Mexico: Wixarika indigenous people mourn death of leader and brother

According to Mexican daily La Jornada Indigenous community leader Miguel Vazquez Flores has been killed alongside his brother Agustin Flores, as the country’s human rights situation continues to spark national and international alarm just days after the murder of a renowned veteran journalist Javier Valdez.

Miguel Vazquez Flores, president of the Communal Lands Commission representing the Wixarika Indigenous people of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, was murdered with his brother Agustin Florez Saturday 20 May around 6:00 p.m. local time in Tuxpan de Bolaños.

The murders come just days after Mexican journalist and author Javier Valdez — a prominent investigative journalist with La Jornada in Sinaloa, founder of the magazine Riodoce and author of several books — was shot dead in broad daylight in the city of Culiacan.

The high-profile killings coincide with a new survey for 2017 published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a global think-tank, researching political and military conflict(s), that named Mexico the world’s second most deadly conflict zone, second only to Syria.

Vazquez Flores and the Wixarika people have been fighting for decades to reclaim some 10,000 hectares of ancestral land that the group argues is under “irregular possession.”

The people of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan, where Vazquez Flores was a local leader, took a stand last September, together with some 1,000 Wixarika community members, to reclaim a swath of ancestral land from ranchers in the neighbouring state of Nayarit, reports Tele Sur.

The Wixarika people’s traditional territory spans the major Western Sierra Madre mountain range in the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Zacatecas and Durango. The traditional culture, shamanic spirituality and the present-day struggles of the Wixarika were showcased in the 2014 documentary film “Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians.”

The Wixarika, and their ancient cultural traditions are under threat from foreign mining activities, including an open-cast silver mine which is leaching cyanide into the local water supply. The mine is operated by the Canadian company First Majestic Silver Corp.

According to Tele Sur, San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan has become one of the most hotly disputed areas in the territorial conflicts in the sierra region, where expanding drug cartels in Jalisco, home to Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara — combined with the war on drugs — contributes to worsening levels of violence.

According to Front Line Defenders annual report, 26 human rights defenders were killed in Mexico in 2016 alone, while Article 19 documented 11 murders of journalists in the same year amid soaring levels of impunity for politically-motivated killings. Front Line Defenders calls on the government of Mexico to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Miguel Vazquez Flores, his brother Agustin and all other human rights defenders killed because of their peaceful human rights work. They must take action to ensure that those who continue in their struggle to defend the rights of indigenous people are able to do so without fear of retaliation or reprisals.

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