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Triqui Caravan Departs to San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, Mexico PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Mneesha Gellman, Photos by Joshua Dankoff   
Friday, 27 January 2012 12:20

Triqui women stand in front of the doors to the Oaxaca Government Palace in traditional bright red woven dresses, ribbons flowing, waiting for an answer. In the dry heat of the zócalo, children hand flyers to passers-by, while adults explain the situation in San Juan Copala, and describe why it will take such effort for them to return home on January 26th.

For seventeen months more than 300 Triqui people from the region of Copala, as it is known, have been displaced due to intense paramilitary violence in their community. Unable to return under fear of harm, the displaced camped out in Oaxaca City, demanding a government response to their situation.

In 2007, the Copala Triqui community declared itself an autonomous municipality, in line with constitutional revisions from 1995 that recognized indigenous practices of coexistence instead of the electorally-based system of political party leadership. This “new” autonomy derived from usos y costumbres, a form of governance based on indigenous practices of leadership rotation and voluntary community service.  The transition to usos y costumbres governance has taken place without much disruption in other indigenous communities, but the specific circumstances of Copala led to significant drama.

The conflict in Copala is not easy to understand, but one version goes something like this. Triqui territory is located in a mineral rich region. When it was discovered that the minerals could be useful for making batteries and other technical components of electronics, government pressure fell on the Triqui people to allow mining rights to foreign companies. Prior to the declaration of autonomy in 2007, government influences had managed to protect business interests in the region, but the transition to usos y costumbres threatened to change the situation. After 2007, the PRI-aligned portion of the community (organized into MULT and Ubisort) were armed and used force to control the section of the village that preferred autonomy.

Over the last several years, Triquis involved in the paramilitary organizations have used intense violence to assert their power. The PRI armed faction began a campaign of terror and harassment against the majority of villagers, those who had decided to switch to usos y costumbres. The full gambit of terror tactics has been used: assassinations, rapes, kidnappings, and myriad forms of harassment. Most dramatically, the paramilitary forces have controlled all entry and exit of people in the territory, so just as human rights observers and activists were barred from going in, community members had to sneak out at night in order to escape the violence. Those who fled ended up sleeping on scraps of cardboard under the arches of the governor’s building in Oaxaca City while petitioning the government to stop funding paramilitaries and help them return home.

Mural depicting Triqui witnesses to state violence.

On Monday January 23rd, 2012, Oaxaca Governor Gabino Cué agreed to send armed accompaniment with the Triqui caravan preparing to return to Copala if the group waited until Wednesday the 25th to depart. Triqui representatives agreed to this request and thus they and the group of Mexican solidarity activists accompanying them spent the last several days handing out flyers about their situation and gathering resources that will be used in their transition home. As the community waited, it was unclear how the caravan would be received. A peace caravan to Copala in 2010 ended with the assassination of one international peace activist and one indigenous activist by paramilitaries.

At the meeting on the 25th of January, Cue presented and signed documentation of Peace Accords for the Triqui area, saying that the Accords would guarantee safety for the Triqui communities. However, the representatives of the displaced Triquis refused to sign the documents. Representatives Reyna Martínez and Marcos Albino rejected the Accords because of 11th hour conditions from Cue, which delayed the Triqui's return to their lands until the 20th of March, and limited the number of people and dates that Triquis could return.

In a midnight meeting in the Oaxaca Zócalo, the Triquis agreed to proceed with the Caravan to Copala. The caravan departed without government accompaniment on Thursday, January 26th. Between 250-300 Triquis plan to return to Copala over the next several days and weeks. The Triquis are holding the government responsible for their safety and have asked allies and human rights groups to be on the alert for possible attacks on the caravan.

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