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Famine sparks suicide rumors among Mexico's Tarahumara

Mexicans are rushing aid to Tarahumara communities in the remote northern mountains after a local official announced — apparently falsely — that dozens of the Indians had killed themselves because they couldn't feed their children due to severe cold weather.

Authorities say that even though suicide rumors are false, the food crisis is real.

The indigenous Tarahumara, famed for their long-distance running ability, have been hit by a long drought and record freeze.

Rafael Gonzalez, spokesman for the Mexican Red Cross, said "we consider this a food emergency." Last year, the Red Cross made two expeditions into the mountains to bring food, but this year there will be three, the latest delivery consisting of 270 metric tons of food and 5,000 blankets. The government says it has also sent millions of dollars in aid.

Gonzalez shares most Mexicans' respect for the Tarahumara, noting "these are people who walk five or six hours to get to aid deliveries." But he has not heard of a single report of any of the estimated 250,000 Tarahumara committing suicide because of famine.

Nor has the Rev. Guadalupe Gasca, a Jesuit priest whose oversees the Clinica Teresita in the Tarahumara mountain town of Creel, Chihuahua. The Indians, whose life is a constant struggle to wring food out of scraggly corn plots on steep mountain slopes, don't give up easily.

"We (Jesuits) have a history of almost 400 years working in this area, and we can say that in the Tarahumaras' world view, suicide is not an option."

But Gasca notes that in 2011, his clinic did treat 250 Tarahumara children for malnutrition, including 25 severe cases. One 3-year-old girl died of it.

Gasca also blames the food crisis on the drought and cold.

"There has always been hunger in these hills," Gasca said. "There have always been climate cycles, but these cycles are getting more frequent and more severe."

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