MEXICO CITY — More than 150 internationally known writers and artists are urging Mexican President Felipe Calderon to cancel mining concessions in an area of northern Mexico considered sacred ground by the Huichol Indians.
The list of petition signers released Thursday comprises a who's who of arts and letters from 30 countries, including former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass, who said he was "very happy to participate."
Also signing were Nobel literature laureates Tomas Transtromer of Sweden and Jean-Marie Le Clezio of France and Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, said environmentalists Homero and Betty Aridjis, who collected the signatures.
The writers could not be reached for comment.
The petition urges Mexico to rescind mining concessions granted to Canada-based First Majestic Silver Corp. for nearly 16,000 acres (6,300 hectares) in a desert area known as Wirikuta in San Luis Potosi state. The area is home to the Cerro Quemado, a mountain where the Huichol believe the sun was born.
Homero Aridjis, a renowned Mexican poet, author and former ambassador, said the project would devastate the cultural and religious heritage of one of country's oldest indigenous groups that was isolated and remained largely untouched after the Spanish conquest.
The Huichol still conduct ceremonies and make an annual pilgrimage from their homes in the western states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Durango and Zacatecas to the Wirikuta reserve near the Mexican town of Real de Catorce.
"It would be like building a mine in front of the Basilica de Guadalupe," said Aridjis, referring to the Roman Catholic site in Mexico City where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared.
First Majestic Silver says on its website that no current plans exist to mine the site, which it acquired in 2009, "due to the historic nature of the region."
"We are committed to safeguarding and respecting the historical and environmental heritage of the communities and areas where we operate," the company says in a description of the project.
Huichol who oppose the project have organized under the Wirikuta Defense Front and challenged the project, staging protests and marches, most recently in October in Mexico City.
The reserve is one of UNESCO's World Network of Natural Sacred Sites. Some 500 miles (800 kilometers) of the pilgrim route to the reserve is being considered for addition to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
"This pilgrimage is the only way in which the Mesoamerican legacy of this ancestral culture can be kept," according to the 2004 submission to U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The Huichol are known for brilliant, intricate beadwork by the same name.
Aridjis said the area is threatened by an open-pit gold mine project as well.