Less than a decade ago, hills of the village of Cherán sported hairs, their lands burned. Today, its forests are a «pine island», the product of the armed uprising of its inhabitants to face the voracious underground talamontes colluded with drug traffickers.
Since then, the indigenous purépechas of this hardened village live entrenched.
«Now you see all green again, it’s all reforested. A lot of work has been done in the environment,» says Luz Torres, a 43-year-old, flushed-cheeked indigenous girl who after the armed movement alternates the tasks of the home with those of her organic garden and the collection of medicinal plants.
Reads: Cherán, the people who rebelled against crime, organize their elections without parties
But the cheerful countenance is blurred as he recalls the terror caused by the criminals who were driving AK-47s through the streets until the early hours of April 15, 2011, when the church bells rang, calling on all the inhabitants of Cheran to close the village’s accesses, put up barricades and campfires on every corner.
«It was very strong what the felling of the trees was,» Luz says. «They went down the hills between 100, 200 trucks (diaries full of logs) without anyone telling them anything, and they said (the criminals) that when the pine trees ran out, they were going to take the women they liked and then even the houses they liked were going to stay,» this mother recalls two young women and a child.
The devastation of forests began in 2008, when Mexico had records of violence resulting from the confrontations between drug traffickers and drug traffickers with armed forces.
In those years, drug traffickers included in their business model the theft of various products, such as Cheran wood, in addition to kidnappings and extortion.
The expulsion of the criminals triggered shootings that had two Indigenous people killed in April 2011. Six other people were killed in subsequent years, allegedly by repeat logging, according to indigenous authorities.
Cherán has since established its own network of mostly armed rangers with 7.62-millimeter rifles, a «Major Governing Council» similar to the one that governed its ancestors and communal companies focused on environmental protection.
«I said ‘this can’t be.’ They were threatening to take the children too! But now we are all calm,» says under anonymity one of the community guards carrying a 9-millimeter pistol.
Find out: SCJN equates Cheran’s communal government with a city council and accepts controversy
Eight years after the uprising, more than half of the 12,000 hectares of pine trees that had been devastated in this region of Michoacán, where cells from dismantled cartels such as La Familia Michoacana have sparked a spiral of violence around Cherán.
In Cheran, neither the police, nor the armed forces patrol, and there are no political parties. It is governed by its uses and customs.
Read: Guadalupe Campanur, community leader in Cherán, Michoacán, is assassinated
Avocados are prohibited
One of the community’s various golden rules, which make decisions in open assemblies, is that it is forbidden to sow avocado, even though it leaves million-dollar gains for its high demand in countries such as the United States and Japan.
The reason is that this crop demands a lot of water and these forests are key in the uptake of the liquid. Locals also associate avocado with drug dealers.
«When the people who devastated came, their idea was to sow avocado; they were felling and burning with some fire extinguishers», says Miguel Macías, 62, supervisor of the communal nursery.
Avocado «is the opposite of pine, pine gives us water, oxygen and all the oxygen eats it,» he adds.
Thanks to this prohibition «this is like an island of pure pine (…) we fight for that,» he emphasizes.
Michoacán is Mexico’s largest producer of avocado, which is, in turn, the world’s largest producer of the fruit, with $2.4 billion in exports last year.
But, in fact, on the edge of Cherán «the matter is very serious about the change of soil: you can see where the avocado begins and where the forest begins», says Jaime Navia, director of the environmental organization GIRA.
The environmental momentum in Cherán extends to its «zero garbage» policy on the streets.
Samuel Martinez dries his sweat with his hand at the end of another long day of garbage separation. An exhausting job he does at the waste collection plant that works even less than necessary: limited protective equipment, spinal wages, and a single rusty, half-broken sandpit to make tons of compost.
«I’m proud because there are other communities wherever there’s garbage dumped,» he says.
«It is the municipality in which the most categories (6) and best separates the garbage», says Ana Martínez, Program Manager of Inclusive Recycling of the AVINA Foundation.
Cherán’s environmental success and isolation from the region’s relentless violence has even inspired a concept popularized in environmental circles: «cheranize.»
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