Thursday, April 08, 2004
When you stand in a tobacco field, it can be a deceptively beautiful place. But what you canâ€™t see can kill you: decades of pesticide contamination, polluted water and nicotine poisoning.
Indigenous Huicholes families migrate from tiny mountain villages every year to work in the tobacco fields of Nayarit, Mexico. They live out in the open, eking out no more than a subsistence living. They make 50Â¢ per string of tobacco, a job that includes picking, sorting, drying and threading.
Tobacco in Nayarit is controlled by a small number of multinational corporations. Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco are the two major players. They set the prices and control all aspects of the deal.
Most tobacco growers are simply middlemen-usually in debt to the company. Theyâ€™re responsible for the hiring of workers and application of pestisides provided by the company, chemicals they donâ€™t know how to use. Many of these pesticides have been outlawed in the United States for being too toxic.
To the Huichol, the warnings on packages of pesticides mean nothing. They donâ€™t speak or read Spanish or English â€“ they speak Wixalika. In their culture the skull is an image of the spirit. This language barrier carries a high price. A price paid by the children whose small bodies absorb the chemicals far more rapidly and to disasterous effect.