Mexican Deforestation in the Sierra Madre

Mexican Deforestation in the Sierra Madre (MEXDEFOR case)


   CASE NUMBER:      287
   CASE MNEMONIC:    MEXDEFOR
   CASE NAME:        Mexican Deforestation in the Sierra Madre



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A. IDENTIFICATION 1. The Issue The forests of the Sierra Madre Occidental are being assaulted on several fronts. The Mexican government is legitimately taking millions of acres of board feet from the forest to export abroad to earn some hard cash and to help solve their terrible foreign debt crisis. Nearly twenty percent of the timber logged in the Sierra Madre is sold to the U.S. as plywood, paper, or pulp. Many other thousands of acres are being logged illegally or burned by narcotraficantes who then plant acres of marijuana and opium plants in their stead. Usually, the drug traffickers force the Tarahumara Indians into growing the crops for them, oftentimes, under the penalty of death if they refuse. These drugs, once processed, are worth hundreds of millions of dollars at their final destination - the streets of the United States. The forests are being destroyed with little attempt at reforestation, and currently, both plant and animal species are starting to disappear, erosion is becoming a larger problem, and the Tarahumara Indian tribe is facing the destruction of their culture. 2. Description The issue is the massive deforestation of the Sierra Madre Occidental in the Mexican state of Chihuahua to both legal and illegal forestry practices. Home to one of the largest biologically diverse areas in Mexico, the old growth forests and the many animal species living within it are quickly falling prey to the clear-cutting methods of Mexican forestry companies, and increasingly, to drug lords seeking to clear and use the land to plant and grow their illicit crops. The Tarahumara Indian tribe, residents of this area for the past several thousand years, are finding their traditional lifestyle and culture being destroyed as they fall prey to brutal drug lords who coercively force them to grow their crops and to a Mexican government that increasingly looks the other way. The Tarahumara Indians have lived relatively untouched by Western civilization in the Sierra Madre Occidental and its extensive network of massive canyons called barrancas for the past 6,000 years. The Tarahumara were never conquered by the Spanish Conquistadores or the Jesuit missionaries who brought their smallpox with them in 1607. In 1631, the Spaniards briefly controlled the Tarahumara and coerced them into working for them in their silver mines. After a failed revolt in 1696 led to brutal reprisals by the Spanish, the Tarahumara went farther into the Sierra back country fleeing civilization. Since then, the indigenous people have largely been left to their own ways until gradual Western encroachment began in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of this century. Loggers started arriving in the Sierra Madre in the late 1800s and conscripted the Tarahumara to provide a cheap labor supply for their operations (Shoumatoff 90, 1995). Again, instead of actively opposing the intervention of Westerners onto their lands, although they did briefly rebel against the loggers in 1918, the Tarahumara fled deeper into the labyrinthine maze of canyons to escape foreign influence. Sustained Mexican encroachment and Tarahumara isolation came to a relative end in 1962 when the last section of the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad was finally completed to traverse the Sierra Madre (Weisman 1994, 1994). With the railroad came more loggers and the environmental degradation of the area began to accelerate. The Sierra Madre boasts some of the richest biodiversity anywhere in North America and contains about two thirds of the standing timber in Mexico. Twenty three different species of pine and some 200 species of oak reside within the Sierra Madre Occidental. So far, over cutting of the forests in this area since the early part of this century has caused the extinction of the imperial woodpecker (the largest woodpecker on Earth) and has lead to several other species becoming critically endangered such as the Mexican gray wolf, jaguar, and thick-billed parrot. Currently, all but 300,000 acres or about 2 percent of the old-growth forest is gone, most without approval or permits from the Tarahumara tribe (Shoumatoff 1995, 92). The smaller trees left as seed stock in place of the old growth forests have mostly died because they lack protection from the elements provided