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Mennonites in Mexico… trapped between tradition and modernity

by Yucatan Times
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The desert of northern Mexico seemed perfect for Mennonites when they arrived 26 years ago: a place where there was no electricity, television or cars. But gradually, modernity came along with electric power to challenge this deeply traditional community.

After long dirt roads between mountains, hills and pastures of Chihuahua, some 230 kilometers from Ciudad Juárez, appears Sabinal, a community of 10,000 hectares inhabited by some 1,500 Mennonites with white skin, blond hair and light colored eyes.

Mennonite origins come from Germany and Holland, but over the centuries they have migrated to places like Russia, Canada, Mexico and Central America.

Dedicated to agriculture, cheese production and cattle ranching, this religious community was divided between those who want to stay in Sabinal and those who want to tie their horses to their carts, carry their belongings and move to an even more isolated place.

The arrival of Mennonites in Mexico
Their history in Sabinal dates back to 1992, when, guided by their religious leaders, they arrived in Chihuahua from Zacatecas, where there was no longer enough land to supply the entire Mennonite community.

Mennonite young women walk at the Sabinal community, in Ascencion municipality, Chihuahua State, Mexico on September 22, 2018. – (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP)

What do they do?
Most of the men speak a little bit of Spanish and farm cotton, chili, sorghum, pumpkin and onions. The women speak Low German, which is a set of Germanic linguistic variety. They take care of the house and of their children.

Mennonites in the Yucatan Peninsula
There are Mennonite communities in Campache and Quintana Roo. In Campeche there are 14 communities of Mennonites, one of them is led by Ernesto Friessen Voth who is responsible for the collection and sale of 10 thousand tons of soybeans a year, which is exported to Asia, where it is used largely to feed pigs, meat widely consumed in that area of the planet.

This community has been dedicated 100% to farming in Campeche for 18 years, and its main sales in Mexico are in Chiapas and Yucatan. They have three silos and two dryers with a storage capacity of 2,800 tons and trucks with a capacity of 45 tons of grain.

A Mennonite man walks outside his home at the Sabinal community, in Ascencion municipality, Chihuahua State, Mexico. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP)

Problems with the law in Mexico

Million-pesos fines in Campeche and Coahuila for environmental damage Photo: Profepa

Between 2008 and 2009, Profepa carried out inspection visits that led to a confiscation operation of forest products at Mennonite field number 7 in Hopelchen, Campeche.

As a result, logging in lowland forest was suspended in an area of 759 hectares, as well as in 10 properties; five sawmills were closed, four tractors and three trailers were confiscated, and 299 charcoal ovens were permanently closed.

At that time, Profepa filed 18 criminal complaints with the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and imposed 2,795,274 pesos in fines.

In Coahuila, in 2015-2016 it was detected that 2,300 hectares were affected in 23 plots of 100 hectares each, by the change of land use in forest lands for agricultural activities and forage without authorization, due to the daily activities of the Mennonites.

Profepa revealed that all means of challenge were taken care of and exhausted, all were in favor of Profepa, which resulted in fines totaling 14 million pesos for all affected hectares.

Quintana Roo
In 2013, eight Mennonites were inspected, denounced and made available to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office in Chetumal for provoking a forest fire. Profepa inspected and denounced a group of Mennonites in the 4 Banderas field for provoking a forest fire that affected two areas of 77.18 hectares and 19.12 hectares of Selva Baja.

The objective was to change the use of land in forest lands, to use them for agriculture within the Area of Protection of Flora and Fauna called Balaán Kaax, in the municipality of José María Morelos.

Currently, in response to citizen complaints, Profepa carried out a joint operation with the Mexican Navy Secretariat (Semar) to verify the illegal change of land use in forest lands (jungles), in three properties occupied by Mennonite groups in the ejidos El Bajío, El Paraíso and San Fernando, in the municipality of Bacalar, in the state of Quintana Roo.


To be continued…


The Yucatan Times

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