Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Twenty miles inland of Mexico’s western coast, in a valley in the state of Nayarit so hot and bug-ridden it is known as the “Little Inferno,” Indians from the ancient Huichole tribe are dying at alarming rates.

The Huicholes work in the dense tobacco fields that make this valley rich and that supply some of the tobacco smoked in the United States. If little is known about pesticide poisoning in Culiacan, even less is known in Nayarit, where the U.S. companies financing the crops often fail to ensure that workers use the necessary protective equipment.

Alberto Avila Lamos, 25, has worked in these fields for 11 years. In 1993 he almost died as a result of the growers’ oversight. He was poisoned by a pesticide called methomyl. “I felt the symptoms right after I spilled it on myself,” he says. “At first I felt like I was shaking, then I had a fever, then I started vomiting. The last thing I remember was the smell. It smelled like vanilla. They told me they took me to the hospital and gave me transfusions. I’m not sure. I didn’t wake up for three days.”

On a hot day last spring, growers refused to talk about Lamos’ near-death, or about the dimensions of pesticide poisoning in general. Meanwhile, planes flew low, spraying pesticides over fields full of workers, and young boys walked through the fields applying more.

“It defies common sense,” says Dr. Luciano Garcia, a hospital director in Santiago Ixcuintla, a town in the middle of the tobacco-growing region. “[Growers in Mexico] are making the same mistakes the United States and Canada made a generation ago. There is no good reason for these mistakes to be made again.”

And still the long oval tobacco leaves dry in the sun, strung from cords into graceful curves. At night the Huicholes sleep under them, breathing in the deadly pesticides that coat the tobacco.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate