Fence in the sky — border wall cuts through native land

Ofelia RivasPhoto by R. Furtado)
Ofelia Rivas
Photo by R. Furtado)


By Russell Morse, June 9, 2014. Source: The Native Press

SANTA CRUZ, Ariz. The swath of land in southern Arizona that bleeds into the northern Mexican state of Sonora is a sprawling, largely uninhabited, desert divided by mountains and spotted with shrubs. Driving down dusty roads with a punishing sun overhead, it seems almost lifeless.

But this region is home to the Tohono O’odham Nation, a tribe of 25,000 people, who have shared the land with the road runners, mountain lions, jaguars and wolves for over 6000 years. In 1853 the US Mexico border was redrawn, effectively cutting the O’odham Nation in half.

This border itself did not present grave consequences for the tribe, however, until the late 1990s, when the US Border Patrol developed a new strategy for Border enforcement in the southwest. At that time, operations Gatekeeper in San Diego, Hold the Line in El Paso and Safeguard: Arizona in Nogales shifted enforcement to urban areas. The object was to force migrants into desolate desert regions, where they would either be deterred by the terrain or easily apprehended in open spaces.

The only thing that’s changed, however, is where migrants are crossing. The narrow corridor they have been edged into goes right through the Tohono O’odham reservation.

This land is also where the proposed border fence would be built, isolating the communities of O’odham people on either side of the fence and threatening the animals and vegetation of the biologically diverse Sky Island region.

Tribal members and environmentalists there are not concerned with the politicized issue of undocumented immigration to the United States. Their concern is the preservation of the culture and habitat that have flourished here for thousands of years and now face decimation by the construction of a wall.

Every October, O’odham tribal members make a pilgrimage from the US side of their land to Magdalena, Sonora in Mexico side as part of their annual St Francis festival. The procession is part of a larger event, with music, food and dancing and is their largest tribal festival. Increased border enforcement in the past twenty years has restricted this movement, but they still made the annual procession. Until this year.

On October second, the electrical lines to an O’odham community in Mexico were cut, leaving them without power. A tribal member decided to drive to the US side to get some generators so the celebration could go on as planned. As he was driving, his truck was shot at.

The man’s sister, Ofelia Rivas, along with most tribal members, is convinced that the cut lines and the shooting are related, perpetrated by drug smugglers who have set up operations on O’odham land and are trying to intimidate the residents.

Ofelia is a tribal elder and she has watched the impact that increased border security has had on her people’s land. Aside from the aggression from smugglers, she’s had to endure harassment by Border Patrol officers restricting movement on traditional routes. “One of the main things is that we are impacted by the immigration policies and we’re not immigrants,” she says. “We have to carry documents to prove who we are.”

Ofelia tells a story of one Border Patrol encounter that turned into terror for her and her family. She was with her daughter and grandson, driving home from an all night dance when they were pulled over. “Right away they said ‘Get out, get out’ because I’m in the back seat and I’m brown skinned and I don’t talk English too well, you know.” She asked why she had to get out of the car and the agent asked whether she was a US citizen or a Mexican citizen. She answered, “I’m an O’odham don’t you know you’re on my land? You should have some respect.”

At this point, Ofelia recalls, the officer got angry, unclipped his pistol and put it to her head, demanding that she say whether she is a Mexican or a US citizen. He said if she didn’t answer, he would handcuff her and have her deported. “I said where are you gonna deport me to? Mexico is my territory. My father’s community is there. O’odham community is there.” Ofelia shakes her head. “By then my daughter is crying, my grandson is crying and I can’t cry because I’m really angry but I’m very much afraid.”

Then another Border Patrol truck pulled up and the agent accosting Ofelia put his gun in his holster. They were promptly let go.

The terrain in this corner of the continent is referred to as the Sky Island Mountains. The name alludes to the natural phenomenon of lush, vegetated mountains surrounded by a sea of desert. It is considered the most biologically diverse region in North America, connecting desert, tropics and mountains.

