San Juan Copala: Autonomous Triquis want to go home

Oaxaca Governor Gabino Cue protects paramilitaries; people mobilize

x carolina

Now it’s back to the streets, or rather the mountain highways of Oaxaca for the Triqui comrades expelled under fire from the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala on September 27, 2010. After 15 days of frustrating, deceitful negotiations, the Gabino Cue government was unwilling to keep its promise of guaranteeing a safe return to their homes. So the displaced Triquis announced an 80-mile march-caravan for Tuesday, February 7, from Yucudaá to the City of Oaxaca to take their demands for social justice to the forum of public opinion.

They want to go home. They want justice. They want to live in peace.

Carmen calls down several functionaries of the Gabino Cue government in Yosoyuxi, Oaxaca, the night of February 4: “For a year and a half we’ve withstood hardships in the encampment in Oaxaca City. And what have you done about it? Not a thing… And what about Antonio Cruz Pájaro? Have you arrested him? Have you locked up the killers? The truth is, you’re protecting them…We still haven’t been able to go back to San Juan Copala. Why should we have to go through all this? We don’t need it ––hunger, cold, being kept out of our town, our homes, the places that belongs to us…But you’re not going to scare us or intimidate us. We’re keeping on. We’re going back to San Juan Copala no matter what. Nobody here will say no. Why? Because it’s our obligation to return. Why? Because that’s where we’re from…What we want is justice and a return to San Juan Copala”.

I got to Yosoyuxi, 3.5 miles away from San Juan Copala, in a bus with around 20 members of the Labor Sector of the Other Campaign, independent activists and reporters, and Triqui women and children from the Mexico City encampment on Thursday, February 2. The trip took longer than we thought because we had a blowout somewhere near Cuautla, but amazingly enough, we managed to wake up a guy at one o’clock in the morning who was nice enough to put on a spare while some of us slept, others talked, and some watched a beautiful red moon go down.

Some of the comrades had participated in the previous effort to go into Copala, originally scheduled for January 20 and actually begun on January 26. After a heavy media campaign that criminalized solidarity activists as outside agitators, David Venegas was arrested on January 29 for the crime of showing his solidarity, as a pretext for hindering the return of the displaced people to San Juan Copala.

We got there in the middle of further negotiations with the government in the City of Oaxaca over precautionary measure for guaranteeing a save return, which this time would be gradual. Since there’s no internet signal in Yosoyuxi and it was decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea to look for a connection in another town due to the tense situation in the area, we spent two days blocking the highway, waiting for information, talking to people to find out more about the situation, and enjoying delicious tamales, pozole, and other chili-hot stews, thanks to the women who were always offering us something to eat.

Yosoyuxi is beautiful –– a community surrounded by green mountains with plenty of water. You can see small corn fields; gardens with bean, tomato, chili and radish plants; and fruit trees bearing oranges, grapefruit, and bananas. Sometimes what appears to be a lemon is really a grapefruit, and what looks like a mandarin orange is something else. To a certain degree, the economy is self-sufficient, but there are dire needs that are not met and a lack of money to buy basic necessities. The community has electric light, drinking water, a grade school, and a health center, but medical personnel only arrive once a month or every two months. Lots of people go to other cities to find work and there’s heavy migration to the North of the country and to the United States. With luck, a migrant worker can send enough money home to build a house or buy a car, but if he’s captured without papers and sent home, the whole family is in debt until loans for the “coyote” and other expenses are paid.

Timo’s name is constantly heard. For years, Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez was a strong advocate of the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala and of self-initiated projects in Yosoyuxi. He was shot and hacked to death with a machete by paramilitaries on May 20, 2010, along with his wife Cleriberta Castro, leaving 10 orphans and a legacy of resistance.

A total of 40 orphans are one of the products of the repression against the autonomous people of Copala. Several of them are now found among the children who give life to the Yosoyuxi community, which has become a new base for displaced people after the camp in the arcade outside the Government building was lifted just before Christmas. They run around, invent games, help with a number of tasks, and enthusiastically participate in protests, as could see in a video shot on January 29.

On Friday, February 3, the current spokespersons for the displaced people, Marcos Albino y Reyna Martínez, traveled from the City of Oaxaca to share what had happened in the latest negotiations. Cue had signed an agreement that allowed a group of 10 displaced people to go into San Juan Copala to talk to people now living there and inspect their houses, with the possibility that 25 families could return that very day, followed by groups of 25 in the following days. In the discussion in Yosoyuxi, a trap in the agreement was pointed out, which left the decision in the hands of the people who now control Copala. Others thought that even so, it was advance that the Governor had signed the agreement and that if people could go back now and resume their lives, they wouldn’t be dependent on international processes that take years to resolve. Some people had high hopes of being protected by the precautionary measures, while others were more skeptical.