by taller trees. Local logging companies - some believed to be in close association with, and in a few cases, owned by the narcotraficantes, have been forcing new roads into remote settlements and cutting what remains of the last old-growth forests. This land, often under Indian protectorship, is often logged without Tarahumara permission. In addition to being under attack by illegal logging practices, another severe threat to the Sierra Madre Occidental old-growth stands was a 1989 World Bank Loan to Mexico of $45.5 million for a logging and forest-management project (Mardon and Borowitz 1990, 98). The plan, to log more than 4 billion board feet of lumber from 20 million acres of forest over six and one- half years was ostensibly put in place to help Mexico correct its trade deficit by reducing its dependence on imported paper pulp. Many environmentalists were opposed to this loan for the following reasons: indigenous peoples' lives would be even more disrupted (no jobs were promised, just lots of erosion), any hope of a world- class national park in the region would be dashed, and lastly, the oak and pine-covered watersheds would be destroyed with far- reaching effects that could eventually be felt in Texas. (The erosion and destruction of watersheds could eventually deplete underground aquifers used as water sources by both Texans and Mexicans to grow crops or for industrial purposes.) Plus, the World Bank had slated only three percent of the total funds for conservation purposes. An amount many people felt to be woefully inadequate. Many environmentalists also felt that logging would be a big mistake compared to potential revenue a park encompassing Copper Canyon (a system of tangled, immense chasms, four of which are deeper than the Grand) and the Tarahumara tribe would generate from tourist visitation. Even though the area is currently a popular eco-tourist destination, the threat and destruction posed by drug traffickers and their activities is still very real problem. People flock to the Sierra Madre Occidental to experience nature and its indigenous peoples at its unspoiled best. But if that beauty is marred by deforestation, erosion, and the threat of bodily harm by narcotraficantes, individuals will stop traveling there and the area will no longer be seen as a suitable destination. Potential erosion of the Sierra Madre Occidental due to logging also threatens the headwaters of the Rio Conchos, the Rio Grande's largest tributary. In the rainy season, with no forests to protect the exposed slopes, the area could face floods, extensive siltation of the river followed by a drying out of the riverbeds (Mardon and Borowitz 1990, 99). Instead of slowly filtering into underground aquifers, water quickly gets swept away leaving traditional underground springs dry and depriving the Tarahumara of a vital drinking source. With no springs, the Indians have turned to drinking river water that is increasingly becoming polluted by paraquat (a herbicide I will discuss later). Higher disease rates are stalking the Indians because they have to drink this contaminated water. With the drying out of the riverbeds, during a drought the Rio Conchos does not flow nearly as well affecting agricultural communities on both sides of the border. In essence, the environmentalists claimed that by logging the Sierra Madre Occidental the Mexican government was sacrificing wildlife, people, and forests for short-term economic gain. Along with deforestation, drug cultivation is another threat to one of the continent's most crucial ecosystems. The first opium and marijuana seeds were brought to the Sierra Madre Occidental in the 1930s by Chinese traders who saw the potential for growing plants in the large, unpatrollable area (Weisman 1994, 10). Modern drug traffickers started showing up in the Sierra Madre 25 years ago with promises of lots of cash. The counterculture revolution in the States created a new market for mind-altering plants and the Sierra Madre provided the perfect location. Much like the 1960s, the U.S. is still the vast consumer market where most of the drugs from this area are headed for. