Second Humanitarian Caravan Braves Danger in Oaxaca

Since neither the federal government of Mexico nor the Oaxaca government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) will put aside the blockade of San Juan Copala, one might conclude that the policy of the governments is to starve out the autonomous community which wants self determination and control of their lands and territory. The second humanitarian caravan “Bety Cariño y Jyri Jakkola” to San Juan Copala was halted three times on June 7, and finally headed back to Huajapan de Leon to consider their next step.

Since neither the federal government of Mexico nor the Oaxaca government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) will put aside the blockade of San Juan Copala, one might conclude that the policy of the governments is to starve out the autonomous community which wants self determination and control of their lands and territory.

The second humanitarian caravan “Bety Cariño y Jyri Jakkola” to San Juan Copala was halted three times, and finally headed back to Huajapan de Leon to consider their next step. They eventually decided to return to Mexico and Oaxaca.

Eight buses and three trucks with 30 tons of supplies traveled about 95 kilometers to Laguna Encantada, a village where they were intercepted by the State Preventive Police. There, the State Attorney for Justice, María de la Luz Candelaria Chiñas, the commissioner of Public Security, Jorge Quezadas, and the president of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Oaxaca, Heriberto Antonio García, conversed with Alejandro Encinas, president of the PRD bench in the federal congress, and with other legislators, to persuade them to not enter Copala. A second PRD member, Javier Pacheco, rode in a car driven by Jorge Quezadas to La Sabana, where he saw the boulders blocking the road. The Unión de Bienestar Social de la Región Triqui (Ubisort) leader of the PRI paramilitary, Rufino Juárez, headed a blockade at the town entrance, accompanied by forty Triqui women holding cardboard posters telling the caravan to leave.

Deputies, senators, and all government officials had been asked by the community to not participate, because the indigenous leaders thought they would take advantage of the publicity pre-election of July 4 to gain sympathy, stealing it from the popular movements; their presence constituted an affront to the dignity of the autonomous municipalities. The request was ignored. Unfortunately, the PRD is not above suspicion of being co-opted by the PRI government of Oaxaca. Many of the media reported that the PRD federal deputy, Alejandro Encinas, organized the caravan. This is false. It was actually organized by the authorities of Copala aided by the human rights organization Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño, and many other civil organizations, listed below. With an election looming on July 4, the PRD appears to support the Triquis, while the PRI suggested that the PRD was creating a provocation. The caravan was received at various points by various politicians. All the documentation regarding the presence of legislators, the number of vehicles, and the number of persons traveling was made available to the government of Oaxaca.

Along the route to Copala the Ubisort leader, generally held responsible for the ambush of the first caravan, offered to dialogue, but the caravan declined. At the village of La Sabana the caravan was blocked by the federal and state police who reported they heard shots, and could not guarantee safety for the caravan members. The third halt was caused by boulders blocking the road, placed there with heavy machinery, by Ubisort. The caravan had achieved a distance of ten kilometers from San Juan Copala in the later part of the afternoon when it turned back. The Oaxaca Attorney General asked the caravan to retreat because, she said, neither the federal nor the state governments could guarantee their safety. Spokesperson Macario García Merino, representative of the autonomous authority linked to the Movimiento de Unificación y Lucha Triqui Independiente (MULTI), emphasized that the failed attempt shows that neither state nor federal government can, or wants to, guarantee the entrance to Copala. The caravan returned to Mexico City and will pursue seven points for its immediate return. However, these points, such as asking for international support and safety, were read to the media by Encinas and it’s not known who created or subscribed to them.

Speculation as to why the governments do not want the autonomous municipality which includes thirteen villages to survive usually consist of three possible reasons: autonomy (and espousal of La Otra campaign) threatens the government, as do the Zapatistas in Chiapas; there may be the presence of a narcotics cartel; or the mineral wealth beneath the autonomous land (iron and perhaps uranium) is too valuable. Also, it is supposed that Ubisort bosses siphon off money designated for the area’s poverty program.