One comrade who had lived in Copala all his life and had witnessed the electrification of the area by Lázaro Cárdenas in the ‘60s told us about his dream of going back home, setting up a small store, and participating in self-help projects to better the community. Others were packing their bags.

At 9 o’clock in the morning, Saturday February 4, a group of nine women and one man were waiting for government vehicles that would take them to San Juan Copala. About a hundred community people, along with the solidarity activists who were prohibited from going into Copala, waited on the highway. The cars arrived at 9:45 and it was presumed that the meeting would begin at 10 o’clock in the Municipal Presidency, also known as “the Agency”.

The Sun was going down when the women and Marcos got back to the highway. High hopes vanished as soon as the women began to tell about what had happened. The supposed assembly was presided over by none other than Antonio Cruz Merino, the son of Antonio Cruz García, alias “Toño Pájaro”, the Ubisort leader responsible for the violent expulsion under gunfire of the autonomous people of San Juan Copala among many other crimes; Alberta Martínez de Jesús, the wife of Julio Cesar Martínez Morales, the perpetrator of the murders of Jyri Jaakkola and Beatriz Cariño; and Belén Cruz Merino, daughter of Antonio Cruz García, among other Ubisort paramilitaries. More than 200 people participated in the meeting, most of whom weren’t even from San Juan Copala, but were brought in by the MULT organization from the communities of Rastrojo, Ladera, Coyuchi, Río Metates and Ojo de Agua, among others.

One compañera commented: “I planted an orange grove before they ran us out of Copala a year and a half ago. Today I saw that it is bearing fruit, but it’s not for us. It’s for the them –the ones who now control Copala. I feel really sad.”

Another compañera said: “They went after our main spokespeople. First they accused Marcos of carrying a pistol. We said, ‘Marcos go up there and tell them to search you.’ When he took off his jacket it was clear that all he was carrying was his radio and a camera. They went after Reyna, too. They’re accusing her of killing Anastasio [the violent UBISORT gunman Anastasio Juárez] in July of 2010 and they say she can’t go back to Copala”.

Another said: “We demand that they arrest Toño Pájaro. While he’s loose, we’ll never be able to safely go back to Copala. But they’re demanding amnesty for all those paramilitary killers before they’ll accept our return.”

And another concluded: “The worthless government wants the MULT vote because they know there are a lot of them and only a few of us.”

For several hours around a hundred people crowded around a small TV to watch a video of the whole “assembly.”

On Sunday, February 5, an assembly was held in Yosoyuxi, where peopled decided to respond immediately to the collusion between the Gabino Cue government and the paramilitaries with a long march-caravan from Yukudaá to the City of Oaxaca.

Ernestina explained what had happened in San Juan Copala:

“When we arrived, there were more than two hundred people, most of them women, there in the Agency hall. Maybe fifteen of then were from San Juan Copala and the rest had been brought in from other towns. They didn’t know anything about the problem we’ve faced there.

The ones in charge were Ubisort women, relatives of Toño Pájaro, and his son, too.

The government had signed an agreement saying 25 families could enter, beginning today, and then other groups of 25 would follow. There are 110 displaced families in all. But those in charge of the meeting didn’t respect the agreement and the government representatives didn’t do a thing. They said: “No, you can’t come back to this town.” Who are they to give us permission to go into our own homes?”

Then they went straight after Reyna. The killer Julio Cesar’s wife said: “We don’t want to see you around here, Reyna, because you did us a lot of harm. We don’t even want to see your face.”

They said the rest of us could go back, but only two families every two weeks. We can’t accept that because it would be too dangerous. We know all too well who they are and what they did to us. They shot at all of us, men, women, and even children and old people. Ubisort women tried to kill me in my own house. We couldn’t even venture out into the street because they shot at us like we were grains of corn or beans. Thank God we’re all right, but other comrades were killed, wounded, and raped.

But they said they didn’t do any of that. Instead, we’re the ones who’ve done damage to them. Then Antonio Cruz Merino said, “Brothers and sisters, please. You shouldn’t mistrust us because we’re not going to do anything to you. What’s done is done. Let’s move on ahead. Let’s sign a peace agreement.” But we know all he said was false.

They didn’t let us go into our houses. They also said we couldn’t go into the church, but at last we did. We also went into the grade school. It’s really sad because it’s really in bad shape. The whole town is run down. It’s not like it was before.

They finally said five families could return each week, but we didn’t sign anything. We didn’t say yes or no. We said we’d have to consult with our people. Now we’ve made the decision to go on a long walk to Oaxaca City, and that’s what we’re going to do.

They haven’t scared me. On the contrary, they insult us and threaten us because they’re afraid of us. Why? Because we’ve spoken out. Our eyes are wide open. We’re not the same women we were before.”

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