Mexico: Murder of Indigenous Reporters Fuels Hatred, Division

(IPS) – No one has been brought to justice for the murders of two young indigenous reporters in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca in April, a case that has mobilised social activists and drawn condemnation from UNESCO.

Local indigenous authorities told IPS that two months after the murders, their communities have returned to "normality," which for them means the presence of paramilitary groups, clashes between rival clans, and the absence of state security forces.

On Apr. 7, 22-year-old Felicitas Martínez and 24-year-old Teresa Bautista were ambushed and shot to death on a rural road in their municipality. The two young women were reporters for Radio Copala, "The Voice that Breaks the Silence", a low power, small range community radio station that has been on the air since January.

"Just after it happened, people from other countries even came here, and the police did as well, but now no one comes any more," said José Ramírez, the head of the self-declared autonomous municipality of San Juan Copola.

"We know who killed our reporters, they belong to rival groups, but they are walking around scot-free," Ramírez complained in a telephone interview with IPS.

So far, the Attorney General’s Office, which took over the case in May, has not issued any arrest warrants.

The initial investigations were carried out by Oaxaca state prosecutors, who were accused of a number of irregularities by the state’s Human Rights Commission, such as failure to visit the crime scene promptly, collect evidence and examine the bodies of the victims.

Tomás Aguilar, secretary of the municipality of Santiago Juxtalhuaca, to which San Juan Copala formally belongs, accused the autonomous community of being responsible for the fact that the murders remain unsolved.

"We had police in the area, but they removed the bodies themselves and so evaded the law," Aguilar told IPS.

Both Ramírez and Aguilar belong to the Triqui indigenous community, which is divided into different factions in Oaxaca state, several of which have armed groups.

Ramírez belongs to the Independent Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULTI), which created the autonomous municipality in opposition to the local authorities of the legally recognised municipality of Santiago Juxtlahuaca.

Aguilar, on the other hand, is a member of the Popular Unity Party (PUP).

The groups are longstanding antagonists.

According to Aguilar, San Juan Copala made its bid for independence because people there "have a poverty mentality."

Sympathisers of the PUP, which governs the municipality of Juxtlahuaca, killed the reporters, Ramírez alleges. "They did it for revenge, because it does not suit them for us to be independent," he said.

The Triqui live in the west of Oaxaca state in the Mixteca region, a remote semi-arid mountainous area of 27,500 square kilometres marked by scant agricultural production and dire poverty.

Although they have been ethnically and linguistically homogeneous for over 2,000 years, according to experts, the different Triqui factions have been caught up in constant strife over land and political conflicts for the past three decades.

In late April, delegates from social organisations, including the non-governmental Reporters Without Borders and the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC) visited Oaxaca to learn more about the double murder in San Juan Copala and urged that it be clarified.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) also declared that it was outraged by the crimes.

"Everything is quiet here now, although I have to say that the ‘compañeros’ (comrades) at our radio station are taking precautions and we’re all being more careful," said Ramírez.

The head of the autonomous municipality said that San Juan Copala has its own police force. "They are local people, with .22 firearms, as you see, just small calibre guns."

The official police are not allowed into "our community, because people don’t want them here at all," he said.

Aguilar said that "to avoid problems," his local government sends monthly budget allocations equivalent to between 400 and 500 dollars to San Juan Copala.

But the autonomous community "uses the money to buy weapons instead of for infrastructure and services," he maintained.

"That’s absurd. They are the ones who are buying large quantities of weapons to distribute to (PUP) followers, not us," Ramírez retorted.

A report by the Oaxaca Human Rights Commission says that the police refuse to enter the Triqui area because they say they are afraid of being attacked by local indigenous people.

The region "is in a state of collapse due to insecurity and violence, and there is an authority vacuum," the Commission reported.

"Lack of action on the part of state and municipal civil servants in the area, in terms of security and the administration of justice, has only generated impunity," it added.

Non-governmental groups are demanding that the national government of President Felipe Calderón sponsor negotiations aimed at reconciliation between the Triqui communities in Oaxaca, but their requests have not been heeded.

"The division (among the indigenous group) is due to political problems and family feuds that date way back. It is regrettable, but that’s the way it is," said Aguilar.

Ramírez, on the other hand, said that the conflicts are provoked by the Oaxaca state government headed by Governor Ulises Ruiz, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has ruled Oaxaca for nearly eight decades.

"They don’t want indigenous people to be united; they want us to split into more and more organisations so that they can dominate us," he said.