Meanwhile, in the city of Oaxaca, one of several staging sympathy protests, a blockade calling attention to the plight of San Juan Copala at the crossroads of Cinco Señores was broken up by masked men who used tubes and machetes to violently dislodge the protesters who were shouting “San Juan Copala vive, vive, La lucha sigue sigue.” Two protesters were kidnapped. Radio Plantón, the teachers’ radio station, advised people, especially young people, to stay off the streets Tuesday night because of the threat of repression. On the morning of June 9 a small group marched to the Oaxaca zócalo, but the zócalo is presently occupied by thousands of Section 22 teachers on strike. Therefore when VOCAL activist David Venegas mounted the kiosk to speak, he faced a ready-made audience of thousands, but few seemed to want to face the heat and chaos to respond.

The Background

The caravan headed for San Juan Copala area left in two sections, from Mexico City on June 7 and from Oaxaca City on June 8, to join up in the city of Huajuapan de Leon at noon on the 8th. The Mexico group brought 350 people, among them foreigners, human rights workers, ten legislators and at least twenty media people. They brought thirty tons of supplies, which when it became clear that the caravan would not enter San Juan Copala, were returned to Huajuapan for safe-keeping. The Oaxaca contingent consisted of one bus with forty-five people aboard and brought food, blankets and clothing.

Among those who participated were adherents to the Sixth Declaration of La Otra Huasteca-Totonacapan,, who brought a ton of supplies for the besieged inhabitants. Humanitarian aid from the people Huasteco-Totonaco was accompanied by a commission. Members of forty organizations including persons from Guerrero and Chiapas, and around the world also supported. Good wishes were called into Radio Plantón (the station of Section 22 teahcers) during Tuesday. E-mails and calls arrived in Oaxaca from sympathizers in areas as distant as New Zealand.

Euro-deputies and deputies to the German Parliaments had asked President Felipe Calderon to assure security for the participants. In a letter sent from Brussels, Belgium, the European parliamentarians wrote that they have given their consideration to the plight of the Triqui and living conditions in the community of San Juan Copala. Therefore, along with many European citizens they decided to involve themselves, and moreover, “we intend to follow all the investigations regarding the attack on the caravan of April 27,” in which the Finnish activist Jyri Jaakkola and the Mexican Bety Cariño died.

This foreign demand came in the wake of Felipe Calderon’s visit to Europe, to confirm trade treaties between Mexico and the European Union in the face of Mexico’s insecurity due to drug cartels, the thousands of assassinations, and total impunity for persons in official positions. Transnational businesses ignore human rights violations, but the European Parliament gives them at least lip-service.

The Europeans also demanded personal security for those who survived the first caravan, as well as for persons and organizations involved in creating the second one. They requested the lifting of the siege of San Juan Copala immediately, and that criminal investigations be carried out as rapidly as possible. They underlined that international attention is focused on the case. Their letter was signed by the European parliamentarians Heidi Hautala, Satu Hassi, Raúl Romeva Rueda, Ulrike Lunacek, Martin Häusling, Franziska Keller and Helmut Scholz, as well as by deputies to the German Parliament Ute Koczy and Thilo Hoppe.

All those who enrolled to ride the caravan knew the risk of following one ambushed caravan with a larger one with more supplies, signifying Mexican resistance to the “fascism” of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, governor of Oaxaca (URO). To indigenous peoples especially, URO represents legitimated repression, assassination, fraud, and ongoing violation of human rights in Oaxaca, with the aid of the federal government and PRI governors of the majority of Mexico’s states.

After many days of resistance insisting there would be no protection, the international and national outcry forced the government of Oaxaca to verbally alter its stance. It said the police would accompany the caravan but “with the notification that unwilling, stupid adherents to uses and customs, bellicose belligerent people are there,” in the words of the Attorney General of the state, María de la Luz Candelaria Chiñas

She indicated only three days before the caravan left that “there are no (specific) instructions” from the Executive, only the will of the government that the activists “may be welcome”. The attorney asserted that the caravan would see the population of San Juan Copala is not incommunicado, activities continue and shops are open. She claimed that the interest of the caravan is political, given the approximation of the July 4 election. She referred to PRD legislator Alejandro Encinas as the one “who is organizing the caravan”, and claimed he had not given any information to the state government regarding the persons participating in the caravan: names, nationalities, the immigration status of foreigners, and if they will travel on foot or in vehicles.