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of drugs originate from the Sierra's each year. Seven million pounds of marijuana, much of if cultivated in the Sierra Madre, made its way into the U.S. as did 2,500 pounds of Sierra- grown heroin in 1995, with a street value of roughly $650 million (Weisman 1994, 150). In many areas of the Sierra Madre there are opium plants surrounded by strands of barb wire in clearings of downed trees that have either been burned or logged. According to the latest statistics, ten poppy bulbs yield one gram of opium and one bulb can be milked three to ten times. In a raid against a poppy field one author participated in, he watched authorities destroy twelve acres of crops. Estimating that there were ten bulbs per square yard, 150,000 grams of opium were destroyed that was worth at least $450,000, estimating $80 per gram in the U.S. (Weisman 1994, 33). Unfortunately, these kind of raids are a rare occurrence in the area because there is no budget for the Mexican federales to destroy crops. The government has no funds to hire men, purchase sophisticated arms to fight the heavily armed narcotraficantes, or maintain the necessary air support to carry out or support raids. Colombians are increasingly carrying out the drug trade within the Mexican states of Jalisco and Chihuahua. In the case of Chihuahua, the Sierra Madre Occidental is one of the most productive drug-growing areas in the world because of its year- round sunshine and thousands of acres of unpatrolled hillsides. Chihuahua also offers the cartels easy access to the U.S. with its 480 miles of unguarded border. The Mexican government has tried to crack down on this infiltration of South American drug cartels but has largely been ineffectual. As a response to this encroachment, the Mexican army has recently been summarily arresting the Tarahumara drug growers (usually reluctant) while the druglords, the caciques, seldom are caught. Also, Mexican authorities, in an effort to wipe the drug plants, have repeatedly sprayed the back country with paraquat and other herbicides, wiping out rare butterflies and contaminating local water supplies and plant life. This spraying presents another hazard to the Tarahumara because they eat 200 different species of plants and use 300 more for medicinal purposes (Shoumatoff 1995, 91). The Fontes Cartel, one of the larger groups operating in the Sierra Madre and lead by Artemio Fontes, is also suspected of being involved in the illegal logging that has defaced much of the Sierra. Logging companies are oftentimes used as a cover by traffickers because the roads make it easier for them to harvest their illicit crops, timber trucks provide a legitimate, camouflaged mode of drug transport and the loggers often serve the traficantes by acting as their intimidation squads. The increasingly-powerful drug cartels have systematically coerced the Indians into cultivating marijuana and opium poppies. If the Indians cooperate, they are sometimes paid in alcohol or corn. A kilogram of marijuana is worth between 100 and 200 kilos of corn to the Tarahumara, or about $250 (Weisman 1994, 150). In times of drought when the corn crop fails, the cash crop alternative is often the only choice the Indians have to live. In fact, a few acres of opium could bring approximately $500 to an Indian if he could survive the threats and violence to himself and his family (De Palma 1995, 6). If they are not cooperative, they are intimidated, forced off the land, have their food and livestock stolen and oftentimes their families are subjected to harassment, rape, torture, and murder (Shoumatoff 1995, 90). The local Mexican authorities are too intimidated or often too implicated in the dealings to protect them. The Indians, who have depended on the forests for millennia, have been left hanging in the balance with hardly anyone to defend their way of life. One group that has formed to stop the human-rights abuses and environmental degradation of the area is the Consejo Asevor Sierra Madre (CASMAC). Their basic function is to provide a safe haven for terrorized Indians. This group, formed several years ago and lead by Edwin Bustillos, who is part Tarahumara, also seeks to put a halt to the devastating drug trade, cattle rustling, and lumber practices within the Sierra Madre. In one instance, a drug lord built a road into a remote Tarahumara village without their permission and was going to charge the Indians $100,000 for its completion (Shoumatoff 1995, 91). If the Indians couldn't pay, the drug lords were willing to take their payment in trees with the intent of planting illicit crops once the trees were gone. Fortunately, CASMAC and the Indians won this battle in the Chihuahua courts so that the Indians did not have to pay anything and the forest remained intact. Edwin Bustillos, in 1995, had survived three attempts on his life within the past year by narcotraficantes looking to silence his opposition to their operations in the Sierra Madre. Unfortunately, CASMAC has