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  • Former Mexican President Vicente Fox

    Former Mexican President Vicente Fox | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 March 2015

Vicente Fox’s family business is being investigated for allegedly exploiting 200 Tarahumaras and forcing them to live in subhuman conditions.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox and his family are being investigated in connection with the exploitation of 200 Tarahumaras, including children, among other agricultural workers, while the party he used to belong to, National Action Party (PAN) demanded that labor authorities carry out an impartial inquiry, Reforma newspaper reported on Monday.

"An in-depth investigation must be carried out in order to sanction El Cerrito, El Cerezo or whichever other company (is involved in the exploitation of workers) ... there shouldn't be impunity in this case because (the companies) are property of a renowned family,” said PAN senator Fernando Torres Garcia.

Fox was the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election in Mexico after the ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) had governed the country for seven decades without interruption. Fox was president from 2000 to 2006.

On March 16, the Labor Ministry reported it had rescued 200 indigenous people who were working under modern-day slavery conditions, as they were not allowed to leave the compound where they worked.

The company that was exploiting the 200 Tarahumaras in an agricultural field in the state of Baja California Sur is called El Cerezo and its address is registered as being in the municipality of San Francisco del Rincon, the same place were Fox's family company El Cerrito is located.

Authorities reported that two persons were detained for allegedly luring indigenous Tarahumaras in Chihuahua and taking them to Baja California. One of the suspects, Alejandro Bellereza, told officials El Cerezo was paying each worker less than US$20 a week.

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The Ministry of Labor said there were at least 13 children among the 200 Tarahumaras being exploited, and that none of them had any type of medical insurance or health service.

Ministry official Angel Arellano said that in 2011 and 2012 Fox's El Cerezo company was fined due to irregularities in worker conditions.

A spokesperson for the Fox family, Salvador Garcia, denied El Cerezo company is linked to Fox or his family.

“The only company at the address provided is El Cerrito. I don't know of any other company at that address. There could be foul play with the intention of affecting the Fox family,” he added.

Reforma newspaper reported that in 2005, El Cerrito was accused of exploiting minors in agricultural activities.

Mexico has a long history of exploiting indigenous people, while recent statistics show an increase of modern-day slavery cases against indigenous and other vulnerable sectors of society that live below the poverty line.

Labor Minister Alfonso Navarrete reported March 16 that the Tarahumaras were being forced to work long hours and live in squalid conditions, only giving workers enough money to buy a bare minimum of essential goods.

The group of 200 people were packed into overcrowded and small unsanitary cabins made of sticks, tape, plastic and cardboard. Their shelters were completely surrounded by mud and garbage, the official described.

Navarrete said the rescue of the Tarahumaras, which began March 10, came after a long-term investigation had uncovered many civil rights violations, such as human trafficking, labor and child exploitation, and deprivation of freedom.

The Tarahumaras, originally from the mountain ranges in Chihuahua, have suffered exploitation, slavery and other grave abuses since the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century .

The minister said he had handed the case over to the attorney general’s office, which is responsible for filing charges against El Cerezo (cherry tree).

Over 15,000 work centers have been inspected by Labor Ministry officials, who found that over 1 million employees were working in inhumane conditions, including close to 350 children.

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But exploitation cases in Mexico are not new. At least 3 million indigenous girls were recently reported to be facing exploitation as house servants or prostitutes, which, according to a Mexican lower chamber of congress report, makes them the most vulnerable sector of society.

According to official statistics, there are 14 million indigenous people in Mexico, of which 80 percent live in extreme poverty.


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