Matt Skroch is the executive director of the Sky Island Alliance, a non profit organization which dedicates itself to the preservation of the region. Most of their energy now is spent trying to raise awareness to the importance of what they call “wildlife connectivity” across the border, which he says would be devastated by the construction of a wall.

“The region is defined in both the United States and in Mexico,” Matt explains. “It’s one unique biological region that spans the international border. In that sense, it’s very much connected. The Sky Islands to the north of the border are connected geographically, topographically, biologically, ecologically with the mountains south of the border. And its imperative that permeability of the landscape remains so that our web of life, our plants and animals are able to migrate back and forth.”

Sergio Avila, a wildlife biologist for the Sky Island Alliance, uses the example of the jaguar — an animal native to the region — to explain his position.

“Animals don’t know about borders, different countries, languages or visas. So anything that prevents the animals from moving is gonna be a problem, no matter what side the animals are at. . . It’s just dividing the same region. Its’ not going to be a matter of well, what side is the jaguar in? Is it in the US side? Are we going to keep it in the US? Or is he gonna stay in Mexico? It is not good to leave it in one side or the other. We shouldn’t have to choose for the animal.”

Beyond the abuse and the fear, Ofelia Rivas is most troubled by the prospect of the construction of a fence. “We don’t agree with this wall,” she said. “It’s like a knife in our mother (earth). These metal things are going to go in our mother and we can’t pull them out.”

Meet the activists who humiliated Monsanto

Meet the Activists Who Just Humiliated Monsanto© AP
Meet the Activists Who Just Humiliated Monsanto
© AP

Alex Cline, PolicyMic

Last Thursday, an intriguing press release from “Monsanto Global” was sent out to to the email inboxes of media organizations all over the world. According to the press release, Monsanto had received approval from Mexico’s SAGARPA (Secretariat of Agriculture) to plant a quarter of a million hectares of GMO corn in Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango. This was coupled with the announcement of two new Monsanto-funded institutions: a seed bank preserving Mexico’s 246 native strains of corn, and a museum of Mexican culture, to be established such that “[n]ever again will the wealth of this region’s culture be lost as social conditions change.”

This was certainly interesting, and indeed, the SAGARPA was in fact considering a permit to allow Monsanto to plant the corn. Still, it seemed fishy, and totally unlike Monsanto to admit (even obliquely) that their corporate practices could possibly change Mexican culture and wipe out indigenous corn strains.

Within hours, the domain name linked to in the press release (monsantoglobal.com) was no longer available, and a second Monsanto-branded press release denouncing the earlier announcement went out. This one, sent from an email at a different domain name (monsanto-media.com), claimed that the Monsanto Global press release was the work of an activist group called Sin Maíz No Hay Vida.

The highlights of the strongly-worded message included the following:

“The action of the group is fundamentally misleading,” said Janet M. Holloway, Chief of Community Relations for Monsanto. “The initiatives they put forth are unfeasible, and their list of demands is peppered with hyperbolic buzzwords like ‘sustainability,’ ‘culture,’ and ‘biodiversity.’”

“Only ecologists prioritize biodiversity over real-world concerns,” said Dr. Robert T. Fraley, who oversees Monsanto’s integrated crop and seed agribusiness technology and research worldwide. “Commercial farmers know that biodiversity means having to battle weeds and insects. That means human labor, and human labor means costs and time that could be spent otherwise.”

Here is a mirror of both press releases.

Later that day, a post on Monsanto’s blog denied that they had sent a press release about Mexico of any kind that day, stating that “Information on this hoax web site and its related communication properties has been turned over to the appropriate authorities to further investigate the matter.”

I reached out to a spokesperson for Sin Maíz No Hay Vida to find out more about the motivations behind the hoax.

PolicyMic (PM): Can you tell me about Sin Maíz No Hay Vida, who they are, and what their mission is?

SM: Sin Maíz No Hay Vida (Without Corn, there is No Life) is a coalition of activists, students, and artists from Mexico, the United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Uganda, Venezuela, Spain, and Argentina.We are fighting to preserve biological and cultural diversity in Mesoamerica and around the world.

PM: What was the goal of the fake press release?