not proven to be that effective in protecting the Indians and from 1994 to 1995 has reported an average of four Indians per week being murdered by the narcotraficantes (Shoumatoff 1995, 57). CASMAC's partner in the U.S., the Arizona Rainforest Alliance, provides funds for these projects as do groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources Institute. Some of CASMAC's goals include introducing environmentally sound farming techniques to the Tarahumara to trying to save an endangered parrot species. In 1994, CASMAC, along with several U.S. environmental groups, was able to stop another $90 million World Bank road-building project in the Sierra Madre that would have given loggers and narcotraficantes access to 4 billion more board feet of lumber. CASMAC has also lobbied successfully for an amendment to the Chihuahua state constitution guaranteeing the rights of indigenous people, blocked several illegal logging operations, and overseen the eradication of over 250 acres of illicit crops (Shoumatoff 1995, 60). One of Edwin Bustillos' more controversial ideas to stop this drug-induced destruction of the Tarahumara culture is to legalize drugs so that narcotraficantes would contain their activities to certain areas and stay out the increasingly-remote lands cared for by the Tarahumara. These remote areas within the Sierra Madre where the Indians still flee to escape foreign encroachment, are marginal for producing corn, the Indians main staple. Because of a severe drought the past several years (the worst in 40 years) the corn crop has failed to produce and the Tarahumara were seeing an increasing rise in the number of deaths of children to malnutrition-related diseases. In fact, infant mortality rates were so high in 1994 that Tarahumara women gave birth to ten children hoping that half would survive (Marks 1994, 5). Although the Mexican government has tried to provide some relief to the Indians, it was not nearly enough to stop the Tarahumara population from dropping precipitously. Some of these areas where the Indians have fled, deep within the Mexican state of Chihuahua, house one of the most complex and productive systems of native agriculture in the world. The Tarahumara have been able to survive in this harsh environment for thousands of years by being able to adapt their crops to the tough conditions. The pockets of Tarahumara human habitation in the Sierra Madre offer ethnobotanists an unprecedented genetic repository including: heirloom strains of beans, squash, gourds, chiles, and especially corn (Marks 1994, 13). These strains, found nowhere else in the world, offer scientists a link to human agricultural activity in the past and possibly, knowledge of how to grow vegetables in other drought-plagued areas of the planet. As of now, the Mexican government is still unconcerned about the Indians' plight despite numerous calls and heeds to Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo's office by Bustillos' organization and others to protect the remaining Tarahumara. Countless sorrow and ecological loss is being wreaked upon Chihuahua. Poverty, marginalization, logging and rampant drug trafficking have destabilized the Sierra Madre Occidental and left its fragile ecosystem and indigenous people, the Tarahumara, on the verge of destruction. 3. Related Cases COLDEFOR Case BOLCOCA Case COCA Case COLCOCA Case Key Words (1) : Deforestation (2) : Indigenous (3) : Opium 4. Geoff Galster (May, 1996) B. LEGAL Clusters 5. Discourse: Disagreement and Allegation Certainly there is consensus among many environmental groups, the Tarahumara, and CASMAC that the Sierra Madre Occidental is worth saving. On the other hand, however, the narcotraficantes and the Mexican government view the area as an exploitable resource that does not need any attention. The protection of the Tarahumara and their fragile ecosystem is not a priority in the eyes of many officials who instead feel that the Sierra timber is a vital source of foreign capital. Although CASMAC has successfully pursued some legal action against the loggers and the Mexican government has carried out some anti-drug activity in the area, narcotraficantes rule the area with impunity. 