The commissioner of State Police, Jorge Alberto Quezadas Jiménez, reported that the zone where the caravan would pass was being watched by the 350 police under his command, ready to accompany the caravan from Santiago Juxtlahuaca to San Juan Copala, passing La Sabana where the ambush of the first caravan of April 27 left dead Bety Cariño and Jyri Jaakkola. The road was blocked with heavy boulders on June 4, “but the State Police are not obliged to remove them to facilitate the free passage of vehicles,” he said.

On June 5 at 9:20 PM a paramilitary group shot at the community of San Juan Copala from five different points, wounding twenty-year old Melitón Rodríguez Martínez with four bullets in the leg. No method exists to move him to a hospital. On June 6 starting at 8:15 PM a paramilitary group again began shooting at the town.

Meanwhile, Ubisort issued a communication signed by its leader Rufino Juárez Hernández and his brother Anastacio, who self-identifies as the constitutional agent for San Juan Copala, saying a complaint has been placed with the State Commission for Human Rights of Oaxaca and rejecting the caravan by accusing Alejandro Encinas of wanting a confrontation with the Triqui community and members of MULTI. He stated that as soon as the caravan observers left they would “exterminate the community members”. Ubisort has become one of the foremost users of the Big Lie technique which in Oaxaca has achieved exorbitant heights as used by many government officials. MULTI founded the autonomy of San Juan Copala, and maintains its uses and customs, not recognizing Anastacio as anything other than an imposed intruder. The legitimate authorities of Copala self-identify as MULTI; their demands are for autonomy, self-rule, and control of their own land and territory.

The government of URO claimed it was forming a special committee of state legislators to investigate the Triqui struggle but the committee never met. All formal representation of the federal government had withdrawn: no Mexican Army, Federal Police, National Commission for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples, or Secretary of Social Development. State functionaries also fled, along with teachers, doctors, priests, and nurses. More than seventy families survive in sub-human conditions.

Those waiting in the community asserted, “We know that we could die, but, as Triquis, we have no fear. The anger and the muina are very big”, the substitute autonomous president of San Juan Copala, Julián González Domínguez, stated to a meeting of communities that comprise the autonomous municipality. Other communities support autonomy but fear reprisals. Since the founding of the autonomous municipality in January of 2007, thirty indigenous sympathizers have been slain either in San Juan Copala or by paramilitaries hunting them in mountains and woods.

Mexican society stands at its ultimate moment for sustaining humiliation, according to the indigenous participants who signed up for the caravan. In their words, issued in a press release in May, 2010, “The various civil organizations are conquering fear, and we stand up to confront this regime of injustices in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, and in all of México which finds itself on the brink of a national uprising like what happened one hundred years ago. Acteal, Atenco, Oaxaca, Aguas Blancas, Pasta de Conchos, Cananea, Lázaro Cárdenas, Luz y Fuerza, are examples of a daily war against the Mexican population. … Systematically the people of Mexico are being destroyed, but today we say enough, no more.” The attack on the Oaxaca demonstration at Cinco Señores on the night of June 7 bears witness to just how close to the edge the people of Oaxaca stand.

Those civil groups signed up were: Asamblea en Defensa de la Tierra and Territorio del Istmo de Tehuantepec, Brigadas Indígenas 94, CACITA, CASOTA, Coatlicue, Colectivo AAA, Colectivo Revolver, Comunidad Benito Juárez Chimalapa, Coordinadora Juvenil Libertaria, Frente Cívico Tetiteco, Yunhiz Espacio Alternativo, Radio Ricardo Flores Magón, Radio Totopo, THC Colectivo, Universidad de la Tierra, Espacio Cero, Colectivo Arte Jaguar, Familiares de Lorenzo Sampablo, VOCAL, Asamblea en Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio del Istmo de Tehuantepec, Brigadas Indígenas 94, CACITA, CASOTA, Coatlicue, Colectivo Revolver, Comunidad Benito Juárez Chimalapa, Coordinadora Juvenil Libertaria, Frente Cívico Teotiteco, Yunhiz Espacio Alternativo, Radio Ricardo Flores Magón, Radio Totopo, Universidad de la Tierra, Familiares de Lorenzo Sampablo, VOCAL, Autonomía Radial.