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Tiltepec, Oaxaca


19 June 1999


Javier is 22 and married with three young daughters. While he holds no cargo (unpaid community position) this year, last year he was Tiltepec’s municipal secretario (community secretary). He is a farmer and grows mostly corn, supplemented by a little coffee and sugar cane with which he makes panela (unrefined sugar). The testimony covers a variety of topics, and the interviewer works hard to encourage Javier to expand his comments. Topics include the recent forest fires; the forest and the need for conservation; the construction of the road, which will connect the village to La Punta; the importance of the cargo system, and the achievements of the tequio (obligatory, unpaid community work).

Although Javier’s responses tend to be short, it is an interesting interview, not least because it shows how a young man believes strongly in the need to preserve natural resources, as well as community traditions such as the cargo system. Several older narrators claim that the young are no longer concerned by such things, yet it is clear that Javier has a great deal of respect for community authority. He talks about the importance of the positions, and of carrying out the tequios. He points out that despite having meetings agreeing to protect the forest, some people still go out hunting or with their chainsaws to cut down trees, but still feels it is vital that such decisions should be made collectively and formally. This is reflected in his comments about the decision to build the road: “Well, it was made in a meeting so I respect it…It’s not like it was [made] in a bar”.

Javier worries about the future if the forest is not protected: “I worry that there shouldn’t be any more damage, because to continue destroying more, what will we leave for our children?…Yes, and the animals, everything will be quiet, we won’t hear the sound of the birds.” He feels that the best way to protect the forest is through the formation of the comité de vigilancia (watchdog group) and expresses confidence that the committee will be respected by the community: “It’s good that we have this committee now and…the people will have to respect what it says.” While he wants the road to be built and is clear about its benefits – access to markets and health facilities – he recognises that not all impact will be positive. He has already seen the damage the machinery has done to the land, and he recognises the danger in the fact that “where it will pass is untouched forest”.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-5  He, his family and wife are all from Tiltepec. School: went to school in Yagila to fifth grade – the school in Tiltepec only goes up to fourth grade, couldn’t continue further – his father developed river blindness. Five brothers – all married; one sister – lives in Atepec. Grows corn, makes panela, grows a little coffee.
Section 5-9  Opinions on conservation: “[we were told] everybody must conserve, everybody. Yes, yes, we said, but what happened is that in the meeting we said a lot of nice things and[after] arriving home they took their chainsaws those that have one  and [off] they went…that’s not conservation. We just talk about conservation and we take our axes and cut down trees; the people who have dogs go hunting and that’s not conservation. Forest fires: says that there was almost no water because of the fires – started against the advice of the comisariado (community official). Fire started by kids and spread out of control. Lasted almost a week – they had to cut out tree roots with machetes to stop it spreading. Lots of fires elsewhere in Oaxaca. Changes in climate: now it is drier and hotter.
Section 9-11  Last year there was no rain until mid-June – they couldn’t sow until then. This year it is raining more again. Deforestation: “if we continue clearing the pure high-up forest, I think that within five or six years it won’t rain anymore” Use of chainsaws – had meeting to try and stop cutting down trees and hunting but “they don’t take any notice”. Use of dynamite in the river.
Section 11-14  Some wood is cut to sell but most for personal use, eg to build and roof houses. People hunt for their own consumption – now it is very hard to see wild animals. People fish when the river is highest – April and May. Everyone uses dynamite. Suggests possible other method using atarrayo (a type of net).
Section 14-17  Regions: he only knows a small area beyond the farm. The forest is disappearing – blames people from La Luz. “There aren’t coffee plantations in La Luz, they all work here, on this side to be able to plant coffee.” When they’ve finished with the land, what grows back is useless. Learnt about the land from other men due to his father going blind. Sows corn, beans, sugarcane.
Section 17-19  Positions: last year was municipal secretario (community secretary) – still has many positions to do. Importance of fulfilling obligations as village members; feels he would be letting his children down if he didn’t. The tequio (obligatory, unpaid community work): “the tequio, it’s everything…to be able to live well.” Authorities decide what work is done in the tequio. If you don’t go, you get a fine and then 24 hours in prison if it is not paid.
Section 19-24  The road: before they went with donkeys to Josaá to shop – they had problems: “the people over there didn’t want to see our donkeys”. Tequio work opened the road. No set age for becoming a ciudadano (citizen): a year after a boy leaves school, or when he marries. The benefits of the road. Need to advance it further. When finished there will be more cars, the health team can come. But worried that the road will destroy untouched forest and streams. Sees damage already done by landslides.
Section 24-27  Importance of the comité de vigilancia (watchdog group) to protect the forest: “If there isn’t a group saying that we can’t kill animals anymore or cut down trees or clear the forest anymore, well, we will continue as always... [the forest] will be finished.” Thinks that the committee and the community will cooperate.