6. Forum and Scope: MEXICO and UNILATeral Mexican legislation, and more specifically, the state of Chihuahua, has passed legislation giving rights to the Tarahumara Indians. Although the growing of, transport, sale, etc. of drugs is illegal in Mexico, so many officials at all levels have been corrupted by narcotraficante money that drug interdiction and capture/prosecution of drug lords is nearly impossible. The U.S. is currently reviewing whether the Mexican government is doing all that it can to stop the flow of drugs into this country. A finding that they are not could lead to a suspension or withdrawal of U.S. aid. 7. Number of Parties Affected: ONE (Mexico) The countries of Mexico and the U.S. are both directly and indirectly involved in the drug trafficking and deforestation of the Sierra Madre Occidental. While the Mexican state of Chihuahua encompasses the part most severely affected, the U.S. is the major export market for a good percentage of the wood pulp logged in the area and is the major destination for much of the opium and marijuana grown in the area. The deforestation of the area and watershed destruction can also lead to trouble in areas around the Rio Conchos and Rio Grande in times of drought causing problems for farmers on both sides of the border. The Tarahumara Indian is also a party that is seriously affected by what is going on in the mountains. 8. Standing: SUBLAW As stated above, with the Mexican federal government taking a hands off approach to the area, Chihuahua law seems to be the only place of refuge for CASMAC and the Tarahumara. C. GEOGRAPHIC Clusters 9. Geography a. Continental Domain: North America [NAMER] b. Geographic Site: SNAMER c. Impact: MEXICO 10. SUB-STATE: NO 11. Habitat Type: TEMPERATE D. TRADE Clusters 12. Type of Measure: Regulatory Standard 13. Impact Direct or Indirect: INDirect 14. Relation of Measure to Impact a. Directly Related to Product: YES PHARMaceutical b. Indirectly Related to Product: YES WOOD c. Not Related to Product: NO d. Related to Process: YES Deforestation [DEFOR] 15. Product Type: WOOD Boards, wood pulp, paper, along with processed opium (heroin) and marijuana flow into the U.S. from the Sierra Madre. 16. Economic Data 17. Degree of Competitive Impact: MEDium The wood and drug trade has a severe impact on the environment and people within the Sierra Madre Occidental. We are witnessing the destruction of the one of the most diverse and spectacular settings in all of North America without much being done to stop it on either side of the border. A certain number of environmental groups here in the U.S. have provided funding for CASMAC, but little has been done to support their work either from international agencies (World Bank) or from the governments of Mexico or the U.S. Until the U.S. ceases to be a huge illicit drug market, or the Mexican government cracks down on the drug-sponsored corruption of their society, (both monumental tasks) little can be done to stop the environmental and cultural degradation that is occurring incessantly. 18. Industry Sector: WOOD 19. Exporter and Importer: MEXICO and USA E. ENVIRONMENT Clusters 20. Environmental Problem Type: Deforestation [DEFOR] 21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species Name: Mexican Gray Wolf, Jaguar, Thick-billed Parrot Type: Mammal-canine/Mammal-feline/Bird Diversity: Only a few hundred thought to be surviving IUCN Status: ENDANGERED 22. Impact and Effect: HIGH and SCALE 23. Urgency and Lifetime: HIGH and Hundreds of Years 24. Substitutes: Conservation of the remaining habitat F. OTHER Factors 25. Culture: YES The American consumption of wood and illicit drug products is driving the Mexican forest companies and the drug cartels to monopolize the Sierra Madre Occidental. 26. Human Rights: YES As I have noted previously in my descriptive part of the case study, the Tarahumara's ancient culture is being destroyed by the ruthless loggers and drug traffickers. Powerless to stop the onslaught of machines and men, the Indian culture stands dangerously on the brink of destruction. 27. Trans-Boundary Issues: YES Mexico and the United States. 28. Works Cited De Palma, Anthony. "Dying Babies are Witness to Proud People's Crisis." The New York Times, 31 October 1994, sec. 1A, p. 4. De Palma, Anthony. "Mexico's Indians Face New Conquistador: Drugs." The New York Times, 2 June 1995, sec. 1A, p. 6. Mardon, Mark and Susan Borowitz. "Banking on Mexico's Forests." Sierra 75 (November/December): 98-100. Marks, Scott. "Starvation, Isolation Killing Children of Mexico Indians." The Los Angeles Times, 25 November 1994, sec. 1A, p. 5. Shoumatoff, Alex. "Trouble in the Land of Muy Verde." Outside 15 (March 1995): 56-63. Shoumatoff, Alex. "Hero of the Sierra Madre." Utne Reader 70 (July/August 1995): 90-99. Weisman, Alan. "The Drug Lords Versus The Tarahumara." The Los Angeles Times Magazine, 9 January 1994, 10.

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April 30, 1996