An Indigenous community leader in Mexico has been assassinated alongside his brother, Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper reported, as the country’s human rights situation continues to spark national and international alarm just days after the murder of a renowned veteran journalist.
Miguel Vazquez Flores, president of the communal lands commission representing the Wixarika Indigenous community of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, was murdered with his brother Saturday around 6:00 p.m. local time in Tuxpan de Bolaños, another Wixarika community.
The murders come just days after Mexican journalist and author Javier Valdez — a prominent drug crime reporter 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 assassination came on the heels of a new report that dubbed Mexico the world’s second most deadly conflict zone, next only to Syria.
According to Front Line Defenders, 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.
While the details of Vazquez Flores’ activism as a community leader and president of a local communal lands commission have not been reported, the Wixarika people, also known as Huicholes — and known as Wuaut+a by the local Indigenous population — in Mexico's Western Madre Sierra mountain range have fought for decades to reclaim some 10,000 hectares of ancestral land that the group argues is under “irregular possession.”
The community of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan, where Vazquez Flores was a local leader, took a stand last September with some 1,000 Wixarika community members to reclaim a swath of ancestral land from ranchers in the neighboring state of Nayarit.
The Wixarika people’s traditional territory spans across 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 film details the group’s ceremonial use of the hallucinogenic cactus peyote, which they “hunt” in one of their sacred mountains, which they call Wirikuta.
The Wixarika, the sacred Wirikuta and ancient cultural traditions like the peyote hunt are under threat from foreign mining activities, including an open-pit, cyanide leaching silver mine operated by the Canadian company First Majestic Silver Corp.
The Wixarika continue to hold on to a custom of completing an annual pilgrimage to Wirikuta to honor the four sacred cardinal directions and pass their traditions on to the next generation.
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 — paired with the war on drugs — contributes to worsening levels of violence.