Number of rarámuris in U.S. prisons doubles

In towns like Guachochi, Batopilas, Guadalupe and Calvo, 15-year-olds carry backpacks full of drugs for more than three days in exchange for a pair of running shoes.

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of Tarahumara arrested at the border with Mexico doubled. (Photo: Archive / EL UNIVERSAL)
English 17/04/2016 13:22 Actualizada 13:33

By Luis Chaparro

 

In mid-2013 I saw how traffickers used indigenous people of the Sierra Madre of Chihuahua to smuggle marijuana and cocaine from Mexico to the United States. In towns like Guachochi, Batopilas, Guadalupe and Calvo, 15-year-olds carry backpacks full of drugs for more than three days in exchange for a pair of running shoes. Why? For two reasons: the Sinaloa Cartel takes advantage of the ancestral gift of the rarámuris to run tirelessly for days and because a severe drought and misery have left the inhabitants of these towns unprotected. Today, these young rarámuris are in prisons in Texas.

According to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, the Public Defenders Office in Alpine, Texas, and the law office of Don Morrison in Las Cruces, New Mexico, between 2010 and 2015 the number of Tarahumara arrested at the border with Mexico doubled: from 50 to 100 detainees.

The first rarámuris to be arrested were four young men loaded with drugs. They were judged at the court of the Western District of Texas in 2010. Each carried a backpack with about 20 kilos of marijuana when they were arrested by the Border Patrol, a crime punished with up to 20 years in prison.

Texas justice system did not know what to do with them. It was the first time they had a group of indigenous people who did not know any of the languages ​​spoken in court. Ten days later three of them agreed to be tried in Spanish, they pleaded guilty and did not ask for legal representation. Only one said he did not understand neither Spanish nor English, so he was deported to Mexico.

Therefore, the two men who hired Juanito, a Tarahumara, in May 2015, to cross the border loaded with 15 kilos of marijuana under the promise of a pair of sneakers, told him: "If you tell them you do not speak Spanish they can not take you to court, you are simply deported to Mexico."

By early 2011 federal courts in Texas had seen more than 20 Tarahumara appear before a judge without being convicted.

Dale Taylor, a former American missionary, has become an interpreter of rarámuri to English. In the past five years, he has participated in about 15 trials against rarámuris, all for drug trafficking. However, he says that there are many more cases: "The Tarahumaras have three dialects and I only speak one. In other cases the rarámuris speak Spanish and they do not require my services."

The human development index of the tarahumaras in Chihuaua is 0.310, lower than Niger, the most backward country with an HDI of 0.330. In total about 104,234 rarámuris live in the Sierra Tarahumara without adequate access to food.

Juanito was offered a pair of New Balance tennis shoes as a downpayment. He crossed the Big Bend, a nature reserve in the Chihuahuan Desert, with them until he reached a road leading to Alpine, Texas, where he was arrested by Border Patrol agents before delivering his load. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the United States.

Randall Gingrich, executive director of Tierra Nativa, a non-profit public charity that helps Tarahumara indians and gives them legal support, says that 5% of the population in Norogachi, Chihuahua, plants drugs or smuggles them into the United States. 

He added that one out of every eight communities in the mountains of Chihuahua are involved with drug trafficking. Of the last four young men recruited to smuggle drugs into Texas, two returned after a few months, one is in jail and the other one is missing.

"Drug traffickers in Mexico use the Tarahumara because they are particularly vulnerable," says Cris Carlin, who is representing Juanito.

Another lawyer who has received dozens of cases like this is Ken del Valle, a Mexican-American lawyer established in El Paso, Texas. "Over the last year around 50 rarámuris have been arrested in Texas. And more of them are crossing carrying up to 200 kilos divided among 10 Tarahumaras.

 

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