Mexico indigenous group vows election boycott in land dispute

Bolaños (Mexico) (AFP) –


Members of Mexico's Wixarika indigenous group threatened Wednesday to boycott the country's upcoming elections and block all access to their communities if vast swathes of their ancestral lands are not returned.

The Wixarika, who live in the mountains of western Mexico and are known for their lusciously colorful artwork, are fighting to get back 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of land they say has been invaded by cattle ranchers.

A court has ruled in their favor, but they say heavily armed ranchers continue to chase them from their land, as the authorities turn a blind eye.

In protest, the Wixarika set up four roadblocks outside their communities last week and began blocking access to all political candidates and campaign material, at a time when Mexico is in full campaign mode for presidential, legislative and local elections on July 1.

On Wednesday they went a step further, announcing they would block all access to the municipalities of Mezquitic and Bolanos, in the western state of Jalisco, starting at midnight, and refuse to let electoral authorities in to organize the upcoming polls.

"We are going to block all roads. Tomorrow morning we will close all the schools, too, if we don't get a good answer today from President Enrique Pena Nieto," said community leader Santos Hernandez.

As Wixarika men stood guard at improvised roadblocks wearing colorful traditional belts and straw hats, others hung protest banners with messages like "The Wixarika will defend our land, with our lives if we have to."

"We're not going to give any more votes to the Mexican political system, since not all Mexicans are represented, we are living in a failed state, and there is no rule of law," said Ubaldo Valdes, a spokesman for the village of Mesa del Tirador.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission on Monday called on authorities to intervene in the conflict and ensure the Wixarika lands are returned.

"The communities of Jalisco are being subjected to a series of threats that show the desolation they have lived in for centuries," it said.

The Wixarika, also known as the Huichol, are renowned for their intricate beadwork and "yarn paintings" inspired by the lushly colorful visions experienced when taking peyote, a hallucinogenic drug used in their religious rituals.