaa were kidnapped and murdered and I had to assure my personal safety. I also made it clear to Jorge that if we were going to make a feature film about Huichol culture and their struggle for survival, we needed a creative team to participate in the filmmaking process. It would have been impossible to create what we visualized without a budget to hire professionals that do what I couldn’t. Eventually, Jorge encouraged me to pass on all of the film materials we had collected over the years to a professional crew in Mexico City that took on this mission and made a feature documentary that has since been released.
Prior to my closure in Mexico, I was invited to film one of the biggest ceremonies ever conducted in Huichol history. It took place on top of Cerro Quemado, at the most sacred site of the Huichol people.
Watch the activist movies we made about this situation at: www.transcendentaljourneys.com
* This story has been published in Transcendental Journeys – A Visionary Quest for Freedom, the multimedia book by Omananda.