Mexican Drug War victimizes Tarahumara Indians
This is sad, really sad. And it pisses me off in a big way. If you've read Christopher McDougall's best selling Born to Run, you'll know why.
The Tarahumara Indians, an indigenous tribe living in the mountains and canyons of the Sierra Madre in northern Mexico, might be the most peaceful people on the planet. They're incredibly poor by western economic standards, yet they live rich lives filled with caring, helping, "karma", and pure enjoyment from running. They are said to be the best ultrarunners in the world.
Now the Mexican drug cartels are coercing the Tarahumara to use that ultrarunning prowess to run (literally) drugs across the border into the United States.
Until recently, the Tarahumara have been partially protected by the fearsome geography of the region they inhabit— the Sierra Madre mountains. The terrain here is psychedelic: plinths and boulders and impossible overhangs. The canyons stretch down more than a mile, though the Tarahumara navigate the cliffs as easily as staircases. But in the past decades, ranchers, miners, loggers, and narcos have moved ever closer into traditional Tarahumara enclaves. One of the last travel books to chronicle the region was the acclaimed God's Middle Finger, published in 2008 by British writer Richard Grant. It describes a run-in with armed thugs, then closes with this thought: "I never wanted to set foot in the Sierra Madre again."
Exacerbating the situation is what -locals say is the worst drought in 70 years. Even in the best of times, many Tarahumara live on the edge, tilling just enough to survive. Now farmers can't get most food crops to grow, and last winter an unusual cold spell killed off much of what they did plant. That's left the Indians desperate—and easy prey for wealthy drug barons looking for mules to take their product north.
"You get a guy who can go 50 miles with almost no water ... they've been indirectly training for [cross-border smuggling] for 10,000 years," says McDougall, author of Born to Run. "It's just tragic and disgraceful. This is a culture that has tried its best to stay out of this mess, all of these -messes—the messes of the world—and now the messes have come and found them."
"I can't even weigh the cultural impact of what the drug industry is doing to the Tarahumara," says Randy Gingrich, an American based in the city of Chihuahua for 20 years. He spends much of his time in the Sierra Madre and his NGO, Tierra Nativa, battles threats to the Tarahumara and other Indian tribes from miners, loggers, drug dealers, and the occasional tourist scheme. He says one former drug baron once forcibly evicted Tarahumara from their ancestral homes so he could build a giant Astroturf ski slope overlooking the 6,000-foot Sinforosa Canyon. The project fell through when the trafficker died in a plane crash.
In the town of Guachochi, a Tarahumara woman named Ana Cela Palma says she knows four Indians who have become "burros" and made the trek up to the U.S. for the cartels. None was paid what they were promised, she says. "They make it back, but in really bad condition," she says. They were broken down physically, impoverished, and angry, she says.