Elena Poniatowska, the Cervantes Prize winner of 2013, the highest recognition in hispanic literature, is also a knowledgeable person when it comes to social concerns. During an interview with us, she discussed the personality and situation of one of the most important environmental defenders in Mexico, Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo. Few people in the Mexican Republic have achieved the international recognition she has and, at the same time, have been so poorly discussed in their own country.
"Pati" Ruiz Corzo, as she is best known by her close entourage, has been able, through the creation of her organization, the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda, to mediate between civil society and municipal, state and federal governments to ensure the protection of 380,000 hectares of high biodiversity land inside of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. She has passionately dedicated herself to integrate the 120,000 serrano people who make up the local community through environmental education, eco-touristic development, soil regeneration and many other methods, with which she is now able to prove and emphasize that any attempts of working in favor of the environment should include a significant level of local citizen participation.
The Sierra Gorda Reserve and "Pati's" work are constantly under threat due to global warming effects, illegal mining, the wood trading industry and the lack of environmental policies on behalf of the Mexican government.
Elena Poniatowska deems her one of the most admirable women she has had the pleasure to meet, constantly supporting her actions.
What can you tell us about Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo?
(sighing) This is a human like no other, extraordinary, totally dedicated to nature. She has a unique ability to convince, she seems to own a magnet. Not only does she captivate the trees, the plants, the water, everything... She is a woman who attracts.
How did you meet her?EP:
I very first saw her a long time ago, when I was in Monterrey (Northern Mexico). I can't really tell how long ago. She had a long braid, thick and wonderful that used to hang towards the middle of her back. I remember she would start talking about nature with some people when suddenly you would notice that all the others around wanted to be part of it and see her, listen to her. They all had a certain curiosity to get closer to her.
I remember when "Pati" used to go to all the rich ladies from the city, all those with their painted nails and pearl necklaces, women with the same hairstyle, as if they'd all just came out of the same beauty salon, all looking the same, like boring dolls. Pati would come to them dressed with her same casual frock and try to teach them about the social and environmental cause. She would get along with everyone because she was the voice of the planet, the voice of the water, the voice of the trees. That's something very few people have, and Pati owns it. She's a guiding force and knows how to conduct the masses. Then, she started singing with that great voice of hers and she would change the atmosphere of everything. Something that was black, she turned it into white. She has a gift. She's a natural leader. I wish she would have been Governor of the State of Queretaro, her homeland, because she is effective, fast and foremost, she's transparent.
After meeting her that day in Monterrey, I started following her everywhere I could. In a way, I think we both looked for each other, as if we 'clicked' instantly. For anyone, environmentalist or not, meeting her is like opening a great treasure that never closes itself again. You never forget her. She has dedicated her life to Mexico, to it's nature and to its people. My greatest wish is that she and the people that work with her receive the national recognition they deserve for their achievements, because outside she has already won it.
Mexico's effectiveness towards the environmental commitments in the past few years, has proven to be insufficient. Any actions so far have been met with a great deal of skepticism due to a clear shortfall of federal, as well as local, government stipulations.
According to Greenpeace, Mexico has already lost 75 percent of it's natural wealth and it is today, the fifth country with the highest rates of deforestation worldwide. The political and economical elite practically ignores this alarming situation that is currently transmuting the most bio-diverse country of North and Central America. If it ever acknowledges its need to change current environmentally harmful tendencies, it could become one of the leading nations as an eco-touristic destination.
The scarcity of national media coverage that Pati has received, compared to international recognition, is a clear reflection of the huge lack of environmental culture and awareness that persists in Mexico today. There is an urgent need to reinvigorate examples of those communities and individuals that even in an unfavorable social and economical context, succeed in giving continuity and intensity to their projects.