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Yaqui in Sonora ban pesticides

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Photo by Saul Vicente

Yaqui in Sonora ban pesticides resulting in deaths


By Brenda Norrell

Human Rights Editor

U.N. OBSERVER & International Report


VICAM PUEBLO, SONORA, MEXICO -- Yaqui in Sonora enacted a declaration to halt the use of banned pesticides in agricultural fields here, now resulting in cancer and death for community members, and demanded that corporations be responsible for health damages and Mexico ensure safe water.

   Currently, aerial spraying of crops and the unmonitored, unregulated storage of dangerous pesticides are devastating Yaqui and other Indigenous communities. Acute poisoning from exposure to toxic contamination is resulting in the deaths of very young children and adults.

  Attracting support from the United Nations and government of Mexico, the traditional authorities of five Yaqui Pueblos on the western coast of Mexico are taking the lead to halt the use of banned pesticides exported from the U.S. and other industrialized countries to undeveloped countries.

  “Now we understand that newborns and those yet unborn are some of the persons most gravely affected in the exposed communities, since they are especially susceptible to these toxics in their mothers’ wombs,” said Andrea Carmen, Yaqui and executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council.

   “This applies as well to nursing infants,” said Carmen, pointing out the rising number of cancer victims and children with birth defects.

    “The development, health, and potential of our future generations are at risk,” she said.

Now, Yaqui are  more alarmed than ever, following a report from a health center in Sonora that two Yaqui communities, Potam and Bataconsica, have the highest level of agro-chemical saturation in the state.

    Earlier, in Potam Pueblo on May 29 --31, Yaqui authorities of Potam, Vicam, Torim, Rahum and Huirivis Pueblos, which comprise “Yaquis Unidos por la Madre Tierra” (Yaquis United for Mother Earth) joined with the International Indian Treaty Council to take action. IITC is an international organization with Consultant Status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

  During the international conference, more than 300 Yaqui joined with Tohono O’odham, Huichole, Mayo and Zapoteca from Mexico,  Mayan of Guatemala, Yaqui of Arizona and other Indigenous Peoples. Physicians, biologists, scientists and environmentalists gathered with IITC representatives, including Saul Vicente and Angel Valencia.

  Yaqui offered testimonies on individual cases of cancer, birth defects and other health maladies resulting from exposure to agricultural chemicals. Physicians and biologists explained both the long-term effects on health and how lands are losing their richness and waters are becoming contaminated.

    Dr. Elizabeth Guillete, scientist, participated in the conference and presented studies she conducted in Yaqui communities in Sonora. In 1997, Guillete conducted a study on Yaqui traditional lands and discovered high levels of multiple pesticides in the umbilical-cord blood of newborns and in their mother’s milk. Guillette’s studies revealed that Yaqui children living in the agricultural areas suffered from serious learning and development problems.

  Mr. Okechukwu Ibeanu, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Adverse Effects of the Illicit Movement and Dumping of Toxic and Dangerous Products and Wastes on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, sent Yaqui a letter of support and concern. Rapporteur Ibeanu shared his concern for the effects of toxic pesticides on Indigenous Peoples in Mexico and other countries.

  Rapporteur Ibeanu said the unsound use of these chemicals leaves “individuals and communities unable to make informed choices about products,” in some cases “further aggravating conditions of poverty” due to their adverse effects on human health and the environment.

  The Rapporteur asked Yaqui to continue providing his office at the United Nations with testimonies on the effects and harm suffered by Yaqui in Sonora. IITC is continuing to document the harm resulting from these pesticides.

  The Yaqui Pueblos received a detailed letter of support from the federal government of Mexico, from Gustavo Torres of Mexico’s National Commission on the Development of Indigenous Peoples.

   The International Indian Treaty Council said it hopes the courageous action of the traditional Yaqui authorities will inspire other Indigenous Peoples to take action.

  “In our view, this is an historic and courageous step for the protection of the health and well-being of their communities and the assertion of their rights and responsibilities in this regard,” said IITC’s statement signed by Francisco Cali, director, and Carmen.

   “International Law to which the country of Mexico is signatory upholds the rights of all Peoples to self-determination, which includes the right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The Yaqui Traditional Authorities have decided that the current indiscriminate use of pesticides in their communities is adverse to the health, human rights and development of their Peoples. We support them in this assertion and call upon the local, state and national governments as well as the international community to respect their decisions and uphold their rights in this regard.

  “Indigenous Peoples around the world as well as in Mexico have the right to live in health, to control and use their traditional lands and resources, and to protect their homelands, waters, means of subsistence and families from toxic contamination. We thank the Yaqui Traditional Authorities and community members once again for this courageous stand. We hope that it will provide an inspiration to other Indigenous communities throughout this hemisphere who are facing the same dire effects of contamination by toxics products, including pesticides, in their homelands.”

Yaqui have confirmed 67 solutions to halt the effects of the careless disregard for health and human life, the land and water and the quality of life of future generations. From the participants’ final 67 recommendations and actions, Yaqui have now selected eight as vital short solutions to the indiscriminate use of pesticides and other agro-chemicals on Yaqui lands.

       In the Declaration passed on December 7 in Vicam Pueblo, Yaqui insist that these eight points are vital to ensure their welfare, health, food sovereignty and economic development.

Yaqui demand that all persons using Yaqui land comply immediately with these requirements.

The eight primary points resolved:

1) Under the principle of free, prior and informed consent, all persons who intend to use or apply pesticides or other chemicals to their crops must submit their plans and the products they intend to use, including their common and scientific names, their chemical contents, their known harm, their legal status (prohibited, restricted or allowed in Mexico and/or in other countries), and the recommended requirements for their use, to the authorities together with members of the community. After receiving this information and with sufficient time to study it, the authorities shall grant permission or denial for their use in Yaqui territories, and shall specify under what conditions their use would be permitted.

2) Under no circumstances shall the aerial application (flyovers) of pesticides, fumigants, or other chemicals be allowed. Those products that are allowed under Point No. 1 would be by ground application.

3) The implementation of adequate training programs for workers or other persons who come into contact with pesticides so that they will be aware of the risks and how to avoid them if they have to use such products in their work.

4) The companies shall ensure that all workers shall have equipment and means of protection and adequate security to protect themselves and their families from harm, and that all the requirements for the use of these chemicals are met.

5) The movement of the application equipment, storage tanks, and the used residues of the pesticides outside of the communities and populated areas.

6) Monitoring through a commission of technicians designated by the tribe and supported by the federal government to carry out the supervision of the pesticides applied and report crimes and problems to the traditional authorities and to other indicated agencies.

7) Medical and/or financial support for all persons and families who have suffered harm from the effects of the pesticides such as cancers, leukemia, and birth defects, among others, including for the families of those who already died, whether they are insured by the government or directly by the companies involved.

8) That the federal government guarantees that there is potable water that is not contaminated by pesticides in the Yaqui communities, including a program of regular testing of the canals, wells, and rivers that the communities use to ensure a monitoring of the condition of the existing water.

PHOTO: Vicam Pueblo, Rio Yaqui Sonora Mexico, reading the Declaration is Sr. Cirilo Valenzuela, representative of the Traditional Yaqui Authorities, and (R) Governor of Vicam Pueblo Gilberto Flores Lopez. Photo courtesy of Saul Vicente/International Indian Treaty Council.