carretera bosque

A sacred Otomí indigenous forest is threatened by the construction of a highway

By: Leidy González

Today it is common to hear about the dispossession of material, cultural and common goods in Indigenous communities. Most of us feel outraged by such events because, “it has cost us much to preserve them”. When this dispossession threatens nature, it is not only about the usurpation of natural resources, but also an attack against our worldview and love for our mother earth.

Ecological projects in Mexico create a frequent discussion between the population and the state over the difference in people’s perceptions. An example of this is the Mexico – Toluca highway project, affecting the forest found in indigenous communities such as Santa Cruz Ayotuxco, San Lorenzo Huitzizilapan, San Francisco Atotuxco, Magdalena Chichicaspa and San Francisco Xochicuautla in the municipality of Lerma, State of Mexico.

According to the Otomí culture, the forest and its hills are the representation of Christ. The highway divides the forest where the inhabitants make offerings for their traditions and customs; In addition, in this place is the sanctuary to the “Divine Face”, and with the construction of the highway, parts of the “Divine Face” would be broken.

Source: Environmental Justice Atlas

According to the Inigo Report, “other reasons why people oppose the project is that, according to the company’s plan, the work would split two nature reserves, causing the inhabitants to no longer have free access to places in the forest that are sacred to them. In addition, the fauna of the region would be in danger, as it would have to cross over the highway”.

The construction was approved in 2013 illegally by an illegitimate registration of community members in this place. According to the statement of the community assembly, “this construction is planned in a stretch of 39.34 km that mainly affects 22 km from the Protected Natural Area and Sanctuary of Water of the San Lázaro River sub-basin of the communal territory of the aforementioned communities”.

The San Francisco Xochicuautla community has been in a constant struggle against the Mexican state for the construction of this highway for 13 years. The ancestors of this community have sheltered the Otomí forest for generations, but throughout Lerma, the destruction of approximately 3 million 900 thousand square meters of the Sacred Forest condemns the inhabitants of the Hñahñus (Otomí) communities.

At the beginning of construction the forest’s defense communities refused this project due to the expropriation of the forest and the benefit that a private company will gain from it. In the face of the imminent expropriation of natural wealth, the Otomí defenders of nature in San Francisco Xochicuautla publicly denounced this fact.

This resulted in a series of public complaints towards the Mexican state that have become a direct violence towards the Hñahñus (Otomí) peoples. This shows how day by day, the Mexican State makes decisions without the consultation of the people; however, this is not something new, there are records of other incidents that have occurred long ago that violate Mother Earth and promote the exploitation of resources under a state of corruption, which has brought as a result the following crimes for the population:

  • Photo: Ngisa Xochicuautla

    Death threats

  • Political Prison
  • Attacks
  • Military siege on communities
  • Breach of agreements
  • Unjustified detention of women and men
  • And other types of human rights violations

Ambition is a strong weapon that won’t stop the highway project, despite two constitutional protections in the possession of the villagers, which force the company to stop the work. Despite this, under these protections, Xochicuautla fights repression and the excessive increase of buildings that destroy and prevent the preservation of their sacred spaces.

The defense of territories for indigenous communities is not easy, as projects that take away indigenous land and territory are in complicity with the power of the State. There is a struggle on the part of indigenou people in the face of these injustices, which triggers allegations, but also aggressions.

This is the way things are in Mexico, where power, ambition and corruption come together; However, indigenous communities insist on fighting for their worldview, for their customs, for their traditions and above all for Mother Nature that gives us life, even if it means being a victim of direct and structural violence for opposing megaprojects and the State.

Leidy Gonzales is of Otomí ethnicity from México and Bachelor in Intercultural Communication