<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Civil Sectors Unite Against Mine in Ocotlán as Power Struggles Intensify

Recent Arrests and Threats Increase Strife as Local and Federal Authorities Attempt to Silence Opposition

By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

May 11, 2009

The sides have lined up for the confrontation over the Fortuna-Cuzcatlan mine in San Jose del Progreso, Oaxaca. The governor of the state, and the Canadian Fortuna mining company try to avoid looking like bad guys; the teachers, the church and social activists present themselves as the good guys. The bad guys support “development” and “progress” as good goals; the good guys support environmental protection, indigenous rights, and the peoples’ culture.

In the continuing face-off, the Catholic Church has publicized support for the people. The Archdiocese of Antequera-Oaxaca demanded that repression against residents of San José del Progreso stop. Its article published on Sunday May 10 in Noticias condemns the state use of excessive force to solve the mine conflict. The Regional Center for Human Rights Bartolome Carrasco Briseño A.C. and the Diocese Commission for Justice and Peace condemn the use of public force as an institutional method to silence the voices and participation of those opposed to the mining projects, thus violating the human rights of the indigenous communities.. “Protest is a right”, the diocese asserts.

The church claims the state has violated the people’s right to land, territory and natural resources; the right to information; the right to be consulted; the right to participate; the right to physical safety; the right to direct development; and the right to organize and protest.

This proclamation follows threats made to the Ocotlán priest Father Martín Octavio Garcia Ortiz and the forced break-up of a blockade held by the residents at the mine entrance. With participation of State Police and Federal Preventive Police, twenty-three people were arrested, some after the police broke into their homes. One was a minor. Nine had previous arrest warrants against them, and of those, four remain in prison.

The Fortuna consortium has called on the federal government to protect their lease. Fortuna controls concessions covering 50,000 hectares. The San José land package contains vast areas of unexplored but promising ground. A 2007 resource estimate (according to Fortuna’s annual report) indicated 12.4 million ounces of silver and 103,500 ounces of gold are present, and inferred 32.7 million ounces of silver and 321,500 ounces of gold in addition. A twenty-year lease was granted by the government to Cuzcatlán, for an undisclosed amount of money, to operate the San José mine. Fortuna Silver is the larger partner with Continuum (gold), while Cuzcatlan is the local company in whose name the transnationals operate.

Meanwhile the National Education Workers Union (SNTE, in its Spanish initials) Section 22 demanded the immediate release of the prisoners. The secretary of Section 22, Gabriel Lopez Chinas, declared that the demands by the people of San Jose del Progreso and Magdalena Ocotlán to close the mine are legitimate.

Lopez China stated that the government of Oaxaca has until May 15 before the Section 22 state assembly meets, to free the prisoners or face whatever the teachers decide to do. Oaxaca is now just three years past the June 14, 2006 attack on the teachers in the city of Oaxaca. That resulted in a five month defense of the city by the people against the government. “Three years ago we were repressed,” asserted Lopez China, “and the people answered our call. Yesterday (May 6) the compañeros were attacked and we are here with this responsibility (to respond).” He continued, “It’s a moral promise to be in solidarity with the people… the new (union) directors received the command from the people, and here is this promise to march together.” The moral responsibility assumed by Section 22 has been affirmed and made apparent in different popular struggles during the past year since the election of their new leadership. According to sociologist Victor Raul Martinez Vasquez, the teachers during the past thirty years have evolved into a force more concerned with social issues than with education. The Oaxaca union includes more than 70,000 education workers.

While Lopez China insists that the demands of the people are legitimate because “they are thinking of the future, they are people who with a lot of dignity are defending their lands”, the Church published eight demands for guarantees and protections of the people, including that the government stop criminalizing resistance to the mine, and give prompt justice to the detained. The Church issued a demand to the federal Secretary of the Economy to suspend the concession, since no environmental studies were done –this contradicts what the mining companies claim– nor were the peoples, whose lands are supposedly protected by international agreements regarding indigenous rights, ever consulted.

The jailed men are Ignacio Alejandro Vasquez Gomez, Hilario Vasquez Gomez, Joaquin Lopez Gonzalez, and José David Hernandez. Augustin Rios Cruz, along with his wife has been the lead activist in The Committee to defend the Rights of the People (CODEP, in its Spanish initials), as well as with the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), and the Coordinating Committee in Defense of Natural Resources and Our Mother Earth of the valley of Ocotlán. He and his wife live in Ocotlán. She (her name is not published) denounced the violations of the human rights of Rios Cruz by the police forces on the May 6 dislodgement. According to her statement, her husband “was savagely beaten until almost dead, by a dozen federal and state police, as is shown in photos in El Imparcial, Noticias, el Despertar, el Tiempo and el Noticiero Matutino del canal 4 Oaxaca- published the day following the dislodgement.” Rios Cruz is in hiding while his wounds heal, received on May 6.

The wife of Rios Cruz condemns President Calderon and Governor Ruiz, and holds them responsible for actions against her husband, herself and her family. She calls for support from the APPO, freedom for the political prisoners, and cancellation of the arrest warrants against Augustín Ríos Cruz, Apolinar García Vásquez and Jaquelina López Almazán. This latter in fact has been absent since 2006 because of the persecution she was then subjected to, hence could not have been implicated in blocking the mine. The government frequently lodges criminal complaints against people who were not present or not involved, as a political reprisal.

However, the government went so far as to summon notary publics to witness that no excessive force was used to break the blockade. The civil organizations have roundly contradicted that assertion.

Two priests have been threatened. Father Martín Octavio Garcia Ortiz, the priest of the parish of San Pedro Apóstol, Ocotlán, Oaxaca, was denounced by the mine supporters. The coordinator of the Diocese Commission for Justice and Peace, Father Wilfrido Mayrén Peláez, was threatened physically.

Activists have responded to the latest repression by stepping up the activities. On the weekend of May 16- 17 the second forum in Defense of Natural Resources and Our Mother Earth will be held in the city of Ocotlán , sponsored by CODEP, VOCAL, the World Social Forum, the Assembly of Affected Environments, the APPO, and the Coordinating Committee in Defense of the Natural resources and Our Mother Earth of the Valley of Ocotlán.

A person observing the convoluted struggles in Oaxaca for power with money on one hand, and power with dignity on the other, might believe that neoliberalism is alive and determined; liberation theology has made a comeback; the Section 22 teachers union now represents the militant non-violent left in Oaxaca; and that the people united will never be defeated.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America