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After two decades of struggle, the Rarámuri community of Choréachi in the Sierra Tarahumara mountain range achieved an important sentence in late 2018. The sentence dictates that the boundaries delineating their ancestral territory must be respected and that the logging permits that were illegally granted to a non-indigenous agrarian community, are invalid. The community of Choréachi is a landmark case that clearly demonstrates the link between the structural racism that infringes upon the human rights of indigenous people in Mexico whilst facilitating the dispossession of their natural resources without free, prior and informed consent.

Historical and structural exclusion

Located in the municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo in the Sierra Tarahumara and 510 kilometres from the capital of the state of Chihuahua, the community of Choréachi is one of many indigenous communities in the region. Throughout centuries, the indigenous people of the Sierra Tarahumara have been subject to historical discrimination by the Mexican legal system and its exclusionary legislation.  Although the Mexican Constitution stipulates the preferential access of indigenous peoples to the natural resources that exist within their territories and the right to free, prior and informed consent, the agrarian reform of 1923 did not take the territorial arrangement of indigenous communities in the Sierra Tarahumara into account. Seven decades later, history repeated itself with the agrarian reform of 1992.

Despite their constitutional rights, this did not prevent the Federal Government of Mexico from allowing  the boundaries of a non-indigenous agrarian community, Colorada de los Chávez, to overlap into the ancestral territory of the community of Choréachi, as well as granting them logging permits. These constant denials have resulted in the ethnic-cultural territory of indigenous communities, such as the Rarámuri community of Choréachi, remaining in a state of permanent vulnerability and facilitating the dispossession of their material and immaterial resources. These actions have rendered their constitutional rights invisible and denied their right to free, prior and informed consent in relation to the natural resources that exist in their territory, in particular, their forests.

Since 2007, the context of violence in the Sierra Tarahumara has increased dramatically. Its geographical isolation, combined with its proximity to the border with the United State and the limited presence of the state have contributed to the strong presence of organized crime, who terrorise the population and utilise these remote mountain ranges for poppy and marijuana cultivation. In particular, this violent persecution has been directed towards those who defend land rights and natural resources.

Throughout twenty years the inhabitants of the community of Choréachi exercised their legitimate rights to defend their territory; they fought for the annulment of the illegal boundaries and the logging licenses that were granted to this agrarian community. As a result, members of the community of Choréachi have been the targets of threats, harassment, whilst others have been displaced due to the violence in their community. In 2014, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures to this community. Despite these measures, three members of the community have been murdered; the assassination of Juan Ontiveros Ramos, a community defender, in January 2018 is the most recent. This vile execution is another example that highlights the failure of the Mexican state to protect indigenous human rights defenders. As PBI, we would like to highlight the need for comprehensive protection measures, not only for the beneficiaries of said measures, but for all the indigenous communities of the Sierra Tarahumara, so that they can live free of violence and conflict.

The current situation

In 2018, the Agrarian Superior Court (Tribunal Superior Agrario) unanimously recognised the territory of the Rarámuri community of Choréachi, acknowledging an area of 32,832 hectares and affirming their rights to the natural assets that exist within their territory. This resolution implies that other agrarian communities and private companies should now be prevented from exploiting the forest. However, the community of Choréachi is still awaiting the implementation of this ruling, so that they can start to enjoy their territory in its entirety.

Although the community of Choréachi won this sentence, in Chihuahua there have been more than 36 human rights defenders assassinated since 1973. 14 of these assassinations were defenders of land rights and natural resources from the Sierra Tarahumara. Isidro Baldenegro and Julián Carrillo who were killed in 2017 and 2018 respectively, were both Rarámuri community leaders from the Coloradas de la Virgen community, located in the same municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo. PBI accompanies Alianza Sierra Madre A.C., a human rights organization, who has worked alongside the indigenous communities of the Sierra Tarahumara for more than two decades to ensure their rights are respected.