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Coloradas de la Virgen: A Succession of Frauds Ratified by the Government

Coloradas de la Virgen is an indigenous Rarámuri community where some families of the indigenous Ódami people also live. The community, or indigenous people, maintains the same type of territorial occupation it has had since time immemorial. However, it is legally divided into two agrarian units: an ejido (the Coloradas ejido) and an agrarian community (the Las Coloradas agrarian community), both of which were created through presidential resolutions. The indigenous community has always wanted the entire territory to remain under only one legal designation, but outside interests that are not in line with the community's did not permit it to be so.

According to the 2008 census, there are more than 700 people in the indigenous community who live throughout its territory. The indigenous community is the oldest settlement and as a result, those who live there feel connected to the entire territory which includes the ejido as well as the agrarian community. The indigenous community does not have, of course, any kind of presidential resolution. However, in terms of the consolidated jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Justice, as a "de facto" indigenous community it has legal standing and capacity.

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Historical Antecedents

From the 1930s to the 1970s: The Formation of Agrarian Units
In 1934, a group of Rarámuri indigenous people from the community Coloradas de la Virgen petitioned the agrarian authorities to grant them land for the creation of the Coloradas Ejido. On August 6, 1952, the ejido was given land by means of a presidential resolution. In 1967, the resolution was implemented and approximately 23, 000 hectares of land was given to those original petitioners who were then still alive. The majority of the original petitioners had by then passed away.

On another front, in the 1940s, more than 400 indigenous people from the indigenous community of Coloradas de la Virgen with use rights to the land had initiated legal proceedings on Recognition and Titling of their communal lands (in the form of an agrarian community). The presidential resolution that was issued in the 1970s recognized those use rights and granted the title of comuneros (those with legally recognized use rights to the land) to the petitioners, thus creating the agrarian community of Las Coloradas. The community has approximately 25, 000 hectares of land on the cliffs that surround the summit, and as such, very little forest.

The Frauds of the 1990s and 2000
Until 1991, the indigenous community held possession of its lands, both the title to the ejido and that of the community, with some people being ejidatarios and others being comuneros, but living with no distinctions among them in either one or the other agrarian unit. It so happened, however, that the ejido area is where the greatest natural wealth was concentrated: ancient forests of pine and live oak that had never been logged.

By 1991, only three of the ejidatarios who had been originally counted in the census were still alive in the Coloradas ejido. Due to the great distance from the city and the lack of understanding of agrarian legislation, the indigenous inhabitants of Coloradas de la Virgen never regularized the issues of succession of the ejidatarios who had died. That was the opening the Ministry of Agrarian Reform utilized to initiate a purging of the ejido census, a process that by all appearances was a massive fraud ratified by the State Mixed Agrarian Commission. Instead of recognizing the rights of the successors of the original ejidatarios, the Commission endorsed the fraudulent process that we will now describe.

There were only three of the original ejidatarios still alive and it was required by law to have a minimum of nine in order to be able to have an assembly for the purposes of removing someone's rights to the land. The problem was permeated by a falsification: the signatures of six ejidatarios, who at the time were already dead, appeared on the 1991 census-purging document. In the same document, 90 new ejidatarios were recognized, many of whom were members of the Fontes family. Curiously, no Rarámuri individuals who were in possession of those lands were recognized or included as ejidatarios. Additionally, the rights of the successors to the original ejidatarios were not recognized.

Thus, from that point on the Fontes family became ejidatarios and took control of the Coloradas ejido. It is important to emphasize that the Fontes do not live, nor have they ever lived, in Coloradas de la Virgen. They have never possessed land there, even when the petition was begun to get land granted for the creation of an ejido, nor when the presidential resolution was issued.

Instead of depriving the dead ejidatarios of their rights, the Mixed Agrarian Commission should have started, as designated by law, agrarian probate proceedings for family members of the dead ejidatarios. The family members of the ejidatarios who were deprived of their rights are still alive and continue to preserve the land they possess to this day.

More recently, as expressed by the members of the indigenous community, they were deceived and made to believe that with the work of PROCEDE, the Coloradas ejido itself would disappear, and the only thing that would be left would be the indigenous community of Coloradas de la Virgen. This deceit was aimed at ensuring that the Rarámuri would not oppose the certification of the Coloradas ejido. In 2000, the fraud was complete. In PROCEDE's legal acts, a document produced as a result of an ejido assembly states that 21 dead ejidatarios were "present" and more than 20 who were not in the ejido at the time "appeared." In this way, the authentic successors of the Rarámuri who had originally petitioned for the titling of their lands were definitively left out of the Coloradas ejido.

Yet once again, the indigenous people of Coloradas de la Virgen were cheated by the authorities and relegated to inferior-quality lands with many cliffs and very little forest cover. The lands of their parents and grandparents thus ended up in the hands of strangers.

The First Nullification Lawsuit

Assisted by the Procuraduría Agraria, in 2003 the successors to the ejidatarios who had been illegally deprived of their rights filed a lawsuit in which they asked for all the fraudulent acts of 1992 to be nullified and the return of the status quo ante. They lost, not on the merits of the case, but on a procedural issue, and as a result they had to refile the suit in 2006 (agrarian lawsuit 630/06).

Current Situation

On March 22, 2007, the Coloradas ejido received a logging permit from the State Delegation of the SEMARNAT. In accordance with the management plan, the logging is programmed to continue until 2021 and covers 10,673 hectares of forests that can be logged, out of a total 25,957 hectares in the ejido.

The permit was granted even though agrarian lawsuit 630/06 had been filed before the Joint Agrarian Tribunal of District 5 the previous year against the Coloradas ejido. The permit granted by SEMARNAT under these circumstances is completely illegal insomuch as it violates Article 65 of Forest Law, which prevents SEMARNAT from issuing forest-use permits when there is an ongoing agrarian conflict that has been filed before competent authorities.

Due to all of the foregoing, the governmental authorities, such as the SEMARNAT Delegation, seek to ignore that the Coloradas ejidatarios in reality do not have possession of the forest. They seek to ignore that more than 700 indigenous people live there who depend on the forest for their food, medicine, and water, and truly, for their very lives. They are the ones who live there, plant there, do the yúmari ceremony, and dance there.

For the same reason, according to Article 72 of the Forest Law and Article 6 of ILO Convention 169, logging permits cannot be granted without the free, prior, and informed consent of the indigenous community that has had possession of these lands since time immemorial.

The issuing of the permit also violates Article 2, VI, of the Political Constitution of Mexico, which grants to indigenous peoples preferential access to the natural resources on the lands they have traditionally occupied. This right has already been recognized by the judicial branch in other cases.

Consequently, the indigenous people of Coloradas de la Virgen continue to seek a judicial resolution that will nullify the series of frauds of which they have been victims, and to have their rights recognized to the territories they inherited from their forebears, and which are rightfully theirs.

Alianza Sierra Madre, A.C.


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