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News > Latin America

200 Indigenous People Rescued from Modern-Day Slavery in Mexico

  • Many children were among the hundreds of Tarahumaras rescued from modern slavery.

    Many children were among the hundreds of Tarahumaras rescued from modern slavery. | Photo: Asociación de Periodistas de Ciudad Juarez

Published 17 March 2015

The country has a long history of racial discrimination against indigenous communities, and exploitation seems to be increasing.

Mexico is a country marred by violence and plagued by corruption and impunity, elements that create a fertile ground for exploitation of members of vulnerable social classes. Indigenous groups are among the most affected. Recent statistics show an increase of modern-day slavery cases against them, one of which was reported by the Ministry of Labor this Monday, involving 200 Tarahumaras, rescued from subhuman conditions.

Labor Minister Alfonso Navarrete reported that the Tarahumaras were being detained illegally in the northwestern state of Baja California Sur. An agricultural company had forced the group to work long hours and live in squalid conditions, only giving its people enough money to buy a bare minimum of essential goods.

RELATED: Canadian Embassy Backs Mining Companys Human Rights Abuses

The group of 200 people were packed into overcrowded and small unsanitary cabins made of sticks, tape, plastic and cardboard. Their shelters were completely surrounded by mud and garbage, the official described.

​Navarrete said the rescue of the Tarahumaras, which began March 10, came after a long-term investigation, which has uncovered many civil rights violations, such as human trafficking, labor and child exploitation, and deprivation of freedom.

Tarahumaras are originally from the mountain ranges in Chihuaua. (Photo: Lancer Fischer)

The Tarahumaras are an ancient indigenous group from northern Mexico, mainly Chihuahua state. They live high in the eastern Sierra Madre mountain range in caves, or very rustic handmade shelters. According to the 2010 census there are fewer than 70,000 Tarahumaras left in the country. Since the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, this indigenous group has suffered exploitation, slavery and other grave abuses.

The minister said he has handed the case over to the attorney general’s office, which is responsible for laying charges against the rural production society responsible, El Cerezo (cherry tree).

Navarrete also two men, Alejandro Bellereza and Fortino Pellegaud, were arrested for acting as intermediaries between the company and the Tarahumaras. They stand accused of lying and deceiving the group into a position of exploitation or modern slavery.

Over 15,000 work centers have been inspected by Labor Ministry officials, who found that over a million employees were working in inhuman conditions, including close to 350 children.

But exploitation cases in Mexico are not new. At least 3 million indigenous girls were recently reported to be facing exploitation as house servants or prostitution, which, according to a Mexican lower chamber of congress report, makes them the most vulnerable sector of society.

(Photo: Reuters)

“They face extreme poverty, social isolation, modern slavery, making them easy prey for human traffickers,” a study by the opposition Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) for the chamber of representatives stated.

The report by PRD lawmakers Domingo Rodriguez and Jose Torres added that 80 percent of the 14 million indigenous people of Mexico live in extreme poverty; a factor that, in a context of governmental corruption and impunity, is taken advantage of by organized crime groups.

RELATED: Mexican Group Denounces Rights Violations against Yaqui Tribe

Another recent example of indigenous exploitation was a revelation by the Catholic priest and indigenous rights activist in Chihuahua, Javier Avila, who reported that there was a 3 percent increase in companies exploiting indigenous people in the past two years.

“Many of the Tarahumaras being exploited receive less than five dollars a day, and they accept it because they come from not having anything to each and living in extreme poverty,” he said, adding that many are minors, who are forced to work 12 hours a day.

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