Mexico: San Juan Copala Again Under Fire

Residents of San Juan Copala once again huddle together under fire, pleading for urgent support from national and state governments, as well as the ambassadors of Finland, Germany, and Belgium. Shootings have increased and another indigenous leader has been threatened with death.

Residents of San Juan Copala once again huddle together under fire, pleading for urgent support from national and state governments, as well as the ambassadors of Finland, Germany, and Belgium. Shootings have increased and another indigenous leader has been threatened with death.

Three months after the murders of Bety Cariño and Jiri Jaakkola, participants on a failed relief caravan to bring food and supplies to San Juan Copala, and two months after the murder of the Triqui leader Timoteo Ramírez and his wife Cleriberta Castro, and after the illegal detention of twelve women and children for almost twelve hours, the situation has not improved. It has worsened. Attacks by UBISORT continue against the autonomous community.

On July 26 another shooting occurred which lasted more than two hours, resulting in the disappearance and probable death of Maria Rosa Francisco, a thirty-five year old Triqui woman. After UBISORT threatened to shoot anyone and everyone in the community who moved around, Maria left her home to collect firewood, and has not been seen since. In her house all her domestic animals were found dead, including chickens, pigs, and dogs. Queries in nearby towns have yielded no information on her whereabouts. Nobody can go out to search for her due to the very high risk involved in leaving their homes.

The history thus far includes: June 24, 20101, an eight year old girl, Miriam Martínez Flores was shot in her left leg. Since everyone is confined to the community she is being treated with local medicinal plants. On June 26 the town was again attacked with the consequent wounding of two women,

Marcelina de Jesús López, shot in her left shoulder, and twenty-six year old Celestina Cruz Ramírez with three bullets in her left shoulder. They were aided by the community to leave before dawn because their wounds required immediate life-saving attention. When they were able to, the women denounced the shootings and testified to the high risk the community’s women live with.

Added to these continuing attacks the town has lost its school cycle 2009-2010 for children in primary and secondary levels; the health clinic also closed, leaving the town with no health service since December of 2009. Supplies have run low for food and other necessities, and when the women go to the nearby town of Juxtlahuaca to obtain supplies, they are exposed to attacks by the armed UBISORT men who may steal their food, as well as threaten, humiliate, beat or rape them. There is only one road in and out of the town.

On July 2, following the interviews with the European Parliament deputies, authorities of San Juan Copala were followed by the brothers Rufino and Anastacio Juárez, leaders of UBISORT. On July 18 a notice circulated in the daily Noticias, placed there by C. Evencio Nicolás Martínez Ramírez, current Secretary General of Government, which affirmed that MULTI (The Independent Movement of United Triqui Struggle) had agreed to sit down to dialogue with MULT and UBISORT. That was refuted as a lie by the autonomous municipality; no such agreement was ever made with the secretary. Following this public clarification violence and hostility increased markedly, with more shooting more often. The indigenous leader Jorge Albino Ortiz has received several threats on his cell phone from numbers with out of state area codes, and also through his relatives who have let him know that orders are out to disappear him.

This situation is intolerable and criminal for the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala. Neither state nor federal authorities have intervened, leading one to believe that they cannot, i.e., that the area is controlled by the narco underworld. The State Attorney General for Justice has made no legal moves to arrest anyone.

Faced with this clear refusal of state and federal authorities to confront UBISORT, the widower of Bety Cariño and activist in the Zapatista Indigenous Agrarian Movement (MAIZ), Omar Esparza, denounced the deaths and injuries from gunfire. He will meet again with the family of Jyri Jaakkola to coordinate joint activities.

State authorities consider that “conditions do not exist” for the more than 300 people who would enter with the aborted mercy caravan. The tons of donated food wait in the church of the closest city, Huajuapan de León.

The representative for the Human Rights Commission for the area, Jorge Albino Ortiz, stated,

“The most serious crime we Triquis committed was to have demanded the right to construct our own organization, to have the capacity to direct our own course, and the future of our people”. This suggests that UBISORT —the governor— has purely political motives, that is, to avoid “autonomy” at all costs.

Jorge Albino Ortiz is further quoted: “ We hold the governor of the state Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and Secretary General Evencio Nicolás Martínez responsible for whatever happens because we are sure they are the ones who instead of fulfilling their duty to bring peace and justice, have used their power to sow division and confrontation among the peoples of Oaxaca”.

In advance of further violence the Autonomous Municipality issued another bulletin, claiming that the state government wants to eliminate the town. They cited that on Tuesday, July 27 in the town of Sabana Copala members of UBISORT captured taxi drivers from the town of Santiago Juxtlahuaca who offer public service. The taxi drivers were accused of having damaged two flags belonging to UBISORT. On July 29 the confrontation sharpened; goods and persons were damaged as a result of two shootings in Santiago Juxtlahuaca. UBISORT blamed the residents of the Autonomous Municipality, suggesting they were the assassins of Anastasio Juárez, the UBISORT-appointed mayor.

State police entered San Juan Copala to remove the body of Anastasio Juarez, despite having claimed that entry of the relief caravan was impossible. In this entrance, some three hundred UBISORT members, whose leader is the brother of the murdered Anastasio, accompanied the police. During the incursion some shooting occurred, apparently on the side of the UBISORT, since some women were shot in a demonstration trying to prevent the police entry. Two sisters, Selena, age 18 and Adela, age 15, Ramirez Lopez were wounded. Two men have been disappeared.

Thus it appears that the government is becoming more fierce in its efforts to finish off San Juan Copala, according to the community spokesperson, Casimiro Martinez Aguilar. The authorities issued an urgent call to the public and civil organizations to protect them. The authorities declared they have no great hope for the elected governor, they are waiting to see what he can or will do. They are afraid of a military invasion to end their attempt to remain autonomous, an experience suffered in the last century, when the military destroyed everything they could.

The wave of violence in the region has not evoked any pronouncement or recommendation from the State Commission for Defense of Human Rights in Oaxaca (CEDDHO). The interval between these current events and the entry of the new governor Gabino Cue Monteagudo on December 1, is four more months. At that time, Oaxaca will know if the situation can be controlled. Hopefully we will also know if the crisis is a political one of autonomy; Cue has never expressed hostility to autonomy. Or if Ulises Ruiz and the federal government are hiding another area of narcotraffick. When no state money supports UBISORT, then what will happen?

Photo from Noticias Voz y Imagen de Oaxaca, July 30, 2010.