While Indigenous and Local Organizing Continues
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
The Narco News Bulletin
November 30, 2009
Within hours of meetings between indigenous activists from San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State, from Chiapas, and from Oaxaca, government repression arrived in the town of San José del Progreso, and death in the municipality of San Juan Copala. San José del Progreso is the site of the mine La Trinidad owned by the Canadian transnational Fortuna; Copala is the municipality which declared its autonomy at the height of the social struggle in 2006.
Peoples of Oaxaca and social organizations including the People’s Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) of San Salvador Atenco decided to join forces to prevent the construction of dams, wind generator projects, highways and mining on indigenous territory. During a meeting which took place on November 29 in Zaachila, Oaxaca, Adán Lopez Santiago stated, “It is necessary to fight united because if not neoliberalism will enslave us.” Lopez Santiago represents the Council of Peoples in Defense of Land and Territory which convoked united delegates from the struggle against eolic parks on the Isthmus, as well as Peoples in Defense of the Río Verde who oppose the construction of a hydroelectric dam called Paso de la Reina. The dam would affect 3,100 hectares covering six towns.
The meeting demanded absolute respect for self-determination of the indigenous peoples, and also included a call to refuse to sell their lands or permit them to be expropriated. A national integration of the movement in defense of land, territory and natural resources has gotten underway in opposition to the neoliberal stance of the various governments.
The same day, a convoy of State Preventive Police (PPE) entered San José del Progreso in the Ocotlán region. The population immediately surrounded the police, and demanded the removal of their town president Oscar Venancio Martinez Rivera for having conspired in agreement with state officials. The PPE, who arrived at 10:00 PM, claimed to have received an anonymous call about an attack on La Trinidad mine. Bernardo Vasquez Sanchez, one of the anti-mine group, immediately telephoned the sub-secretary of government of Oaxaca to deny that any attack had emanated from the San José population. The state government had made a prior agreement that the PPE would not enter the town. The mine, Vasquez Sanchez reminded the sub-secretary, lies two kilometers from the town where the police had been surrounded.
The same Sunday the 29th at 8:45 PM José Ramírez Flores, President of San Juan Copala; Severo Sánchez González, the mayor; and Macario García Merino, Secretary, issued an urgent call for solidarity. “…the aggression took place in the context of activities of solidarity with Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra, de San Salvador Atenco. In the past months aggressions against the autonomous municipality have been systematic.” their bulletin began.
The story unfolded that representatives of the social movement from the FPDT Atenco were prevented from entering the town of San Juan Copala for a meeting. The FPDT is visiting twelve states, one in honor of each of its political prisoners. The group United for the Social Well-Being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), said to be a PRI-affiliated organization closely tied to Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), PRI president Jorge Franco Vargas, and Pepe Mejia, refused entry to the Atenco delegation. The town authorities in turn declared that URO, Franco Vargas and Mejia would be held responsible for any confrontation because of their prior collusion on November 1 when an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made against their municipal president José Ramirez Flores and the secretary Timoteo Alejandro Ramirez. At that time, the arrested culprit confessed to being an UBISORT member and of having received 250,000 pesos to kill the two men; he also admitted receiving a monthly salary from UBISORT of 1,000 pesos for destabilizing the autonomous municipality.
On the same Sunday afternoon of the 29th, paramilitaries affiliated with the PRI groups UBISORT and the Movement for Triqui Struggle Unification-Party of Popular Unity (MULT-PUP) attacked the municipality of San Juan Copala. The outcome was the death of one schoolchild, and three others wounded. There may have also been PRI-paid members of the Triqui Independent block (MULTI) which was founded as an anti-PRI organization in 1995.
The attackers blocked the road into town to prevent entry of the FPDT delegates who intended to participate in a meeting with the autonomous municipality. Jorge Albino Ortiz, spokesperson for the San Juan Copala authorities, wrote in the alarm that a group of MULT paramilitaries circled behind to the hills overlooking the town, while UBISORT held the entrance road. From the heights, the paramilitaries shot their high caliber weapons on two occasions, once at 3:00 and the second at 6:00 o’clock. When the shooting started, Albino Ortiz continued, pistoleros from UBISORT joined the attack, aiming down the road toward the children’s boarding school. A school child, Elias Fernandez de Jesus was killed; three of his school-mates were wounded.
The followers of MULTI from other communities and neighborhoods mobilized toward San Juan Copala to reinforce the autonomous community, headed by José Ramirez Flores. They managed to avoid a further aggression.
Ramirez Flores, whose urgent call was received on November 30, accused the alliance of UBISORT and MULT-PUP of being coordinated “from the highest spheres of the state government”, to destroy the autonomous municipality. “This is not an alliance of right now, it goes years back. We don’t believe that it is all the MULT-PUP, but principally its directors.” San Juan Copala, founded in 2006 during the social movement, has asked the government repeatedly to cease trying to attack San Juan Copala through its puppet organizations.
The director of UBISORT, Rufino Juarez Hernandez, said that the organization blocked the road to prevent the entrance of the Atenco commission because they should have no part in the social political conflict in the Triqui zone.
“What has Atenco to do with San Juan Copala, what has the APPO to do with San Juan Copala? They are outsiders. We Triquis know ourselves, in our culture and in our traditions, all the rest are unwanted animals, they don’t understand our speech,” he was quoted by Las Noticias. At the same time in another press dispatch, another leader of UBISORT, Antonio Garcia Cruz said that the town of San Juan Copala didn’t recognize as municipal president José Ramirez Flores, so in his place he designated Anastacio Juarez Hernandez, brother of the other UBISORT leader.
The Triqui region is abandoned by the government. The internecine deaths and vengeance seem interminable. MULT insists that the government has not wanted to intervene in the area of injustice and violence which endured more than 350 deaths in the past three years, including the assassination of two young women radio broadcasters. According to human rights workers, government neglect of the area includes total lawlessness, lack of paved roads, lack of drainage or potable water. The area is highly marginalized economically. Since villages lack local schools, children live in a “shelter” school during the week to attend school.
The Triqui peoples are historically part of the Mixteca peoples, but split away into three separate groups. The Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala legally is part of a region governed by the PUP. It is where UBISORT has been receiving money to act aggressively against the autonomous municipality, which in terms of state power and control, cannot be tolerated. Attacks against the municipality date from its offer of aid to other companions in struggle, such as the Zapotecos of Loxicha, the Community Police in the state of Guerrero, and the repression at San Salvador Atenco.
“Denouncing these facts before public opinion we refer to our right to continue our Project of autonomy and to place ourselves in solidarity with our companions in struggle. We demand that the government of the state cease to attack us through its puppet organizations,” the public pronouncement by the municipal authorities concludes.
This post is also available in: Spanish