Just two weeks prior to the July 4 state-wide election in Oaxaca, Mexico, an anti-mining and political confrontation took place. A battle broke out between PRIistas and residents of the villages El Cuajilote and Maguey Largo who oppose the exploitation of the mine “La Trinidad” located on communal lands in the municipality of Ocotlán, Oaxaca on June 19. Environmentalist Priest Padre Martín Beaten
Just two weeks prior to the July 4 state-wide election in Oaxaca, Mexico, an anti-mining and political confrontation took place. A battle broke out between PRIistas and residents of the villages El Cuajilote and Maguey Largo who oppose the exploitation of the mine “La Trinidad” located on communal lands in the municipality of Ocotlán, Oaxaca on June 19. The confrontation between those opposing the Canadian silver mine in the Ocotlán municipality of San José del Progreso, and PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) city officials resulted in the shooting deaths of two: PRI mayor of San José del Progreso, Venancio Oscar Martínez Rivera, and his town councillor for Health, Felix Misael Hernández.
The struggle against the Canadian-owned mine has been ongoing since early 2009. No general agreement by residents was ever obtained to permit mining operations. Meetings and forums facilitated by local parish priest Father Martin Octavio García Ortiz took place in San José del Progreso in the spring of 2009. As follow-up, people from the neighboring villages of El Cuajilote and Maguey Largo, and from the municipality’s head city of Ocotlán, blocked access to the mine “La Trinidad” to demand that the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) cancel the mining concession. Its exploitation would contaminate their natural resources, principally the water, with metals, cyanide, mercury, copper sulfate and arsenic, they insisted. Furthermore, they demanded that Mexico comply with Covenant 169 of the International Labor Organization, which says local residents must be consulted for approval of such projects. Nevertheless, on May 6, 2009, agents of the Federal and State Preventive Police violently broke up blockade protests. Men and women who opposed the mine resisted with sticks and stones against police with attack dogs and riot gear.
Mayor Martínez Rivera not only did not consult the population about the mining operation, he personally solicited Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz to send in the anti-riot police from Police Unit for Special Operations (UPOE) “to repress” those blocking access to the mine. At the time, in 2009, Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) declared their support for the mine opposition organization. When the mining company offered various payments to the city of Ocotlán, such as new school classrooms and books, the then non-candidate Gabino Cue Monteagudo suggested to the peoples’ assembly that they accept the money. They refused.
A day after the battle between PRIistas and anti-mining opponents the head of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Antequera-Oaxaca, Father Wilfredo Mayrén Pelaez (commonly known as Padre Uvi), reported that Father Martín was beaten by PRI supporters. Father Martin, he told the media, was hauled out of his vehicle and assaulted. Padre Uvi said that Father Martin had nothing to do with the confrontation, but was returning from celebrating mass in a nearby community when a group of people spotted him and dragged him out of his van.
Padre Uvi is also a founder of the Center for Human Rights Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño, involved with organizing the second caravan to the besieged Triqui town of San Juan Copala. Father Martín, for his part, has vigorously supported dissemination of environmental information and forums explaining dangers to the water table and to the land caused by mining. The two priests are considered to be among those who espouse the rights of the people in a state where their bishop has been allied with the governing class.
The State Attorney General for Justice, María de la Luz Candelaria Chiñas, originally informed the public that the fatal fight occurred around 6:30 p.m. in the outskirts of town, when persons from the municipality impeded the passage of town residents returning to their communities of El Cuajilote and Maguey Largo. According to information in agreement, supplied by the Assembly of Peoples United for the Valley of Ocotlán in Defense of Nature and Popular Autonomy, the municipality and its henchmen closed the road to people coming from a meeting to support the candidate for governor of Oaxaca, Gabino Cué Monteagudo, of the coalition United for Peace and Progress (CUPP).
Two days later, Noticias printed the Attorney General’s revised claim of June 21, that an ambush occurred against the PRI vehicle as it drove through the village of Cuajilote, a complete reversal of her original story. The state attorney now told news media that persons from the Assembly of Peoples United for the Valley of Ocotlán in Defense of Nature and Popular Autonomy had confronted and assaulted PRI officials in their car. The two leading Oaxaca PRI newspapers then duly reported on one hand that CUPP was responsible ( in “Despertar”); and on the other hand that Father Martín is the intellectual author of the resulting murders (in “El Imparcial”).
In reference to the story reversal by the PRI attorney general, the spokesperson for the Assembly of Peoples United for the Valley of Ocotlán in Defense of Nature and Popular Autonomy stated simply, “that’s a lie.” Bernardo Vasquez Sanchez was accompanied at a press conference by Azael Santiago Chepi, the elected leader of SNTE Section 22, who re-affirmed the teachers’ backing for opposition to the mine. Vasquez Sanchez asserted that the fight broke out as had been originally reported, when people were returning home from the CUPP rally. One of the bodyguards of the municipal president struck the head of one of the Assembly men with his pistol butt. That sparked two other Assembly men to rush to rescue him, but two other bodyguards took out their weapons and the fight began. Vasquez Sanchez asserts that another PRI authority for Ocotlán, the registrar of Public Works, was drunk and pulled his gun. When he began to shoot, some of the bullets struck the mayor and the Health director. Furthermore, Vasquez Sanchez stated, “the attorney general says that only PRIistas were wounded, but we have four — and one of them very seriously — wounded.” He insists that an investigation would reveal who has gunpowder on their hands. Ten Assembly people and Father Martin Octavio Garcia Ortiz were detained.
With two dead, perhaps seven wounded and ten arrested on June 20, tempers run high two weeks prior to the statewide election.