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Mexican women say 'no más' to booze

(Page 2 of 2)

Indian women in Chiapas have come to insist that their communities' demands for self-rule, stemming from a 1994 uprising, include provisions that ensure more freedoms and rights for women. During the uprising, Mexicans were amazed to see indigenous women lined up in front of their homes, wielding sticks and stones to chase off the heavily armed soldiers.

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"Aid programs to help the indigenous existed before, of course," says Martha Sanchez, who assists Indian women in communities in the states of Michoacan and Guerrero. "What we didn't see so much before was women taking on bigger roles within their communities."

There are high-profile examples, too, of these bigger roles, most notably President Vicente Fox's adviser for indigenous affairs, Xochitl Galvez, an Otomi from the state of Hidalgo.

"This trend is changing the political culture of the indigenous community and opening all sort of opportunities for women in other areas of social life," says Stefano Varese, professor of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Back in Huasteca, alcohol is still permitted, in limited quantities, during traditional planting festivals when aguardiente is poured into the ground as an offering to Mother Earth. It can also be served, they decreed, on Day of the Dead, when villagers remember the deceased, and during ceremonies to celebrate the community's patron saint.

"We don't want to stop these traditions and neither do the women," says Raul Hernandez, the alcohol inspector of Aquismon. "But if the cops catch a guy with more than 10 liters on a festival day, that guy's in trouble."

Aquismon authorities say a dozen other villages are considering prohibition, and that some have joined the ban after witnessing the harsh consequences of hard drinking.

Outraged villagers in Muhuatl, for example, swiftly banned alcohol last month after an intoxicated farmer bludgeoned his wife to death in a jealous rage. Huasteca women in San Rafael Tampaxal, their hair woven tightly with colorful yarn, took to chasing after the Corona truck whenever it pulled into town, shouting "Get out! Get out!" They forced the driver back down the winding alpine tracks before he could unload a single cerveza, much to the dismay of their husbands.

Though rising domestic violence is often cited as a reason for their crusade, Huasteca women, also known as Teneek in their native tongue, say their motives are mainly economic. In a region where most cultivate coffee and sugar on small plots, household incomes have plummeted with the prices of those commodities.

"Before my husband would spend the few pesos he earned on aguardiente," says Rosa Santiago. "And there would be nothing left for me and the kids. Now that's changed."

Some men grumble about the prohibition, or admit to sneaking the occasional tipple, but most say the decision was for the best.

"We used to sell beer here, and the prohibition has hurt our profits," says Gaudenzio Yanez, who runs the local grocery store in Zopope. "But since there's not much to do up here, a lot of guys were just drunk all the time. It was getting out of hand, and I have to say, the women were right."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.