On the risk and courage of social justice work in Mexico

August 2, 2013

“Un abogado y activista por los derechos humanos de las comunidades indÍgenas en Oaxaca ha sido desaparecido. Fue sacado de su oficina.” A human rights attorney and activist on behalf of indigenous communities in Oaxaca has been ‘disappeared.’ He was taken from his office.

The news came during a workshop I was leading last month in northern Mexico for local nonprofit organizations that work with indigenous communities in the Copper Canyon region in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

One of the participants in our meeting saw the alert in her email inbox and asked for a minute to let everyone know what had happened: that attorney Herón Sixto López had been abducted the day before and was missing. Four days later, it would be reported in the news that Mr. López was found dead, shot six times.

Human rights defenders and journalists in some parts of Mexico can face intimidation and attacks in reprisal for their work, according to Amnesty International, which is organizing activity to help urge effective protection of the family of Herón Sixto López. At our workshop in Chihuahua, the members of La Red de Defensa Tarahumara (a network in defense of the indigenous territories of the Tarahumara) were clearly familiar with the weight of such risk.

If you’re a runner (or are like me and just admire people who run), chances are you’ve read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. And if you’ve read the book, then you know about the Tarahumara. In a region of immense natural beauty, the people who captured McDougall’s attention for their nearly unrivaled endurance running ability today face myriad threats to their land, culture, and ability to survive in the place where they’ve lived for many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

La Red de Defensa Tarahumara is working to communicate some of those challenges, including tourism projects occurring without consultation with affected communities. For more information, check out this video and the network’s website, which is accessible in either English or Spanish.

Photo credit: senecar / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Jeff Cappella