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Yaqui in Mexico Suffer Effects of Toxic Pesticides Used in Agricultural Fields

OBREGON, Mexico -- Yaqui from Sonora, Mexico, are seeing an increase in birth defects, while young people are dying from cancer after working without protective clothing with pesticides in agricultural fields near their villages.

Francisco Villegas Paredes, Yaqui from Vicam village, said doctors have confirmed that the birth defects and cancers are the result of Yaquis working in fields where these dangerous pesticides and chemicals -- which have been banned in other countries -- are being used by farmers who lease Yaqui lands primarily for wheat and corn crops.

Describing the deformities of a 9-year-old child who sleeps face-down because of a bone growth on his spine, Paredes said, "It would make you so sad to see these Yaqu children."

Pointing out that most of these pesticides and chemical fertilizers are banned in the United States, Canada and Europe, Paredes said the government of Mexico is allowing dangerous pesticides and chemicals to be imported and used in Mexico without warnings.

"Mexico knows these toxic chemicals are banned, but allows other countries to come in and violate the laws," Paredes told Indian Country Today, speaking through a translator.

"In Mexico, there are no strict regulations or environmental laws to protect the people. The chemicals imported into Mexico should have warning signs on them. The farmers should inform the workers that these chemicals are dangerous and they should supply the workers with gloves, masks and protective clothing."

Maria de los Angeles Verdia Matus, from Potom village, said four Yaqui youths from her village died during the past five years from working with the pesticides without wearing protective clothing or masks.

The youths worked in the fields at home spraying pesticides on weekends and vacations from their studies at the universities in Obregon and Hermosillo.

When doctors confirmed that the brain tumors and cancers of these youths were caused from the chemicals used in the fields, Yaqui communities began take action.

Struggling to find strength and support, Paredes and Matus attended the 2006 International Indian Treaty Council Conference at the Independent Traditional Seminole Nation in Okeechobee, Fla., the second week of February.

Matus said, "All of this time, we thought we were alone and we felt we couldn't continue to struggle alone. But I saw that so many Indian people have the same problems and some people came with problems worse than ours."

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Worldwide, she said indigenous are struggling for their land rights. "We thought we were the only ones fighting for our territory, but we found out that indigenous people are fighting for their territory all over the world."

Around the world, indigenous are being exposed to dangerous pesticides which contaminate the air and waters. Those pesticides migrate and penetrate the food chain, causing cancer, birth defects and other health problems, according to the International Indian Treaty Council.

The United States, Canada and Europe continue to allow the production and exportation of various toxic chemicals, including some prohibited in their own countries, to Mexico, Guatemala and other countries.

Pesticides, chemical fertilizers and other man-made poisons are used increasingly on crops where indigenous people work. Between 1996 and 2000, the United States exported 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides, that is, 16 tons per hour, that were identified as suspected carcinogens, according to the IITC.

Calling for intervention by the United Nations, IITC is pressing for new policies that would prohibit countries from exporting toxins known to be dangerous in their own countries. Also, IITC is calling on governments to take into account the disproportionate impact of pesticides and toxins on indigenous peoples.

IITC supported the North/South Indigenous Network Against Pesticides and passed a resolution at the anniversary of the IITC hosted by the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations at Ermineskin Cree Nation in Alberta in August of 2005.

Denouncing the North American Free Trade Agreement and other multi-lateral trade agreements, IITC said the push for free and fast trade has increased the abuse of indigenous peoples.

"The use of pesticides in agriculture contributes negatively to climate change. The farmers have been encouraged by governments and free trade agreements to over-fish, over farm and use an excessive amount of chemicals in order to over-produce goods," IITC said.

Persistent organic pollutants bioaccumulate in humans, disperse in the environment and contaminate foods, especially dairy products, meats and breast milk.

Among the threats is Lindane, a highly toxic POP. In North America, Lindane is a treatment for agricultural food crops and used for head lice and scabies.

Worldwide, indigenous people are suffering from mercury emissions, industrial pollutants and other toxins as they work and live in areas where their own governments have ignored their basic human rights, according to IITC.

Now, Yaqui in the villages of Rio Yaqui, Sonora, Mexico, plan a workshop in May to educate Yaqui about pesticides and dangerous agricultural chemicals. Seeking support and participation from Tohono O'odham and other neighboring Indian tribes, Yaqui are planning educational seminars and hope to produce a video of the health crisis in eight Yaqui Pueblos known as Rio Yaqui, near Obregon.