Two Triqui Community Radio Reporters Assassinated
Lawlessness, Assassination and Impunity in Oaxaca
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
April 11, 2008
The Triqui indigenous community of San Juan Copala, which declared autonomy on January 21, 2007, has suffered the bitter loss of two young women. Felicitas Martinez, age 20, and Teresa Bautista, age 24, were traveling in a rural part of Oaxaca state on route to the statewide meeting “For the Defense of the Rights of the Peoples of Oaxaca,” when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle late Monday. The gunfire killed the two women, and wounded three others in the vehicle, a man and wife and their three-year-old child, the Oaxaca attorney general’s office said in a statement.
The office said the assailants used high-powered assault rifles in what it described as an ambush. No arrests have been made. And to make a point: in Oaxaca, daily assassinations occur of organized crime members, narco-traffickers, wealthy people, business people, drug dealers, indigenous people, of police and military officials, plus local and international reporters. Arrests are never made. Crimes are never solved. The daily newspaper prints photos of corpses, newly discovered or recently excavated, and that’s that.
Despite repeated condemnations by human rights groups within the state, nationally and internationally, the government response is rhetorical. Instead, the state of Oaxaca is highly militarized. While I sit at my computer in the morning I hear the helicopters buzzing overhead, with armed troopers hanging out the doors – a bit of theater which serves only to intimidate. The most publicized clean-up attempt thus far has been to rotate military and police units in an effort to break their allegiances with organized crime.
The two assassinated women worked for a community radio station called “The Voice that Breaks the Silence” in San Juan Copala where activists in January of 2007 declared San Juan Copala an autonomous municipality in a challenge to state officials. This declaration included the local Triqui movement united for struggle, MULT, which had been corrupted by the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials). The new Triqui municipality, through its organization called MULTI (the Independent United Triqui Movement for Struggle), called for union of all Triquis and implicitly rejected the PRI and government paramilitary, thus breaking their hegemonic control in the region.
The government of San Juan Copala employs the traditional indigenous practice of usos y costumbres with a council of elders and open decisions by the majority in assemblies. The autonomous community came about as an act of rebellion against caciques and their hired guns, said to be responsible for killing more than 60 Triquis in the Mixteco Baja, twelve of which deaths occurred in 2006 during the teachers popular movement.
The San Juan Copala municipality unified San Juan Copala, Yoxoyuzi, Santa Cruz Tilaza, Guadalupe Tilaza, Tierra Blanca, Paraje Pérez, El Carrizal, Sabana, Yerba Santa, San Miguel Copala, Yutazani, Unión de los Angeles, Río Metates, Río Lagarto, Cerro Pájaro and Cerro Cabeza, among others, for a total of about 15,000 indigenous people. The total Triqui population is about 24,000.
The work of Felícitas Martinez and Teresa Bautista, who broadcast on the frequency 94.9 FM, validated the autonomy of San Juan Copala, as does the creation of community radios all over the state. These local radio stations, whose efforts provide meaningful information, are frequently shot up or burned down. The two MULTI broadcasters were scheduled to participate in an indigenous statewide meeting entitled “Meeting for the Defense of the Peoples of Oaxaca” in a worktable dealing specifically with community radio. They left the radio station at 1:00 in the afternoon of April 7, 2008 to travel to Oaxaca.
Omar Esparza of the human rights group, Working Together Center for Community Support, described the assassinated women by saying that they “had gone out to report, to tape people. They were Indian reporters.”
On April 9 and 10, 2008, that indigenous statewide meeting took place in the Hotel Magisterio (the Teachers Union Hotel, site of many past meetings for the social movement in Oaxaca) “to strengthen our struggles and defend in an effective manner our rights, we convoke this state Meeting.” (website OaxacaLibre. com). The worktables discussed the following themes:
1. Community and alternative communication; community radio, video, press and internet.
2. Community defense of natural resources: land, water, biodiversity, air, woods, electricity and oil.
3. Repression of human and constitutional rights, freedom for political prisoners; cancellation of arrest orders and presentation alive of the disappeared.
4. Organization and social movement in Oaxaca, and construction of an alternative organization by the people and for the people.
The meeting participants devoted a moment of silence to the assassinated women. About 200 representatives of 43 indigenous organizations were present, including reporters, human rights groups, and community authorities from around Oaxaca. Also in attendance were national observers from Puebla, Veracruz, Mexico DF and Chiapas, as well as international observers from the Basque Country, Canada, the United States, Spain, France and Italy.
The speakers denounced the climate of repression, the militarization and constant violence in the state in violation of human rights. The community authorities of Yosotatu, a small Mixteca town, made public the campaign of repression against them, which has put several of their townspeople in jail and also caused the deaths of several land owners. The most recent is the assassination of Plácido Lopez Castro, whose killers have not been arrested. (What a surprise.)
The representatives of the community of Xanica denounced the imprisonment of three of their companions and the privatization of the River Copalita. The goal of the privatization is to provide water for the mega-tourist project, Bahías de Huatulco on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. Further, several representatives of communities in the Isthmus de Tehuantepec denounced the taking of lands by the Spanish businesses constructing the wind electricity generators. The community spokespersons said that threats and deceit has been used and now more than 3,000 hectares have been occupied. Recently, 73 campesinos from the Ejido La Venta were accused by the Federal Electric Commission of the crime of defending their lands for common use.