SM: We wanted to demonstrate the importance of corn (in terms of biodiversity, sustainability, and cultures in Mexico) and to show what is at stake if companies like Monsanto manage to privatize this staple crop. It’s not an exaggeration to say that in Mexico and around the world, there is no life without corn.

We also hoped to raise consciousness about Monsanto’s current application to seed genetically modified corn on a commercial scale in three states in Mexico, a huge expansion of their current projects in Mexico. We wanted remind the Mexican officials at SAGARPA, who have the power to make this decision, that activists are paying attention. We urge them not to grant Monsanto the permit to seed commercially. Finally, we hoped to work in solidarity with other activist groups fighting Monsanto.

PM: What do you believe should be the alternative to growing GMO corn?

SM: I think that question “What’s the alternative to growing GM corn?” assumes that genetically modified corn is a necessity, and it’s not. Monsanto and other producers of GMOs want us to believe that these crops are necessary to sustain a growing population, but in fact, Monsanto is just trying to grow their bottom line by privatizing staple crops around the world. This hurts all of us: farmers, the environment, and just about everyone who eats food. To paraphrase Irina Dunn and Gloria Steinem, we need GM corn like a fish needs a bicycle, and a rusty, blood-thirsty bicycle at that. Have you ever ridden a blood-thirsty bicycle? It’s a terrible experience.

PM: Do you have any info on the website coming down?

SM: Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about why monsantoglobal.com was taken down. We’re working to get it back up. In the meantime, you can visit our website for more information about the action.

PM: What do you think of Monsanto’s response?

SM: It’s interesting that Monsanto was frightened enough by activists paying attention to their actions that they quickly denounced us online and on social media. I think I’d be happier, though, if they had withdrawn their petition to seed commercially in Mexico. I expect them to do so any minute now.

PM: What are some resources you can recommend for everyone reading who wants to get involved?

SM: We’re compiling resources for activists on our blog, especially links to activist groups in Mexico and the United States who are have been fighting Monsanto. If you want to help mobilize against Monsanto or to suggest a group that we should link to, please visit our blog.

Mexico Now World’s Fattest Nation; President Hopes Stevia Can Save It

Brazil’s Indigenous peoples have sweetened teas with stevia since ancient times. (Flickr/kochtopf)

Brazil’s Indigenous peoples have sweetened teas with stevia since ancient times. (Flickr/kochtopf)

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

This year Mexico surpassed America as the world’s fattest nation. According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 32.8 percent of adults in Mexico are obese and 70 percent are overweight, and roughly a third of the country’s teenagers are overweight, reported The Global Dispatch. Meanwhile, approximately 1 in 6 Mexican adults—or 70,000 people—suffer from weight-related diabetes each year.

Among the reasons for Mexico’s bulging waistline are increases in junk food and fast-food chains combined with a sedentary lifestyle, states a report by the FAO.

The news has spurred Mexico’s new President Pena Nieto to recommend stevia, a natural, zero calorie sugar substitute, as a solution to repair the “collapse in Mexico’s healthcare system” by 2030, reports Suzy Chaffee, 1968 ski racing Olympian and co-founder of the Native American Olympic Team Foundation, for enewschannels.com.

South American tribes discovered the rainforest herb Stevia. The Guarani Indians of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia were among the first to enjoy the unique benefits of kaa-he-he, which translates to “sweet herb,” according to stevia.net.

“The rebaudiana extract from Stevia is the only known natural sweetener with zero calories, zero carbohydrates, and a zero glycemic index, which gives you zero fluctuations in blood glucose and zero contributions to any disease,” Olivia (Cherokee), a Master Gardener and Chaffee’s advisor, told Chaffee.

RELATED: How a Healthier Diet Can Reduce School Violence and Shootings

China and Japan have grown and used the most Stevia since the 1970s, and the country’s residents have the lowest rates of diabetes in the world. Chaffee says the countries’ health success likely inspired President Nieto to recommend stevia as a weight loss solution in Mexico.

Read Chaffee’s full article here.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/08/15/mexico-president-nieto-recommends-stevia-curb-obesity-crisis-150873