<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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Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Citizens Protest Lack of Consultation about Canadian Mine in San Jose del Progresso

Popular Forces Occupy City Hall and Threaten to Incinerate Hostages

By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

November 21, 2009

Inhabitants of San José del Pro­greso, in the district of Ocotlán, affiliated with the Assembly of People United for the Valley of Ocotlán in Defense of Nature and Popular Autonomy, and opposed to the operation of the Canadian owned mine “La Trini­dad”, escalated their battle with the assistance of the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, the APPO. They occupied the town hall (Palacio Municipal) on the afternoon of November 18 with the goal of evicting from office the municipal president Oscar Venancio Martinez Rivera.

They also demand cancellation of the mining operations because Martinez Rivera authorized the mine’s operations without consent of the town’s inhabitants.

Twelve municipal police and councilors were taken hostage. Last August Martínez Rivera accused a municipal agent of the village of Maguey Largo and APPO-teacher activists of destabilizing the community for personal gain, after a battle in which a dozen personal injuries resulted. Subsequently federal police arrived to guard the mine entrance. No extractive work has occurred yet. After the confrontation, the government supposedly was going to aid negotiation and discussion, but in fact has not done so.

On November 20 the Las Noticias headline read, “Tell the government to come and dialogue, they won’t let us speak, but tell them to come because the gasoline is already here!”

At nine in the morning of November 19, men and women armed with sticks, ropes, and machetes refused entry to the town hall occupied the night before by townspeople irate at the lack of government response. They took prisoner five councilors and seven municipal police, captured a municipal police vehicle, and demanded that Martinez Rivera resign his position. “The people see that their authorities do not defend their interests, so they decided to take over the town hall. In the legislature (Camera de Deputados) everyone comes out in favor of the municipal president to cover up for him. We hold the government responsible for everything that happens, because they had the solution at hand in the form of a resignation of the municipal president, but they did nothing. The government has not approached us and we’re waiting for them to do so, for the good of the community”, declared a spokesperson.

The angry protesters faced off with the commander of the Special Operations Unit of the Federal Preventive Police that has been guarding the mine since protests began. Ten units and more than half a hundred cops are stationed on the tiny town’s access road near the mine.

D.R. 2009 Noticias
From among the hostages, police officer Martin Perez and the Health town councilor Felix Misael Hernandez were hustled out into street where a pile of firewood was heaped. Protesters tied the two men to one another at the wrists, and bound their feet with plastic cord. Misael Hernandez remained silent and stalwart, while Perez began to beg for rescue when the plastic bottle of gasoline appeared.

Inside the municipal jail, the councilor Pedro Francisco Gonzalez Gopar lamented that no state authority had offered to negotiate with the protesters to free the hostages. Hanging onto the bars, he demanded that the state government look for a solution to the problem, which has gone on for months. He stated that if the town asks for a disappearance of powers he would resign his office. Moments later he was escorted to the telephone in the Municipal Police office to speak with Joaquin Rodriguez Palacios, sub-secretary of government. Rodriguez Palacios had spoken on the radio in an interview in which he claimed a woman had been taken hostage too, but that fabrication only served to further enrage the population.

The phone conversation was reported as: “They are telling me that the police forces are coming here, so I want you to take into account sir that we are under detention and we are dancing on a loose cord. I want you to stop this. The situation is that they will set us on fire. So we need you to stop this. There are twelve of us here and the only thing I ask is that you stop this because we are here and the situation is very tense.”

Fifteen minutes later when the protesters reorganized in front of the town hall, the first federal police approached the main street. The other cops, in nine pickup trucks and a van, halted about 100 meters away. The protesters had already brought out the municipal police and their companions from the jail, tied them to the pile of wood, placed the plastic bottle of gasoline nearby. They threatened to burn the hostages to prevent any repression on the part of the PFP. The church bells clanged and rockets flared. The people’s battle stations received citizen reinforcements.

PFP Commander Marte, standing in front of the police force, managed to assure the protesters that the cops did not come to rescue the hostages, but on the contrary would make a phone call to ask government officials to commit to negotiation. After five hours of tension and mutual recriminations, government officials and town representatives agreed to free the twelve hostages and install a negotiation session.

The issue of disappearance of powers for San José del Progreso will go to the state legislature, which in these cases in known to do nothing. The issue of a legitimate town assembly to discuss the mining operation will probably not resolve anything either, since many people already leased their land rights without knowing why they should not. Forums on environmental damages caused by mining were silenced by church officials because the lead organizer was the local priest, Father Martín.

The town has been “aided” by Section 22 of the National Teachers Union who, I was told privately, included teachers affiliated with MULT ( A Triqui-based indigenous group corrupted by the PRI) to “help” local committees make a decision. The almost-candidate for governor Gabino Cue advised the population to accept the mining company’s offer of computers in the schools in exchange for land leases. The organization CODEP - (committee defending the rights of the people) – which back in July and August worked to organize the townspeople subsequently withdrew, declaring that CODEP would not contradict a town assembly’s decision. Now, with some APPO assistance, the protesters claim an assembly decision never occurred, but that decisions were made only by town councilors in exchange for pay-off from the mining company. Oscar Venancio Martinez Rivera is generally regarded as one of the big beneficiaries. People suspect that the Health official was bribed for environmental permissions.

Once again government negotiations have been promised. The mini-uprising indicates that promised negotiations with town authorities give bad results for participatory democracy. Murky waters prevail in Oaxaca, as usual.

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