The meeting proclaimed that this latest assassination, of the Triqui women, will not go unpunished, and there will be an exhaustive investigation on the part of the Special Commission for Crimes against Journalists by the federal attorney general’s office (PGR). At the same time the forum demanded that the government of Ulises Ruiz halt its campaign of hostilities against San Juan Copala. It called for the liberation of the political prisoners Pedro Castillo Aragon, Flavio Sosa, Miguel Angel Garcia, Adan Mejía, Victor Hugo Martinez Toledo, Miguel Juan Hilaria,Roberto Cardenas Rosas, Reynaldo Martinez Ramírez, Juliantino Martínez Garcia, and of those of Yosotatu, Guevea de Humbolt, Xanica, San Blas Atempa among others.
The seventeen Oaxaca indigenous groups participating, joined by two from Mexico, were: Municipal Authorities of San Pedro Yosutatu, Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala, Indian Organizations for the Oaxaca Human Rights (OIDHO), Union of indigenous Communities of the North Zone of the Isthmus (Ucizoni), Autonomous Magonista Collective (Cama), Center of Community Aid Working Together (Cactus), Magonista Zapatista Alliance (AMZ), Committee of Citizen Defense (Codeci), Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Rights of Santiago Xanica (Codedi-Xanica), Union of Indigenous Organizations of the Chinantla (Unorinchi) Council of Indigenous Organizations and Products of Oaxaca AC (COIPAC), Indigenous Zapatista Agrarian Movement (MAIZ), Front of the Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of the Land, Network of Community Radios of the Southeast, Solidarity Group La Venta, Center of Studies of the Region Cuicateca Tepeuxila, Commonwealth of San Juan Jaltepec Yaveo, Mexican Alliance for Auto-determination of the People; from Mexico DF: Magonista Libertarian Alliance (Alma), University Assembly of the UAM-A.
In a separate show of the necessity to unify the indigenous populations against the lawlessness of Oaxaca, four municipalities of the Mixteco , Tezoatlán de Segura y Luna, of the district of Huajuapan; Santos Reyes Tepejillo; San Juan Mixtepec and San Martín Itunyoso, of the district of Santiago Juxtlahuaca, formally signed an agreement of “brotherhood,” to constitute a Front of Municipal Presidents. Their objective is to promote a regional project to benefit more than 150 indigenous communities of the region, declared Lorenzo Rojas Mendoza, from the municipality of Tepejillo.
A town councilor, Lorenzo Rojas Mendoza said that the inhabitants of the region have many “past unmet demands,” so the four municipalities decided to unify to further projects such as a hospital, schools, roads and highways.
Rojas Mendoza stated that their priority is the construction, broadening and paving of a road of approximately 30 kilometers to reach the head town of Tepejillo.
The march commemorating the anniversary of the death of Emiliano Zapata, with several goals, took place on April 10, repeating many of the demands and ideas of the Meeting for the Defense of the Peoples of Oaxaca. The march, a political event sponsored by the remaining Popular Revolutionary Front -APPO structure, and Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), demanded freedom for political prisoners, cancellation of arrest orders, and the handing over to Section 22 of about 80 schools still held by Section 59. Section 59 has been screwed, because despite being hired by government agents, those “teachers” never had a contract, and never were paid, except under the table with cash for relatives of members of the state education board, I was told by Section 59 members. They tried to emulate Section 22 tactics by maintaining an encampment in the zocalo of Oaxaca, but were advised to disperse prior to Semana Santa, the big Easter tourist week.
On the national level the Section 22 march protested “restructuring reforms” (the privatization of PEMEX, the Mexican national oil company), the Treaty for Free Commerce (TLC, or NAFTA), militarization, the doubled cost of fertilizers, and demanded the repeal of the law of ISSSTE which privatizes some social security benefits. A national work stoppage is planned.
According to APPO spokesperson Cesar Mateos Benitez, the APPO condemns the government for trying to link the APPO and the Committee of Women of Oaxaca (COMO, a group of women who took over the state television channel in 2006) with the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), which constituted “the media assault of the week” in the mainstream Oaxaca press. Along with organized crime, the PRI wing uses false accusations to justify the militarization of the state, and to send in intelligence or spy agencies. In other words, the propaganda justifies whatever repression the government seeks, by linking the social movement to armed revolutionaries.
An encampment presently in the zocalo next to the cathedral with personnel from the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR) demands the presentation of the state’s disappeared, including the indigenous Chatino man Lauro Juarez whose bones were presented, but not accepted as authentic. Las Noticias (an article by Pedro Matias) reported on April 8 that another Chatino indigenous man was gravely wounded on April 6 by the paramilitary run by the PRI operator Fredy Gil Pineda. Specifically, the attack was carried out by a paramilitary group of about 100 persons headed by Ponciano Torres Quintas. On March 30 they took over by force the government building of Santa Maria Temaxcaltepec, throwing out the actual president and illegally imposing as president this Ponciano Torres, who is protected by Fredy Gil Pineda. The paramilitary pack governs the region by violence, committing assassinations, arbitrary detentions, etc.
This includes the disappearances of indigenous persons, one by one, a genocide trickle.
To my eye, it looks very much like that with the failure of Oaxaca state as a governable unit, the mini civil war that now prevails resembles a turf-battle of human wolves, to control territory and money. This means not only incoming federal monies and drug money, but even more, new wealth to be extracted from geographical territory rich in natural resources. Indigenous people remain, to the extent they have not been driven to emigrate, as an obstacle to the exploitation of minerals, wind, water, woods, petroleum, shoddy road and school construction, and glittering beach-front resorts, in a grand sell-off to international companies.
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