If you have to cross only 25 kilometers of road, all of stone, to get to the origin of the world, then the effort is worth it. But to reach Leunaxü, one of Wirikuta's sacred places, also known as Cerro quemado (the burnt mountain), one must first cross the bowels of the earth. In a cart, pulled by a mule.
Reminescence of an old mine, it is through a narrow tunnel of almost 2 miles long that you finally reach the village of Real de Catorce, located north of the state of San Luis Potosí.
And from there, you still have to climb the mountain, on foot or on horseback.
For the Wixarika indigenous people, also known as Huichol, Wirikuta is a sacred territory where the essence of the planet's life is woven and maintained. According to the cosmogony of the Wixarikas, deities and ancestral spirits live in this desert. It was at Cerro Quemado that the sun appeared for the first time, worn at the end of the maxa's horns, the sacred deer, giving the world its light.
I looked for someone to guide me. I found Miguel, who kindly prepared a horse and accompanied me to the top.
In Wirikuta, everything is sacred: every plant, every animal, every source of water, every mountain. It is much more than a desert, it is a unique ecosystem, with its own arid steppe climate, where a large part of the fauna and flora are endemic, that is, the only place where they can be found. It holds a great diversity of cactaceous plants, among which the peyote or jícuri, a cactus that the Huicholes natives ingest during their rituals to receive the "gift of seeing" or nierika.
Every year, from the four cardinal points, from Jalisco, Nayarit and Durango, the Wixarika communities go on a pilgrimage to Wirikuta to synergize with nature and reconnect with their ancestors. They finish their journey to the top of Cerro Quemado, in the Sierra de Real de Catorce, where they ritually walk the spiral of life and present their offerings to the gods.
In 1998, UNESCO included Wirikuta as part of the Global Network of Sacred Natural Sites; and in 2001, it was declared a natural and cultural ecological reserve, formalizing a protected area of more than 140,000 hectares.
However, for years now Wirikuta has been threatened by the presence of mining companies, not only by the impact on their sacred lands of exploration and possible exploitation of minerals, but also by the residues and wastes they produce and particles they throw in the air.
Responding to the interests of large capital, mostly foreign, the Mexican government has massively granted mining concessions. According to official figures, more than 22 million hectares have been handed in across the country, representing 10% of the territory. Most of these concessions are made to Canadian mining companies and their Mexican subsidiaries, totalling more than 250 companies.
Wirikuta does not escape this reality, moreover with the government deliberately ignoring the designation of this sacred territory as a protected reserve. All of the concessions are grouped into four major mining projects, including the one of the Canadian mining company First Majestic Silver and its subsidiary Mineral Real of Bonanza, SA de CV, who wish to exploit the deposits of silver found in the region.
With his installations and barracks in the community of "La Luz", First Majestic Silver shows his firm intention to advance in his project.
In its corporate document and presentation of its business model, the company First Majestic Silver has the gall to minimize the environmental impact of its activities and presents itself rather as a company committed to the ecological transition. It argues that the exploitation of silver minerals represents a way forward for combating climate change.
Fortunately, the Huichol people defend Wirikuta at all costs and have risen up against mining activities. Currently, all projects are suspended, following a strong social mobilization and in particular thanks to legal injunctions.
Member of the Wixárika Regional Council for the defense of Wirikuta, Santos de la Cruz Carrillo was among the ones who led the battle.
In a telephone conversation, he confirmed to me that "the risk still exists and they will not rest until the Mexican state cancels all existing mining concessions in the sacred territory of Wirikuta."
If there is an emblematic case in Mexico of the impact of open-pit mining, it is the one of Cerro de San Pedro, where Minera San Xavier is mining gold. San Xavier is a subsidiary of Canadian company New Gold.
Given the exemplary struggle of the communities and the activists gathered within the Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO), the multiple shenanigans of the mining company to achieve its objective, in close complicity with the authorities, it was essential for me to visit the Cerro de San Pedro Mine, located half an hour from San Luis Potosí, the state capital.
I was stunned by what I saw.
The pictures speak for themselves.